‘The Class of 22’: Roc Nation Sports International Unveils Its New Wave of Young Ballers

‘The Class of 22’: Roc Nation Sports International Unveils Its New Wave of Young Ballers

JAY-Z's sports agency has signed up five of the best and brightest young players in the game to start 2022. Welcome to the Roc Fam.

February 9th 2022

Roc Nation Sports International has officially revealed its ‘Class of 22’, their annual showcase of the best and brightest young players in the game newly signed to the Roc.

Since the agency opened up their London-based office in 2019 with the signatures of high-profile players like Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne, RNSI has also been building from the ground up by recruiting talented prospects from the world's biggest clubs in a quality over quantity approach.

The 2022 cohort is star-studded. The boys are spoken about as the future of their teams at club level. And while KDB might continue to fly the flag for RNSI on the world stage right now, his influence is clearly felt by this new generation of players starting to make their mark on the pitch.

Joining Roc Fam in 2022 are Lewis Orford of West Ham United, Kaiden Wilson and Michael Golding of Chelsea, Ezra Carrington of Manchester City, and Zach Marsh of Watford.

We met the 'Class of 22' on the day they officially graduated to become fully fledged RNSI signees and spoke to them about their stories so far and dreams for the future.

Photography by Kojo Dwimoh.

Lewis Orford

Nickname: Lew
Age: 15
Club: West Ham
Position: Midfielder

“Just master everything.”

What position(s) do you currently play in, and has this always been the same?
I currently play as a right-sided CAM or CDM. It switches from game to game, but I’ve always played midfield from when I first started playing football.

What does it mean to you to be a baller?
It means being a master in everything you do from skills to technique. Just master everything.

Have you always been a baller? How did you get to this point?
I started playing football when I was three-years-old and I got scouted by West Ham when I was eight, so it’s been eight years with the club so far. Two seasons ago it really started kicking off so it’s just been about keeping that up and still pushing.

Growing up, who were some of your favourite players and why?
I loved Iniesta. Similar position and he was unbelievable. His technique and passing and dribbling was something else. Also, need to shout out KDB. His range of passing and the assists he gets are insane

If you could describe yourself as one player, who would you choose personally?
I like to try and base my game on what KDB does. I’m also a big fan of Bruno Fernandes too in the sense that he gets a lot of important goals and assists for Man Utd.

You’re just at the beginning of your journey but what has it been like up until this stage?
It’s been quite tough. When I was 11, I had quite a bad knee injury. I didn’t play for nine months and wasn’t really in the team at all. As soon as I came back from that, I worked myself into playing with the older age groups and haven’t looked back since. At the start, you’re not really in your zone playing with those older age groups but after a while, you settle down and learn to start playing your game.

When you’re not representing your team's colours, what do you do to relax?
I like playing PlayStation with my mates and going out with them, too. We play a lot of Pro Clubs. I just play striker and get the goals in.

How important are your friends and family to you?
Very important. Having people to speak to if I'm not feeling right, you need those people in your life.

Best bit of advice you have ever received?
I’ve received a lot! Don’t let anything affect you. If things aren’t going great on the pitch, you just have to learn from it. Just get on with your game and things will get better.

What is your favourite footballing memory so far?
I scored a free-kick against Barcelona when I was eight, which was sick. Signing my scholarship at West Ham was important, too.

What do you hope to achieve in your career?
Become a professional football player and play for West Ham. All I know is West Ham.

What does it mean to you to be joining Roc Nation?
It makes me proud, and makes me realise that I’m a good footballer and they know that too.

Me and Roc Nation will…
Go on to achieve great things and improve each other.

Zach Marsh

Nickname: Marshy
Age: 16
Club: Watford
Position: Striker

“Never give up. You never know who’s watching.”

What position(s) do you currently play in and has this always been the same?
I started as a CB but progressively as I got older, I moved up the pitch into midfield and finally went up top three years ago.

What does it mean to you to be a baller?
It means a lot really. I’m doing what I love and I'm grateful so I just try to enjoy it.

Have you always been a baller? How did you get to this point?
No, not really! I was rejected quite a bit. At 13 I was at Luton Pre-Academy and never got in. Watford gave me a chance and I've grown from there. Before that I played on Sundays.

Growing up, who were some of your favourite players and why?
I loved watching Rooney and Aguero. Rooney is one of my favourites and Aguero is just a fox in the box. Vardy is another one I love watching.

If you could describe yourself as one player, who would you choose personally?
Vardy. He’s got that ingredient that people see in me. Energy.

You’re just at the beginning of your journey but what has it been like up until this stage?
It’s been really enjoyable. Since I got into the academy, I haven’t had many setbacks so I'm grateful for that and hope it continues that way.

When you’re not representing your team's colours, what do you do to relax?
Watch football to be honest. I just love football. I watch a lot of Premier League games but I support Reading and end up going to a lot of their games.

How important are your friends and family to you?
Very important. Without them, you are nothing. If you’ve ever had a bad game or just not in the best of places, those are the people who really help you get back to where you want to be.

Best bit of advice you have ever received?
To never give up! You never know who’s watching.

What is the funniest footballing story you have been a part of?
There was one where we went to play Leicester. 6-5 down, we only had ten men and there just was one minute to go. We won a pen – which I scored – and then from kick-off we went and scored again to win 7-6! It knocked them out of the cup, too. It was a really funny game. As a striker I got three so I was happy.

What do you hope to achieve in your career?
The dream is to play in the Premier League and play for England. There are a lot of steps but I just want to go all the way to the top.

What does it mean to you to be joining Roc Nation?
It means a lot. They have advised and supported me unbelievably so far. I’m looking forward to doing more together.

Kaiden Wilson

Nickname: Kaid
Age: 16
Club: Chelsea
Position: Defender

“Everything in my life revolves around football.”

What position(s) do you currently play in and has this always been the same?
I play CB now. At Sunday League level, I played defensive roles but it was more like CDM. I have always been in central defensive roles, though.

What does it mean to you to be a baller?
It means everything. Everything in my everyday life revolves around football.

Growing up, who were some of your favourite players and why?
Patrick Vieira was definitely one of my idols. Just the way he would win the ball back and start the counter-attacks. I loved how aggressive he was, too.

If you could describe yourself as one player, who would you choose personally?
Probably VVD. He’s a ball-playing centre back and off the pitch he is very chilled. You don’t see him doing much, he is just calm.

You are just at the beginning of your journey but what has it been like up until this stage?
It’s been good. A few ups and downs but all good. Going on trials and not getting in are the downs. I got to Chelsea when I was 14 and played Sundays up until then. I went on trial to Bristol Rovers but I was too young to move, trialled with Southampton for a few months but they never wanted me. When I went back to playing Sunday League, we played a tournament and some Chelsea scouts saw me and wanted me to join.

When you’re not representing your team's colours, what do you do to relax?
Play games with my friends from Bristol. A lot of Pro Clubs. Typically I play up top when I play FIFA.

How important are your friends and family to you?
They’re the most important people in my life. They always encourage me. I didn’t want to move at the start but they reminded me that this is all I've wanted to do and encouraged me during the move.

Best bit of advice you have ever received?
Take everything day by day. Don’t worry about what has happened or what is going to happen. Control what you can control right now.

What is your favourite footballing memory so far?
Winning the Nationals with Chelsea this season is up there for sure.

What do you hope to achieve in your career?
Make it as a professional footballer. That is all I’ve ever wanted.

Me and Roc Nation will…
Work together and make me a professional footballer.

Michael Golding

Nickname: MG
Age: 15
Club: Chelsea
Position: Midfielder

“Express yourself and be a player that others want to be like.”

What position(s) do you currently play in and has this always been the same?
I’ve always been a central midfielder but I also play attacking mid and defensive mid. Playing both means I'm more versatile.

What does it mean to you to be a baller?
It means to express yourself and be a player that others want to be like.

Have you always been a baller? How did you get to this point?
I would say I was always the best at school because I started really early. I used to play a lot with my brothers.

Growing up, who were some of your favourite players and why?
From the past, Iniesta and Zidane for sure. From when I really started watching football myself, it was the 2014 World Cup with James Rodriguez. Him and Neymar were massive for me.

If you could describe yourself as one player, who would you choose personally?
Either KDB or Kante.

You are just at the beginning of your journey but what has it been like up until this stage?
It’s great to be here. When I was younger I was at Wimbledon because my older brother was there but I moved to Chelsea when I was 12. Since then it’s been onwards and upwards with some great experiences. I had to move to ‘digs’ because school starts so early.

When you’re not representing your team's colours, what do you do to relax?
I love spending time with my older and younger brothers, but I also like playing FIFA and Fortnite. When I play it’s mostly online friendlies.

How important are your friends and family to you?
I’m really close to my two brothers who both play football. My younger brother is at Chelsea too and my older brother plays for Oxford United in the first team. We used to have that competitive rivalry of who had the best skills or who’d score the most goals, but we all support each other.

Best bit of advice you have ever received?
Be yourself and express yourself. Never change who you are for anything.

What is your favourite footballing memory so far?
Winning the nationals with Chelsea and winning a tournament with England are up there.

What do you hope to achieve in your career?
I hope to win everything in football, including the World Cup! I want to have those experiences of going away and representing your country.

What does it mean to you to be joining Roc Nation?
It’s a big honour. JAY-Z is an icon and the agency has great talents like my Idol KDB.

Ezra Carrington

Nickname: Ez
Age: 16
Club: Manchester City
Position: Defender

“I worked hard to get to this stage.”

What position(s) do you currently play in and has this always been the same?
I play right back now but I started out as a defensive midfielder.

What does it mean to you to be a baller?
It means to enjoy playing football for me.

Have you always been a baller? How did you get to this point?
I haven’t always been. I just worked really hard and played a lot of football, especially on the playground.

Growing up, who were some of your favourite players and why?
Ronaldinho, it was just the way he moved with football. I’ve watched a lot of him on YouTube.

If you could describe yourself as one player, who would you choose personally?
I would say Hakimi because of his speed and technique.

You’re just at the beginning of your journey but what has it been like up until this stage?
Tough. I wasn’t always at an academy, I worked hard to get to this stage. I joined the academy when I was 12 but it’s been good ever since.

When you’re not representing your team's colours, what do you do to relax?
Lots of FIFA. Ultimate team specifically. My team is pretty decent, I packed Vieira recently.

How important are your friends and family to you?
Very important. I love being around them. You need people you can trust around you and they are that for me.

Best bit of advice you have ever received?
Keep it simple. Don’t overthink things too much.

What is your favourite footballing memory so far?
My debut for England against Turkey was a great moment.

What do you hope to achieve in your career?
I want to play football at the very top level – Champions League, World Cup. That’s the level I want to get to.

Me and Roc Nation will…
Achieve great things.

Keep up with these talents by following Roc Nation Sports International on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.