Former Sun Valley High 4-star quarterback Sam Howell spoke with members of the media this week at the ACC Football Kickoff event in Charlotte.

As one of the top players in the room, Howell was bombarded with questions about the new NIL rule, UNC’s chances at making the College Football Playoff and possibly winning a Heisman Trophy. The quarterback was even-keeled as ever, choosing to focus on his teammates and team goals rather than any personal accolades.

“I don’t get too caught up in what other people are saying,” Howell told reporters. “I’m just worried about what I think of myself, what the people close to me say. That’s the same mindset of my team. We’ve had a lot of hype. Main thing we try to tell our guys, if people say we’re going to win 10, 12 games, it’s not just going to happen.”

Still, Howell has taken advantage of the new name, image and likeness (NIL) rules since they were approved at the start of July. This past week, Howell announced via Instagram that he had secured an endorsement with Bojangles.

Howell, who famously only eats chicken as his main source of protein, is one of two college athletes to partner with Bojangles this week, joining current Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei.

Since the new NIL rules were approved, Howell has also announced a partnership with Table, a Chapel Hill nonprofit that helps provide meals to children in need. Howell’s first Instagram post featuring Bojangles mentioned that the fast food restaurant is committed to helping the nonprofit like he is.

While it’s unknown exactly what kind of benefits Howell is receiving through these endorsement deals, he stands to make way more money than he could previously. Before the new NIL rules, college athletes were unable to profit from their name, likeness and image. Now, players like Alabama’s Bryce Young are expected to rack up millions in endorsement deals before the end of the 2021 season.

However, Howell’s main focus is football, and he has a chance to lead North Carolina to a conference championship for the first time since 1980. As it stands, the 6-foot-1 quarterback is tied for the program record in career touchdown passes (68) and is fifth in passing yards (7,227). If Howell throws for at least 2,150 yards this fall, he’ll become UNC’s all-time leader in passing yards.

Compared to former UNC quarterbacks, Howell really is in a class by himself. Other than Howell, no other former UNC player with at least 50 touchdown passes has less than 25 interceptions. Through two seasons, Howell has 68 touchdown passes against just 14 interceptions while completing 64.4% of his passes.

Regardless of how North Carolina does this fall, it will likely be Howell’s final season with the team. The quarterback is expected to be a first-round selection in the 2022 NFL Draft, and another solid season for the Tar Heels could make him the first quarterback taken once the draft rolls around. In a mock draft released two weeks ago, Pro Football Network projected Howell to go No. 4 to the Philadelphia Eagles. This could change drastically one way or the other depending on Howell plays this upcoming season.

“I don’t get too caught up in what other people are saying,” Howell said. “I’m just worried about what I think of myself, what the people close to me say. That’s the same mindset of my team. We’ve had a lot of hype. Main thing we try to tell our guys, if people say we’re going to win 10, 12 games, it’s not just going to happen.”