With microphone in hand and admiration in her eyes, 17-year-old Kelsey Souto started an interview with one of her idols with a mix of nerves and niceties.
ESPN reporter/anchor and hometown girl Erin Andrews handled the inquiry with aplomb, answering thoughtfully and with self-deprecating humor. She also offered Souto some helpful advice on a career in sports journalism.
And Souto, a Clearwater High senior who was reporting for the Pinellas School District's TV station, acquitted herself just fine.
Andrews, 32, told Souto about her humble beginnings, working on College GameDay and how good looks can only take a woman so far in the world of sports reporting.
Veteran CBS reporter "Lesley Visser made a comment, and I've lived by it," Andrews said. "You can get your foot in the door by how you look, maybe how you dress, being able to relate to athletes and coaches, but you're not going to stay there because of that.
"You're only going to advance and get better with how prepared you are."
Andrews returned to Tampa last week as the keynote speaker for the Outback Bowl luncheon.
For Souto, the opportunity to interview a noted sports personality produced a little anxiety. It didn't help that a half-dozen professional reporters looked on.
“My heart was racing," Souto said. "It was so, so intense because everyone was watching. In my head, I was telling myself, 'calm down.' "
Souto earned the opportunity as a member of the school district's executive internship program, where students take high school and college dual enrollment courses while working with local businesses.
Along with Palm Harbor University senior Ryanne Doumet, Souto spends two days a week handling a number of duties for WPDS, a station available to 900,000 homes through Bright House, Verizon and Knology.
Dave Cook, the WPDS operations manager, helped prep Souto for the interview. A former sports producer at WFLA-Ch. 8, Cook supervised Andrews when she interned at that station.
"I knew Erin would recognize the internship connection," Cook said. "I knew she would celebrate, open up and embrace Kelsey.
"We have a lot of kids doing a lot of things like this."
Andrews also spoke openly about her inauspicious beginnings in the business, and how she came to make preparation one of her cornerstones — in part because people challenge the role of women in this male-dominated field.
The lesson wasn't lost on Souto, a volleyball player who said she will give stronger consideration to becoming a sports reporter after hearing Andrews' account.
"She made it a lot easier," Souto said. "It wasn't an inconvenience for her. She wasn't rolling her eyes. It was a wonderful thing."
I feel like a sports reporting career may have been born before my eyes, and it's because Andrews took the time to care. Through her spotlight role on ESPN to her stint on ABC's Dancing With The Stars, Andrews insists she's still the girl next door.
Her interaction with Souto more than backs that claim.
That's all I'm saying.