Jeremiah Sirles lobbied his old Husker teammate for two years. Get me a job. Let me work with you.
He called and texted Blake Lawrence with business ideas. He invited Lawrence to speak to his class at UNL.
“I just hounded him,” Sirles said.
Finally, Sirles landed a summer internship with Lawrence's online media company, opendorse. The first day, the 6-foot-6, 310-pound offensive tackle showed up in khakis and a Polo.
You're overdressed, Lawrence told him. The next two months, Sirles said, it was “cargos and a T-shirt, man.”
In the entrepreneurial world, appearances mean little. You build a company from scratch with creativity and dedication. Sort of like football.
Nebraska's offensive line doesn't look like one of the nation's best in 2013. But Sirles and his four senior classmates — Spencer Long, Cole Pensick, Brent Qvale and Andrew Rodriguez — have spilled a lot of sweat in their scarlet and cream. Commitment may be their edge.
“We want to put a banner up there that says Nebraska football, conference champions, 2013,” Sirles said, pointing at the wall of the Hawks Center.
That goal, however, isn't the only thing on his mind. Sirles split his summer between Memorial Stadium and the Haymarket. When he wasn't grinding with teammates in Nebraska's mammoth weight room, he was working downtown with Lawrence and a fellow intern from Nebraska Wesleyan, in a room about the size of an elevator.
He made $10 an hour helping Lawrence's company, which Entrepreneur Magazine named one of 2013's “100 Brilliant Companies.” Opendorse is an online platform that streamlines the traditional relationship between sponsors and pro athletes.
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Say a bank wants a former Husker to promote its credit card. Rather than jump through all the hoops with an agent, which can take months, the bank can go to opendorse, select an athlete and submit what they want him to say at a specific time. Opendorse gets approval from the athlete and his agent, submits the tweet, facilitates the payment (which can be less than $100, depending on the athlete) and tracks the results for the client.
Typically when you think of sports endorsements, Lawrence said, you think of big companies working with millionaires. Opendorse is a simple way for smaller brands to work with less famous athletes.
“It's not just for the big guys anymore,” Lawrence said.
Sirles, the biggest guy in any office, always had a fire for entrepreneurship. Making something out of nothing. Taking an idea and inspiring people to believe in it. At opendorse, he learned how to solve problems. For his 21 co-workers, he and his thunderous voice were hard to miss. Soon they got used to him.
Sirles put in long hours, often late at night. You wouldn't know for a second he played football, Lawrence said. Except for his workout clothes.
“We made him hit the showers because we're in such a small office,” Lawrence said.
By the end, Sirles, who has earned his management degree, found it hard to leave. When he's done with football and has a fresh supply of T-shirts and cargo shorts, he hopes to return to Lawrence and seek a real job. Lawrence said he'd be a great asset for any company.
“Hopefully,” Lawrence said, “he will come right back to our front doorstep when he's ready.”
Sometimes Sirles, who started every game of his redshirt freshman season in 2010, feels his body telling him to go back to the office. Then there are times when walking from Selleck Quad to the stadium as a freshman feels like yesterday.
He knows everything about the Husker program. He knows this is his final chance to take an idea and inspire people to believe in it. To be a championship entrepreneur.
“It's definitely time to get down to business,” Sirles said.