28 October 2014

Experiencing an SEC football game on the plains of Auburn

I was in Auburn, Alabama last weekend to call the Iron Bowl of Soccer - Auburn vs. Alabama - and got a dramatic finish in a 1-0 Tiger victory in overtime.

The night before, I had the chance to take in my first conference football game in the SEC - Auburn vs. South Carolina - and go behind the scenes with the SEC Network broadcast of the game. It was a really fun experience, and I thought I'd share some of my pictures and my impressions:


20 October 2014

Pictures from my latest Georgia trip, ESPNU broadcast

I made my second trip of the year to call a game at the University of Georgia last weekend, including what felt like my umpteenth flight from LaGuardia to Atlanta. Many more still to come, of course!

With a free Saturday night and no college football in the area, I went to see Silverbacks Park in north Atlanta, home to the Atlanta Silverbacks of the North American Soccer League. Small stadium (c. 5,000 capacity) with a large youth-soccer presence in the crowd.

I was very surprised by two things: 1. The wind made it quite a cool evening. 2. T-shirts for 'MLS Atlanta 2017' were sold side-by-side (from a third-party vendor) with those of the home team, a member of a league often considered in competition with MLS. Very interesting.

My partner for Sunday's game, airing on ESPNU this time instead of the SEC Network, was former US women's national team star Shannon MacMillan, who won the MAC Hermann Trophy as the nation's top player in 1995 while at Portland, then was a key player as the US won the 1996 Olympics and 1999 World Cup and later played in the WUSA.

What had not occurred to me was that the 1996 Olympic soccer competition culminated in Athens, Georgia, with MacMillan scoring the semifinal game-winner and a goal in the final in games played before capacity crowds in Sanford Stadium, the Georgia football stadium! This was Shannon's first time back to Athens in 18 years, and even though she was performing in a much smaller venue, I think she had a great afternoon.

Most of us working on the broadcast were shadowed by University of Georgia broadcast television students as part of ESPN's Campus Connection program, and Shannon and I had the chance to talk to a bunch of them before things got too crazy, so that was a lot of fun.
The game itself was a little hectic. A half-marathon held in the morning had limited our crew's access to the site, so there were a few things that wound up being done on-the-fly. In taping our opening segment, we were about to complete our best take when the stadium PA system launched into The Star-Spangled Banner, a definite no-no. So we did the open live, and except for one word stumble on my part (which I fairly successfully worked through), it still went great!

Afterward, with flights from Atlanta scheduled for Sunday night, we both high-tailed it out after the game, but not before I changed clothes and took a quick selfie with the stone Uga (pronounced like Uggla without the L) that keeps watch over the UGa Soccer Stadium!

Once I got to the airport, I could not convince TGIFriday's to switch any of its televisions away from Sunday Night Football, so to catch the first half of LA vs. Seattle for the MLS Supporters' Shield title, I used their wireless signal instead.
Finally, here's a link to our post-game segment, including both of the game's goals.

05 October 2014

Calling battle of SEC heavyweights on Sunday: No. 6 Florida at Arkansas


Only two women's soccer teams remain unbeaten in SEC play through four rounds of play, and those two will go head-to-head Sunday morning (noon ET) in Fayetteville, Arkansas, when No. 6 Florida (9-2, 4-0 SEC) takes on Arkansas (6-2-4, 2-0-2 SEC). I'll have the call on the SEC Network with 1999 World Cup-winning coach Tony DiCicco (nice resume, eh?).

Where we'll be watching from.
Florida's won five games in a row, including a dramatic 1-0 win at Texas A&M on Friday night in a battle of the conference's top two teams. Arkansas is no slouch, though: The Razorbacks made a Cinderella run to the NCAA Round of 16 last year in the first NCAA tournament appearance in their 28-year history! They play a rough-and-tumble polar opposite of Florida's smooth passing game, so it will provide yet another game featuring a contrast in styles.

You want stars? Florida has US U-20 forward Savannah Jordan, who scored 22 goals as a freshman last year and had the game-winner against A&M (and scored to eliminate Arkansas in last year's SEC quarterfinals). The Gators have 6-foot-1 goalkeeper Taylor Burke, a dual soccer/high-jump star who is one shutout away from tying the Florida career record. They also have a 6-foot Slovenian international with crazy hair and one of the best center-back tandems around. Fun team to watch.

You'll be happy to know I got a lower-key rental car this week.
Arkansas has US U-23 attacker Ashleigh Ellenwood, whose long throw-ins are a vital part of the Razorback game plan -- sometimes it looks like her arms are more tired than her legs at the end of a game! Senior Tyler Allen has already been on SportsCenter twice this year, thanks to her habit of sending in dangerous free kicks from deep positions. The Razorbacks also have bright underclassmen in goalkeeper Cameron Carter and attackers Sparky Fischer and Nicole Ortega. (I use the generic term "attackers" because trying to assign consistent spots to Arkansas's formations is extremely difficult.)

Moving planks one at a time. to support the lift
When I landed this afternoon, I went straight to Razorback Field, where our intrepid crew was setting up for the 11 am (local time) kickoff on Sunday. That meant I got to see how they lined up the scissor lift for our end-zone camera without messing up the stadium's grass: CAREFULLY.


Well worth it for a great view on Sunday.
Coaches love to talk about chess matches on the field ... this one was at the airport.

28 September 2014

Calling top-5 matchup between Virginia, Florida State on ESPNU Sunday


Our midfield view at the Seminole Soccer Complex.
My fall slate of soccer games hits its most high-profile contest on Sunday, with No. 3 Virginia (ranked No. 2 by Soccer America) taking on No. 5 Florida State at 4 p.m. ET on ESPNU. If you like watching soccer at all, this game is worth checking out. Here's why:

1. The best player in college soccer. Morgan Brian is 21, a senior at Virginia, and part of the US women's national team. You may have heard of them. She won the Hermann Trophy as the country's top player last year (this highlight reel gives you some idea), and she's already got three goals and five assists in seven of Virginia's 10 games this year, missing three while playing for the US. An O-mid in college and D-mid for the US, she is an exceptionally technical player, equally comfortable playing one-touch passes and using intricate dribbling moves. I've been very impressed watching her on video, and I'm looking forward to seeing her play in person. On the Virginia side, I'm also looking forward to seeing US U-20 forward Makenzy Doniak (I called her games this summer in the U-20 Womens' World Cup) and versatile midfielder Danielle Colaprico, a New Jersey product who has played all four midfield spots this year and excelled in each.

2. International flavor. Two of Florida State's top offensive threats hail from Iceland, 5-foot-11 Dagný Brynjarsdóttir (herself a candidate for this year's Hermann Trophy) and 5-foot-9 Berglind Thorvaldsdóttir. Yes, that means their fathers' names are Brynjar and Thorvald. The Seminoles also have players from Ireland, Finland, Japan, Germany, and Canada.(and New Jersey!)

3. It's going to be close. 17 of the last 20 games between these ACC rivals have been decided by one goal or finished tied, and their last four regular-season games have gone to overtime. It will also likely be played with pace and skill rarely seen in the college ranks.

4. Virginia's ridiculous offense. The Cavaliers led the country in scoring last year with 3 goals per game and are averaging 3.6 in 2014. They have scored at least two goals in every game this season and have scored in 44 consecutive games, the longest active streak in Division I. They've also won 31 consecutive regular-season games. Their last regular-season loss? In overtime at Florida State on Oct. 14, 2012.

5. These teams need to be tested. Both went to the College Cup last year and were eliminated in heartbreaking fashion by national champion UCLA. But this year, they have not faced a lot of sturdy opposition. Florida State has played two ranked teams, beating Portland and losing (at home) to rival Florida, while Virginia has yet to play a ranked opponent.

After flying in on Saturday afternoon, I watched Virginia's walk-through on a bumpy football practice field (in the shadow of Doak Campbell Stadium) and checked out Florida State's facilities, including the softball field (which shares a concourse with the soccer stadium) and baseball stadium. Not surprisingly, humidity and bugs were everywhere, but I have a feeling that won't slow these teams down this afternoon.

I'm excited to work with ACC, NCAA, and Olympic champion Cat (Reddick) Whitehill for the second straight week, with coverage starting on ESPNU at 4 p.m. ET or after the conclusion of the Florida-Mizzou game that starts at 2 ET (also worth watching). Should that game go into overtime, our show will start on WatchESPN. But whenever and however you have the chance, it'll be worth watching!

27 September 2014

Which of these cars just screams "Jonathan Yardley" to you?

I've gotten over my general distaste for renting cars (being over 25 and having a real credit card make it a LOT easier), but it still throws me into some unusual situations.

On Saturday in Tallahassee, I was asked what size car I wanted, and since I knew my company had reserved a mid-size, I said, "mid-size or smaller, I don't care." When I went out to the lot, my spot featured this beauty:


Somehow, I don't think that car happens to be my style. I can't imagine pulling up just about anywhere in this. Especially on a work trip! I would be incredibly self-conscious standing anywhere near it.

So I had to go back in and tell the guys at the counter that I'd like a different car, adding, "Bet you've never had anybody turn down that car before." That got a big laugh -- I'm not sure whether it was with me or at me!

I wound up in this vehicle, much more to my liking:


23 September 2014

Since I'm in the area ... My first college football game at an SEC stadium

My fall work in the SEC means I will occasionally get to drop in on extra sporting events, and I had the chance to take in my first college football game in an SEC stadium (although I have been to midnight yell practice at Texas A&M) at the University of Georgia's Sanford Stadium on Saturday.

While I have no special ties to Georgia, I've always had a soft spot for Sanford Stadium because of its distinctive hedges. When you see a lot of the big stadiums on TV, they're mostly distinguishable only by the colors painted in the end zones and worn by the fans. With Georgia, however, you see the hedges and instantly know where the game is taking place. It always makes me think of watching football with my grandfather as a kid.

Georgia's game on Saturday was a noon kickoff against Troy, a school I called twice in 2012 but was definitely going to be overmatched in this game. After a wake-up call around 5:30 am CT in Mississippi, I flew to Atlanta, got my rental car, and set out for Athens, Georgia (only a little more than a year after my first trip to Athens, Greece).

02 September 2014

Football opening day in photos -- Aug. 30

I have the fortune to cover multiple sports, and each is interesting and exciting in its own way. Saturday meant the beginning of college football season for most FBS and FCS schools, including the two whose games I called, Buffalo (FBS) and Duquesne (FCS).

It was the in-game broadcast debut of 15-year NFL veteran Vonnie Holliday, who was fun to work with both ahead of time and during the game itself. Here's to many more opportunities for Vonnie and, possibly, for us to work together!

On Friday, after flying in from our respective homes, we met up with our producer at UB Stadium to attend Buffalo's walkthrough. You don't always get a lot out of walkthroughs, but we certainly learned plenty from this one. We learned about a change in the starting offensive line, watched Buffalo work on avoiding bouncing punts, and met nose tackle Kristjan Sokoli, whose family gradually moved to North Jersey from Albania during his childhood.



We also got a look at the Buffalo facilities, including a wall that highlighted the school's all-time leaders in various football categories. That included their most famous football alum, Khalil Mack, who was the No. 5 pick in this year's draft (by the Raiders), and who - as it turned out - came to the game on Saturday.


On game day, we arrived early (around 12:45 for a 3:30 game) to test equipment and rehearse some of the elements of our show. Our broadcast position was a little cramped, but we certainly couldn't complain about the vantage point!


We detoured down to the field to meet Duquesne head coach Jerry Schmitt, who had been very helpful earlier in the week when we talked on a conference call, and - of course - to take a selfie!


After planning to pre-record our opening segment, we wound up doing it live, but I think it ended up being very competitive with our rehearsals, so we were proud of handling that situation well.

Once the game began, Buffalo got off to a good start, but the weather wouldn't cooperate: We had a lightning delay midway through the first quarter. Thankfully we were NOT called on to kill time for the entire 40-minute delay, so we recharged just like the teams did.


After Buffalo controlled most of the first half, a turnover late in the second quarter (when Buffalo's return man failed to avoid a bouncing punt -- remember the walkthrough!?) put Duquesne back in the game. The Dukes, playing an FBS opponent for the first time, promptly dominated the third quarter and actually took a 28-24 lead early in the fourth quarter, much to our surprise.


Buffalo eventually pulled away for the win, however, using a go-ahead touchdown and a clock-eating drive to do so by a 38-28 score. That left Vonnie and I to wrap things up in a post-game segment, and we didn't get back to the hotel until after 9 p.m., not at all what we expected with a 3:30 kickoff!


All in all, a fun opening weekend for both of us. No football for me this weekend (Sept. 6), as I'll be attending a wedding, and I have a lot of weekends tied up with soccer this fall, but I hope to get some more football games under my belt as well!

30 August 2014

Circus catch highlights Duquesne effort in 38-28 loss to Buffalo

My Saturday game, called on ESPN3 with Vonnie Holliday, was Duquesne's first game against an FBS team, and they sure put in a memorable performance. After trailing 21-0 late in the first half, the Dukes rallied to go up 28-24 early in the fourth quarter before eventually succumbing, 38-28.

I'll post some pictures from our day later, but first one of the coolest football plays I've had the privilege to call.