Success With Honor “revitalizing” NIL at Penn State

Story posted May 22, 2023 in CommRadio, Sports by Alex Rocco

On July 1, 2021, the college landscape changed forever.

The NCAA put into effect that college athletes will now have the opportunity to benefit from their name, image and likeness.

Two years later, NIL has taken the nation by storm, with student-athletes landing million-dollar brand deals.

All across the country and especially in Happy Valley, collegiate programs have faced the challenge of educating their student-athletes on NIL and how they can succeed in a growing industry.

Penn State has several NIL collectives with no official ties to the university, but they look to provide benefits for the programs and the athletes.

One NIL collective that has been at the forefront in Happy Valley is Success With Honor.

Success With Honor was founded in 2022 to support Penn State student-athletes as they represent businesses, impact charitable organizations and the families they serve and develop valuable life skills.

The founders include Ira M. Lubert, Chairman of the Board, alongside board members Anthony Misitano, Bob Poole, Rick Sokolov and Mark Toniatti. Larry Cusack has recently replaced Sokolov.

It began its second year of operations on March 23, and new executive director Kerry Small is leading the charge.

Small’s executive team consists of former Nittany Lion golfer Sara Jackson, Alexis Yoder, Bob Gold and Heather Vedell.

However, year two of Success with Honor kicked off with a rocky start.

Penn State men’s basketball coach Micah Shrewsberry left Happy Valley and returned to his home state of Indiana, becoming the newest head coach at Notre Dame.

Shrewsberry’s departure from the blue and white was disastrous for the NIL company as it had already started funding with private donors for the program.

Many fans took to social media to claim the sole reason Shrewsberry took the job with the Fighting Irish was due to a lack of NIL resources.

Small and his team believed otherwise.

“Suddenly, all the talk was about this perceived failure on the NIL front, which wasn’t accurate,” Small said. “It was detrimental to the launch of our new brand.”

Small mentioned the company had a plan in place which consisted of an education process for subscribers, a social media plan and interviews set up.

While it was a challenging time for Success with Honor, it helped it become stronger and solidified its belief in helping Penn State student-athletes. 

The new executive director noted the company is back on track and wants to continue to educate its fan base on the ins and outs of NIL.

“Our mission is to educate the fans through earned media, social media and really the best way of telling our story is from the athletes themselves,” Small said. “When we have all these opportunities to get the athletes into the community, whether here in State College, Reading, Lehigh Valley or Pittsburgh, we want to make sure they tell the story.”

Penn State sports teams have about 850 athletes on various rosters, 603 of whom received scholarships.

The university awarded 368 “equivalencies,” or full scholarships, meaning many athletes received only partial aid.

Success With Honor helps create financial opportunities for athletes who receive only partial or no aid.

“That means a lot of our athletes are representing this university, our university, and not getting compensated,” Small said. “They're paying to be here and represent us.”

Football and men’s basketball generate the most revenue for Penn State, and Success With Honor focuses on these two money-making programs.

However, Success With Honor allows fans to donate to the programs they want to support. When signing up for a subscription, fans can specify a sport they want their donations to benefit, or they can select the general sports fund. This ensures that all teams in Happy Valley will receive funding if the fans support them.

“Our hope is that there'll be people that care about each of those sports, whether they're alumni or fans, and that's how we allocate the money,” Small said. “We have been telling the story about all these great coaches and these great athletes, which has been facilitating donations for those athletes and those sports.”

In late 2022, the company became a 501(c)3, which allowed them to raise awareness and funds for charities as well as have athletes be involved with the charities in a new way.

When the Nittany Lions made the Rose Bowl, Success With Honor held one of its first signature events.

Several players from the football program participated in an event that benefited Mattel’s Save the Children organization.

The players used children’s blocks to design and build towers. This activity served as the prototype of what the company is trying to accomplish.

Some of Success With Honor’s most recent events have all helped charities.

“We have Over The Edge at Beaver Stadium, which is for the Centre County United Way,” Small said. “We're also working for the Special Olympics for a few different events, including one at the We Are Inn, where it's going to be a group of offensive and defensive linemen eating a cheesesteak.”

These events helped spread the message about Success With Honor and have gained notoriety for Penn State student-athletes.

Although Small just recently took over, he has lofty goals for the future of the company and the university.

“What we want to do is provide that education, which is the foundation for every other goal. We want to have the ability to have funding for every sport,” Small said. “Another goal is to fly the Penn State Flag successfully around the country. We want to make sure that these athletes are positively representing this university so that people can see Penn State as a national leader, not just on an academic or sports front, but in a way that we create people who can be leaders with compassion, who can be impactful and communities.”

Despite NIL bursting onto the collegiate scene just a few summers ago, it has already made a major impact.

Success With Honor is helping Penn State student-athletes get compensated for their hard work and effort.

“It's a new era. NIL is here to stay,” Small said. “The coaches believe that their culture is the most important thing. The Penn State alumni base is a very loyal fan base that wants to employ these athletes and support them. NIL is a part of the equation because we believe the Penn State experience is transformational and not transactional.”

Alex Rocco is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email