Samantha Steele: From Liberty Mountain to the pinnacle of sports broadcasting

By Alan York, September 29, 2012

Samantha Steele interviews wrestling coach Jesse Castro on Feb. 9, 2009.

Samantha Steele interviews wrestling coach Jesse Castro on Feb. 9, 2009.

At only 26 years of age, Samantha Steele is about to embark on a dream that only a few experience.
In roughly three years, the former Flames Sports Network TV reporter has seen her career take off. After graduating from Liberty in 2009, Steele took a job with Fox Sports Net as part of its Pac-10 and Big 12 coverage. Two years later, Steele caught the attention of ESPN and signed on with the Longhorn Sports Network.
Steele made such an impression during the past year that ESPN added sideline reporting duties to her schedule for Thursday night games this fall. On top of that, Steele will also be hosting ESPN’s popular College GameDay show on Saturday mornings.
Alan York, “Voice of the Flames” and FSN reporter, recently caught up with Steele and she shared more about her career, family, and her time on Liberty Mountain.
How much has your life changed since ESPN elevated you to the Thursday night College Football broadcast team and Saturday College Gameday?
To be honest, not a whole lot. It’s changed somewhat on the Internet, but my daily life still consists of riding my bike around, eating junk food I probably shouldn’t, and annoying all my friends (laughing).
I’ve been doing ESPN games for about a year. Last season I did ESPN Friday night games, so I’ve gotten comfortable with the company and have made some good friends. I’ve been watching old tapes of College GameDay from last year, and life will probably change a little bit this fall because of the insanity around that environment.
Moving forward in your career, did you have a goal of being on ESPN before it became a possibility?
Absolutely not. Honestly, and this is probably a strange thing to say, but I’ve just never had any delusions of grandeur. I knew I wanted to be a sports broadcaster. As soon as I realized I wasn’t going to play a pro sport, which was in the third grade, I decided I wanted to work in sports broadcasting. I had always seen Ahmad Rashad on NBC’s “Inside Stuff,” because we did not have ESPN or cable growing up, so that was my one example.
I really didn’t have a certain stage I wanted to work on, but I just wanted to do the job. As soon as I realized you could get paid just to talk “ball,” I was a little shocked. I then realized that I didn’t know if I was good at anything else and that this doesn’t require a specific skill set. You just have to be able to talk and enjoy what you’re doing and know some things about the sports you’re calling. Because my dad was a coach, I grew up around all this stuff and it felt like second nature.
Since I was at Liberty, God has been so good to me and given me the things I’ve wanted to do at a really young age. I think it’s a reminder that He’s God and if you tell Him you want something and you try and do the right things, He’s fully capable of giving it to you. So it’s been a reminder to me that my God is so much bigger than a cool job or something other people think has happened fast. It’s been such a fun experience for me.
Tell us the story of how you ended up at Liberty.
Steele speaks with from Head Football Coach Danny Rocco in 2008.

Steele speaks with former Head Football Coach Danny Rocco in 2008.

It was my initial desire out of high school to come to Liberty. I played volleyball in high school and I wanted to keep playing in college. I came on a visit during my senior year of high school by myself and loved it. I returned home and told my family that’s where I wanted to go to school.
I spent a lot of time in New York City growing up because my dad took a lot of teams there. Right before graduation I had this idea that if I wanted to be a sports broadcaster maybe I should go to New York City instead of Liberty. So I spent three years at The King’s College, which is a small Christian school in the Empire State Building. In New York I was an intern and research assistant for the ABC College Football studio show. It was an invaluable experience.
Well it turned out after three years of living in New York, I made contact with Bruce Carey (Liberty’s producer for athletic TV broadcasts) and talked to him about working for the Flames Sports Network. Bruce ended up offering me the sideline reporting job for football and basketball. The only way Bruce even knew I would be able to do the sideline job was because of a demo tape I sent him which featured Craig James and Doug Flutie.
So I got myself down to Liberty and knew only one person. Luckily, she let me room with her. I had so much fun working at Liberty with the Flames Sports Network crew. They were so good to me.
Do you remember your first game on the Flames Sports Network?
I think it was the third football game of the year in 2008. I didn’t know Coach (Danny) Rocco, or anyone for that matter. Bruce Carey called me on the Wednesday before the game and asked if I could work the game Saturday. I had never covered a college football game before, and to be honest we were always playing growing up, so I’d never even been to a college football game. We were huge fans and watched on TV as Keith Jackson and all those guys called the games. I’d never even been to a game in person, so that was my first college experience. I don’t remember the questions I asked, and I’m sure they were terrible, but Coach Rocco was good to me.
You give a lot of credit to your family. What makes them so special to you?
My parents are awesome people, and I’m sure most kids say that about their parents. The more I’ve traveled and been around people in this industry and others, they are just so unique. They have run an inner-city ministry in Phoenix, Ariz., for the last 35 years and just took it over to the Middle East. They also run football and basketball clinics to introduce people to the Lord and show people that they are loved. My parents have literally sacrificed their lives.
My parents have kids over to the house three times a week, and they have a recreation center in Phoenix. It’s called M.A.D. (Make A Difference) House. Actually, through the connection of a Liberty alumnus, Albert Mavunga, I went to Zimbabwe last summer to start the same thing there.
I have such a great foundation of people who care about me and who don’t let my career become a big deal. One of the things about my parents is that I really know deep down that they would be proud of what I was doing even if I was working at a minimum wage job. They will always be proud of me, as long as they know that I’m trying to do the right thing, trying to make the Lord known, and living a life with whatever the calling I have is. My parents are definitely good people, and I have a lot to live up to.
How important is networking in getting a job in your line of work?
When it comes down to it … it is more how you treat people all the way around, no matter if it’s the security guard at a game, cameramen, or John Saunders hosting a studio show. It’s just so important how you treat people, because people remember that.
Generally speaking, it’s human nature for people to work with people that they like. That continues to be a huge part of my career. There are so many people who can do what I can do.
I realized early that God is capable of doing whatever He wanted to do, so why not go for it.
Moving to New York when I was 18 all by myself was ridiculous … I didn’t know enough to know how ridiculous it was at the time to make phone calls and tell my story to every person I met about what I wanted to do.
I did not start my career the traditional way, but that’s not to say you can’t do it that way, because you can. I had guidance counselors all along the way telling me that you need to be a journalism major and you need to have this internship. I figured I could always go back to that if it didn’t work out another way, but I was going to go big. And if didn’t work out, then I would go back home.
I have to believe at this point that some divine appointment is a part of this. It is ridiculous that I would show up in an executive’s office at 21-years-old telling them this is what I want to do and this is how I want to do it, thinking they would kick me out and I had nothing to lose — and then you end up getting a shot.
So much of it is getting any kind of practice you can get, and that’s the best part about Liberty. I was doing so many games at Liberty and it’s a great setup. Liberty has the equipment and facilities to support any student who wants to try, and that’s why I’m really grateful for the opportunity.
What will your schedule be like this Fall?
We will travel Tuesday for the Thursday night game and watch practice Wednesday.
I will also do GameDay features Sunday and Monday, depending on what the storylines are for that week. We don’t even know until Saturday night where we will be the following week.
My first Thursday night game is South Carolina at Vanderbilt (in Nashville, Tenn.) on Aug. 30, and the first GameDay show is at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, Texas, for the Alabama-Michigan game on Sept. 1. There won’t be a lot of free time until the end of basketball season. But the fun thing is that it’s an enjoyable job and ESPN does a really good job of taking care of you and making your travel schedule as easy as possible.
My new career goal is to get ESPN College GameDay to Liberty!

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