Meet Tory Dandy, whose life was complete with sports and faith.
With the NFL Draft approaching on April 26th, and the NBA Draft soon to follow on June 21st, a select few elite college athletes will have their professional sports dreams come true. Most of them will be African-American, and some of them will become household names.
In our series, “The Black Sports Agent” , we wanted to highlight some of the folks that are doing big things on the business side of the games that we love.
Growing up in Woodruff, a town nestled in Spartanburg County, South Carolina with a population of less than 5,000, Tory Dandy could have never envisioned that he’d one day be negotiating contracts and representing some of the top players in the National Football League.
In March, one of his clients who ranks among the league’s top receiving threats, wide receiver Sammy Watkins, inked a free agent contract with the Kansas City Chiefs for three years and $48 million.
The deal includes a $21 million signing bonus in addition to a fully guaranteed $30 million, which means the former Clemson star, who is still only 24 years old, will earn, at the very least, $34 million over the next two years.
In addition to Watkins, Dandy also represents players such as the New Orleans Saints’ 2017 Pro Bowler and Defensive Rookie of the year Marshawn Lattimore.
Alshon Jeffery, who just won a Super Bowl ring as a wide receiver with the Philadelphia Eagles, is among a host of other clients, with Dandy’s primary focus being contract negotiation, client services and the pre-draft process in his role as the Senior Executive Agent within the powerhouse Creative Artists Agency’s football division.
But from the outset, growing up in the ’80s back in Woodruff, the odds were stacked against him making it far from Spartanburg County, let alone to the top of the sports business.
The product of a single parent household, his mother worked numerous jobs in addition to the 16-hour shifts she pulled as a nursing aide at hospitals and nursing homes to keep food on the table and a roof over the heads of him and his older sisters.
Despite the scarcity of free time, she made every moment count when it came to imbuing love and confidence in her son.
“She was that loving mom, where all my friends would come over to the house and spend time,” said Dandy. “She was very welcoming and cool, but she demanded respect. There was always music playing and food to eat, whether she was cooking or me and my guys just bringing pizza and burgers back over to the house. She was always working, but when she was free she hovered over me to an extent because coming from where I’m from, there wasn’t a lot of people that made it out and went to college. She wanted to protect me and made sure that I stayed on the right track.”
“Our house was the neighborhood safe haven,” he continued. “She didn’t want us to have to worry about anything going on there that was negative.”
One of their daily rituals was taking a few minutes to pray before Dandy headed off to school.
Normally, she’d arrive home from work early in the morning after working all night. One day, she got home late and Dandy had already headed off to school.
“I got summoned on the intercom to come down to the office,” said Dandy. “I thought I was in trouble. They said, ‘Your mom’s on the phone.’ She said, ‘We missed prayer this morning,’ so we prayed on the phone together before I went back to class.”
Sports were omnipresent in his life from as early as he can remember.
“Growing up in Woodruff, that’s what we did, play sports,” he said.
Baseball was his first love, and he showed an affinity for it early on. He was enamored with the Atlanta Braves teams that featured Jon Smoltz, Chipper Jones and Greg Maddux. And he especially enjoyed watching Bobby Bonilla and Barry Bonds when Atlanta went up against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
He also played hoops. But in the state of South Carolina, football reigns supreme.
And by the time he was walking the corridors of Woodruff High School, the gridiron was where he began to dream about something bigger than the small town that seemed to swallow up so many before they had a chance to live up to their natural potential.
Despite playing for a team that featured a run-oriented wishbone offense that rarely passed the ball except on the occasional third-and-long, college scouts recognized his potential as a wide receiver. He was also a lock-down corner on defense.
“On defense, I wasn’t going to knock your head off, but I was going to be picking off some passes,” said Dandy. “And I was a very good wide receiver, but I didn’t truly get a chance to show how dynamic I could be because we always ran the ball.”
Nevertheless, because of Woodruff’s numerous state championships over the years, he received recruiting mail from the likes of Ole Miss, South Carolina and Georgia Southern.
In the classroom, he maintained a steady 3.0 GPA, but is the first to admit that he didn’t apply himself in the way that he could have.
“Things came naturally to me academically, but I was inclined to do things at the last minute and didn’t work as hard as I was capable of,” he said. “I knew I had to have good grades in order to qualify for a football scholarship, but I could have applied myself more.”
Outside of school and football, Dandy also showed an industriousness that was rare for his age. After school and on weekends when his sports schedule allowed, he worked at a local grocery store, exhibiting an advanced sense of discipline and time management.
“I always had a job,” he said. “I saw my mom working and struggling to provide for us, so I didn’t want to be a burden. I wanted to have my own money so if I wanted to hang out with my friends or buy a new pair of shoes, I wouldn’t have to ask her for anything.”
He played his entire junior football season with a torn left rotator cuff and never sat out a practice or a game. Whenever he’d complain about the physical discomfort or wince in pain, his old-school coach was of the variety that believed unless your arm fell off, you stayed on the field.
“He’d say, ‘Ain’t nothin’ wrong with you, you’ll be fine,” said Dandy.
But the more he played on it, the worse it became. He should have had surgery after his junior season. At times, his shoulder would pop out of its socket while he was asleep. Yelling and writhing in pain, if his mother was home and not working she’d scamper into his bedroom to pop it back in place.
When the college football recruiters learned of his injury during his senior year, they slowly backtracked when it became clear that he would have to get major surgery when his high school career ended.
“I should have gotten the surgery after my junior year,” said Dandy. “I was playing in excruciating pain and waited, and it wound up hurting me.”
He’d also become a father at the age of 16, a circumstance that has derailed even those teenage parents with the best of intentions. The birth of his daughter scared him, not solely because of the financial and life ramifications, but because he had now idea as to how a father was supposed to function.
“I’d never seen my father growing up and when I found out about my daughter, that was totally unexpected,” said Dandy. “I was afraid because I didn’t know what a father was supposed to look like in the home. I was scared to tell my mom and sisters. When my daughter was born, I was just a child myself and didn’t know how to be father. That grew over time, but I was aware that it was my obligation and responsibility. She didn’t ask to be here, and I knew that I had to provide for her, both short term and long term. That brought another level of motivation for me.”
Despite the major college football programs backing away, smaller schools were still interested and Dandy accepted a scholarship to attend Tusculum College, a Division II school in Tennessee.
During the first week of summer practices, he excelled at the wide receiver position, enthralled that he was playing in an offense that passed the ball consistently. But in the second week, he strained a quad muscle. Instead of letting it heal properly , he rushed back and subsequently suffered a tear in the muscle.
“After talking to the coaches, I decided to redshirt and sit out the year,” said Dandy. “I was disappointed because I had such high expectations coming in.”
South Carolina State was another school that had recruited him out of high school. With a number of friends that went there and were playing for the Bulldogs, he took a few trips to the Orangeburg campus to visit during his freshman year at Tusculum.
Something began pulling back to his home state, and with Orangeburg being a two-hour drive from Woodruff, he began to think more and more about making a change. Once he’d reconnected with the Bulldogs football coaches who said they’d welcome him into their program, he decided to transfer. But that meant having to sit out another year of football.
When he was able to get back on the field, he wound up tearing his hamstring and severely injuring his right shoulder.
“I wouldn’t wish that pain on my worst enemy,” he said.
He eventually decided that playing college football was no longer in the cards for him and focused on his studies.
As a junior, he remembers coming across something online about the Black Sports Agents Association. He looked into it some more and found that they hosted a conference every year. As a senior, he was in attendance at their conference in Las Vegas and listened as athletes, agents and business executives talked about their experiences in the business of pro sports.
He was intrigued but still unsure of his career path despite having an interest in the business world. One of his former teammates was seen as an NFL prospect who’d begun getting recruited by agents.
“He didn’t know much about the process, didn’t have a lot of family support and he asked me to sit in on some of his agent meetings,” said Dandy. “I did and I found it very intruiging. But it was one of those things where the blind was leading the blind. He didn’t know much about it and neither did I.”
His buddy wound up signing with a small boutique agency called Synergy Sports and Dandy made enough of an impression during those early meetings to secure an internship there.
“That’s how I started navigating my way through the business and I took it from there,” he said.
Dandy would accompany the agency’s clients when they went to work out with trainers in various locations in preparation for the combine. At the same time, he’d been doing research on the top agents in the industry and kept coming across one name in particular, Eugene Parker.
The more he studied Parker’s resume, he learned that he represented players like Deion Sanders, Emmitt Smith, Curtis Martin and Walter Jones, among many other elite NFL talents.
When some of his players were working out to prepare for the draft in Orlando, Florida, Dandy realized that some of Parker’s young clients were down there as well. He pestered those players, telling them that he wanted to meet Eugene.
Eventually, he got his opportunity in the cafeteria where the players would eat.
“I met Eugene and spoke to him for about 15 minutes,” said Dandy. “I left that meeting feeling inspired, telling myself, ‘I met the great Eugene Parker!’ He was telling me how tough this business was, how you had to do things with moral character and integrity.”
A few months later, the agency that employed Dandy folded, and he was devastated.
But he stayed in touch with Parker, calling regularly just to stay in touch and reminding him of who he was.
“Being in the position I’m in now, I can only imagine how many emails and calls he got from people that wanted to work for him,”said Dandy. “But I stayed at it, and people on his staff were telling him that he needed to bring in somebody that was younger to join the team. Eventually, he told me, ‘Tory, I’ve done this for almost 20 years, I have an impeccable reputation and I’m very conscious of who I allow in my organization and who I allow to use my name. But there’s something about your spirit.”
(Eugene Parker and Deion Sanders)
And with that, Dandy found himself coming under the tutelage of one of pro sports’ most legendary, accomplished and respected agents. He started as the Director of Recruiting and in his first year signed Justin Harrell, a defensive lineman out of the University of Tennessee that was selected with 16th overall pick of the 2007 NFL Draft.
In 2009, he signed Tyson Jackson, a defensive tackle out of LSU that was taken 3rd overall.
“Eugene and I had a great run together for about eleven and half years and represented a lot of great players,” said Dandy.
In December of 2015, Dandy was scheduled to attend a meeting along with Parker. But his mentor called to cancel at the last minute, complaining of stomach pains.
Dandy went ahead and handled the meeting on his own, but Parker called him a few days later to tell him that he’d been diagnosed with cancer. A few months later, in March of 2016, Parker passed away.
“I was devastated,” said Dandy. “I lost my mentor, father figure, adviser, confidant and partner unexpectedly like that. And my contract was up with the firm we were working with. I had been in the process of negotiating a new deal, but when Eugene passed, that altered my thought process. I was sitting there with about 16 clients and had to make a decision about what direction I was heading in. I was asking myself, ‘Do I stay, do I start my own agency or do I partner with another agency?'”
When word seeped out that he was a potential free agent and possibly looking to move, his phone started ringing incessantly. And when the Creative Artists Agency reached out, it was hard to say no to the enterprise that many consider to be the world’s leader in the entertainment and sports representation business. In 2016, he was named CAA Football’s Senior Executive Agent.
His success over the years can be attributed to hard work, determination and learning the business under Eugene Parker, but the most important element that propels him forward can be traced back to those lessons he learned from his mother back in Woodruff, South Carolina.
When he walks into client meetings, he doesn’t spew a contrived, rehearsed monologue. His pitch is genuine.
“Meeting with a potential client and their families, I let them know that I’m never going to lie to them or for them,” said Dandy. “I was raised in this business by the legendary Eugene Parker, arguably the best to ever do it and I saw how he operated over the years. Those prospects and their families understand and can genuinely see that I care.”
He tells the college players with NFL dreams that he’s not a fit for everybody and that every player is not a fit for him. If they’re looking for someone to be a “Yes Man” that’s gonna crank up the hype machine, the relationship has no future.
“I’m not going to sit here and tell you what you want to hear,” he tells them. “That’s not gonna be me.”
Dandy doesn’t call it recruiting when he goes out trying to sign clients. He calls it a “Getting to know you” process. And he’s cognizant of the troubling epidemic that swallows NFL players whole, where over 80% of them go broke within three years of retiring from the pro football.
“I want to build relationships that last over time,” he says. “I’m not there for the fanfare or the ride. I’m going to be there for them when things are good and I’ll be in the trenches when things get tough. Coming from where I’m from, going through what I went through at an early age with not having a father and then becoming a father at 16, it’s a blessing to be on this platform and to do what I do. But I know I have an obligation, for these young men once they entrust me and bring me into their lives, to do everything within my power to maximize these opportunities that they have in front of them.”
“I truly believe in what I say and I say what I believe,” he continued. “I’m out here trying to impact and change lives daily. The money is great, but at the same time, if you’re not doing anything rewarding, if you’re not giving back to enhance other lives, I think that’s useless. I want to be remembered and known as someone who was of service: a mentor, adviser, confidant, brother and friend, someone who through it all, was there for the people I care about and the clients that I represent.”