EVANSTON, Ill. — Long before he was made it to the NFL, Naquan Jones was an Evanston high school freshman looking for direction.

I was immature and didn’t really know the requirements it took to even get a scholarship,” Jones said. “I felt like I was lost.”

Jones had also just lost his childhood best friend Dejae Coleman to gun violence. He needed motivation, and most of all, guidance, if he wanted to stay on track to ultimately reach his athletic dreams.

“His story inspired us because not everybody has a support team to do this for you and help you plan this,” Joyce Anderson, Evanston’s student athlete advisor and co-founder and COO of Honest Game, said.

For Anderson and Kim Michelson, founder of the non-profit Beyond Sports, Naquan’s story was an “ah-ha” moment to better tackle the problem of academic eligibility.

“It’s a super complicated process, most people would get an accountant because they don’t know tax code, it’s similar here,” Michelson said.

The duo teamed up to found Honest Game, a data-driven platform for students, parents, coaches, and counselors to better navigate the academic requirements to play at the next level.

“One of main things that happens is there isn’t education about it,” Michelson, the company’s CEO, said. “Kids think they are on track and then fall behind, and it would’ve been just one switch of an English class.”

The Honest Game software allows student athletes and their support team to stay on top of eligibility requirements before they slip through the cracks. The platform allows students and their support team to track their GPA, the requirements for test scores and which classes allow you to be academically eligible.

“Every student who participates in athletics is tracked by the software, and it’s private,” Anderson said. “Starting freshman year, you have access to the software and can check in on the dashboard, the alerts are color coded and simple to understand and it’s instructional so it’s going to tell you if you’re short English, take a summer school.”

Days before the pandemic shut down sports in March of 2020, Honest Game won the first ever Chicago Bulls Venture competition, beating out 200 other startups to land a $50,000 investment. Two years later, Honest Game serves more than 35,000 students in 150 high schools across the country.

“Prior to Honest Game it was very much that students had talent and were being recruited and counselors were finding out they had these opportunities,” Beth Arey, Evanston high school’s college and career coordinator, said. “That’s why Honest Game is so important to enroll all students at the high school because you don’t know who’s going to be the next Division-1 athlete, that next star, when they are freshmen.”

And for athletes like Naquan Jones, a clear academic road map helped him stay on track to fulfill his potential.

“I had to pull myself out of a deep hole, and thanks to them, there was a rope down there and they assisted me, and I appreciate that.”