Three seconds left in the fourth quarter. A 57-yard field goal attempt. A chance to send the Missouri Tigers’ game at Boston College into overtime.
Watching on TV about 1,300 miles away in Columbia, Miki Merritt figures he was more nervous than kicker Harrison Mevis. Once the ball sailed through the uprights, the small business owner jumped out of his seat and started running around his storefront in excitement.
That’s when the orders started coming in. Everyone wanted a “Thiccer Kicker” T-shirt.
“Like instant,” Merritt said in an interview last month.
Merritt, a longtime Tigers fan and founder of 573 Tees, a Missouri-centric apparel company, has partnered with Mevis and other Tigers football players since the NCAA allowed athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness. Mevis, long snapper Daniel Hawthorne, defensive lineman Realus George Jr. and offensive lineman Drake Heismeyer all sell merchandise through the company.
A graduate of Central Methodist University who has spent time living in various parts of the state, including St. Louis, Kansas City and Columbia, Merritt traces his Mizzou fandom back to a 1997 contest against Nebraska — known to many as the Flea Kicker game. The No. 1-ranked Cornhuskers used the famous play to send the affair to overtime, where they went on to defeat the Tigers and avoid a near upset.
“That’s the day I knew I was a Mizzou fan, by the way it felt,” Merritt said.
In 2019, Merritt was in between jobs and looking for ideas to make some extra money. He says he went down a YouTube “rabbit hole” that made him start thinking about printing shirts. He went to every Missouri football game that season, including ones on the road. And while walking around different SEC towns, he noticed a lot of non-school affiliated shops that were selling apparel and wondered if Columbia had anything like that. After doing some research, he realized there was a big opportunity.
Merritt doesn’t have any sort of background in art, so the process of making each piece of apparel is entirely self taught. He comes up with an idea, creates the design and promotes it online. Once an order comes in, he prints each item on a digital printer and then presses it in an area at the back of his store.
The first shirt he made honored some of his favorite Mizzou quarterbacks. The design was simple: “Brad & Chase & Blaine & James & Maty & Drew” in black font with a gold background — an ode to Brad Smith, Chase Daniel, Blaine Gabbert, Maty Mauk and Drew Lock. Merritt remembers wearing it to a game at Faurot Field and having dozens of people come up to him asking where he bought it.
“Once that came into play, I was like, I think I can do this,” Merritt recalled.
The business took off from there. What started as an extra way to make money has now become a full-time job for Merritt and he opened his storefront in downtown Columbia, tucked in an alley between 9th and 10th streets, over the summer.
Though he started partnering with Missouri athletes this summer, Merritt had been getting messages from fans about “Thiccer Kicker” apparel since Mevis started impressing as a freshman last season. At the time though, he didn’t feel right doing so knowing Mevis wouldn’t be able to profit.
“Being a business owner here ... on the weekends that there are football games and basketball games and other sporting events in Columbia, we’re benefiting from it,” Merritt says. “So I just wanted a way for them — the end product that we’re going to see, cheering on — have a way for them to make some money.”
Merritt wanted any athlete, regardless of their sport and how popular they are, to be able to participate, so he created an online form to kickstart his NIL movement. Heismeyer was the first to reach out, with a design ready to go: a cartoon depicting the offensive lineman surrounded by circular text that reads “Mr. Nice Guy Drake Heismeyer.”
All of the others had their logos premade as well, which was an unexpected benefit. Merritt might tweak it a little bit and they also discuss colors and apparel options. The athletes are able to sell their merchandise at whatever price they choose, Merritt added. He simply acts as the supplier. Once a customer orders something, he prints and ships the product and they each take a cut of the profit.
— Harrison Mevis (@kickerhmevis6) September 17, 2021
“My favorite part is whenever I print their shirt the first time, turn around, show it to them, just look at their face, like this is your shirt,” Merritt said. “Whenever that happens, I think that’s been a real big joy that was unexpected. I didn’t expect to get that kind of feeling out of it.”
Now when Merritt goes to games and scans the crowd to see what people are wearing, he often sees “Thiccer Kicker” shirts — Mevis’ merchandise has been the most popular of the four NIL lines —among his other items.
“It’s really neat because it’s new,” Merritt said. “It’s the first time that a student athlete can have their names on a T-shirt and benefit from it at the same time.”