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Agent to the pros

UC grad represents a stable of former Bearcats in the NFL

by Chip Reeves and John Bach

Dave Lee says he doesn't believe in serendipity.

A chance meeting with a Bearcat football player, however, changed his future forever.

As a freshman double-majoring in marketing and finance at the University of Cincinnati, Lee, Bus '01, wasn't too sure of his possible profession after graduation. But in an ordinary business class in '96, Lee saw UC football player DeJuan Gossett struggling with crutches and books after a preseason injury. Gossett, a 180-pound linebacker nursing a torn ACL, asked for help -- a simple request that sparked a friendship between the two.

That relationship grew. The two eventually roomed together through college, and it helped sculpt Lee's drive toward a career as a Chicago-based professional sports agent.

"That's how I got interested in football and the business side as well," Lee says, speaking of his friendship with Gossett, Bus '03, who would go on to become one of UC's best safeties and leading tacklers. "We were both in the business school, and from there I got this internship with a sports management company that had just started up. They were going to manage (quarterback and first-round draft pick) Akili Smith in Cincinnati. So that was a big deal."

Lee eventually facilitated Gossett's signing with the New York Giants when he went pro, but he also aided Gossett through their college years together. "I remember one time where we were up studying all night to make sure I would pass this class so I would be eligible," Gossett says. "It was a rough year. He was always a good influence."

And early in his career, Lee called Gossett many times to ask the pro football player's opinion on prospective NFL hopefuls. "In the initial stages there were times like that," Gossett says. "Now he's off and running."

Gossett's NFL career ended in 2002 after blowing out his knee for the second time. He's now running an upstart cleaning business near Cincinnati.

Meanwhile, Lee works for PlayersRep in the Windy City, where he has negotiated dozens of multi-million dollar NFL contracts. His success at the bargaining table, however, is not the reason for his nickname (and Twitter handle) "Diamond Dave Lee."

Other reps in the firm actually tagged him with that moniker because he used to wear diamond earrings. "The fake ones," Lee adds. "I'm too old to wear those anymore."

Today, Lee represents a variety of NFL players, but he seems to specialize in those who have worn the C-Paw on their jersey. This year, for example, he helped former Bearcat and former Baltimore Ravens free safety Haruki Nakamura, Ed '08, lock up a three-year $4.8 million contract with the Carolina Panthers.

"I work with all of the Cincinnati guys because that's what I take pride in and that's my school," says Lee. "It's a little more fun for me with those guys."

Other former UC players he reps include stand-out wide receiver Mardy Gilyard, att. '10, now on the Philadelphia Eagles roster; tight end Ben Guidugli, A&S '10, of the St. Louis Rams; Indianapolis Colts tackle Jeff Linkenbach, Bus '09; and Colts defensive end Ricardo Mathews, Ed '10. Additional Bearcat clients of Lee's who have spent time in the NFL include Blue Adams, att. '02; LaVar Glover, Ed '01; Daven Holly, A&S '04; Andre Frazier, Bus '04; Tyjuan Hagler, Ed '04; Adam Roberts, A&S '06; Angelo Craig, att. '07; and John Bowie, Ed '07.

"I knew him from teammates I played with at UC," the Rams' Guidugli says of Lee. "He was someone I trusted and believed would be a successful agent because of the clients he already had in the NFL, like Linkenbach and Mardy."

Nakamura says he picked Lee as an agent for other reasons. "The one thing Dave always did for us was he was 100 percent honest. Through good and tough times, he told me how it was without any fabrication."

Sticking with clients through tough times, it seems, has also become a Lee specialty. That was never more apparent than with Chris Henry. The talented Bengals wide receiver, never a stranger to off-the-field problems, was killed when he fell out of the back of a moving truck in December 2009.

Lee says Henry was actually a "polite and caring person" who allowed himself to be influenced by the "wrong friends." In an effort to help, Lee had even allowed Henry, broke and under house arrest, to move into a home he owned in Cincinnati.

"His funeral was very difficult," says Lee. "I sat there, and I just cried. I couldn't even go up to the casket to see him. It was very emotional. Reporters were calling, but I really couldn't even talk to people. I just didn't want to deal with it."

But "dealing with it," as it turns out, is an undeniable part of the life of an agent. Lee works tirelessly for his clients, whether that means researching a player's value or schmoozing a restaurant owner to come through with a last-minute New Year's Eve reservation.

He credits his strong background in both finance and marketing at UC for prepping him for the job. "Our players are like assets," Lee says. "You have to find the right value for them. Understanding what a client is worth involves a lot of research, comparables and statistics."

More than anything though, being an agent is all about marketing. The top pro prospects, he says, typically get contacted by 75 to 100 firms, and even the late-round picks get courted by at least 25 or 30.

"You've got to make the calls, and you've got to stay in front of the guy you want to sign," he says. "We have to show our clients we are accessible 24 hours a day. I fly out to a rookie's city where he is drafted and help him find an apartment. Nothing is really beneath us. We want to make sure our clients are both comfortable and happy."

A second-generation Korean American, who grew up in a Cleveland suburb with little diversity, Lee found UC's city neighborhoods more to his liking. "It's awesome to see the variety of not only ethnicities, but genres of people, all in one area."

He cites living on campus as a huge plus, an invaluable experience to him in terms of networking with other business-minded students. He even ran for dorm president of Calhoun Hall his freshman year and won. "I still see a lot of those UC guys when I come to Cincinnati," he says. "For the diversity and out-of-classroom experience you get there, you can't beat it. I would never trade my experience, ever, for another college."

Jerry Maguire or Mr. Mom?

Outside the realm of assessing football players and repping elite athletes, Dave Lee is a stay-at-home dad with three young children. His wife, Michelle, is a successful physiatrist in Chicago, who did her residency at UC. As a specialist in rehabbing injuries, she has the second opinion he often seeks when one of his players is injured.

Providing 24-hour service for his clients coupled with the demanding life of a father and husband creates some interesting situations for Lee, who at times finds himself toting toddlers along to meet with clients.

"I had a GM tell me on the phone, 'Hey, my wife watches that show where they have six or seven kids. It kinda' sounds like that in the background.' It takes a lot of patience and a lot of family help."

That ability to handle many problems at once, he says, is priceless. "I better be able to multitask, or I'd be in trouble."