Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

From Gulf High sports to SportsCenter, Sara Walsh revels

“I hate to say this, but sometimes I feel like I don’t have 
a job.” SportsCenter anchor Sara Walsh, on how much she enjoys her job


“I hate to say this, but sometimes I feel like I don’t have a job.” SportsCenter anchor Sara Walsh, on how much she enjoys her job

A simple task awaited Sara Walsh when she arrived at ESPN headquarters last week.

Shoot hoops with hip-hop star Lil' Wayne.

"I hate to say this, but sometimes I feel like I don't have a job," Walsh said later with a laugh.

To go from three-sport star at Gulf High to SportsCenter anchor and Fantasy Football Now commentator makes Walsh the envy of a lot of aspiring sportscasters and sports fans.

Last week, she hung out with Weezy, this weekend she's hosting the inaugural Fantasy Football Convention at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista. Walsh will share brats with the network's fellow stars at a tailgate today, broadcast live on Saturday with her colleagues and NFL insiders Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen, and then dispense advice to fans as they conduct their own drafts.

What football-loving fanatic wouldn't jump at the chance to be in Walsh's shoes.

However, the opportunity to trade places with her didn't seem as appealing as she was slogging through more than a decade of dues-paying jobs.

After starring for the University of North Florida soccer program — she still holds team records — Walsh graduated in 1999 and initiated her broadcast career with the lustrous job of running a teleprompter at a Jacksonville television station. From there, she got a sportswriting job with the local newspaper. No, not the established Florida Times-Union, but the smaller Beaches-Leader.

From there, sportscasting stints followed in Macon, Ga., Nashville, Washington, D.C., and finally ESPN in 2010.

"It really weeds out who really wants to do it," Walsh said. "They probably didn't want to be me on my first job, working on the holidays and missing weddings. It's a matter of how bad you want it and what are you going to sacrifice.

"I tell college kids you can't want things handed to you. You can't come out of college and expect to immediately work for ESPN. You really have to want it so much you find a way to make it happen."

Walsh developed her drive growing up as a fan and athlete in Pasco County. She knew back then she would find a career in sports. Her father, John, a retired school teacher, said Sara would come home from Gulf Middle School with a video camera and practice sports reports.

"She always said she would be on ESPN," John Walsh said. "I didn't really know what to think of that back then."

By the time she reached Gulf High, Walsh blossomed as an athlete. She cheered as a freshman, but her father said coaches saw her potential to succeed in other sports. She eventually excelled in track, volleyball and soccer and loved athletics so much she thought about skipping the ceremony where she was crowned homecoming queen so she could prepare for the soccer season that started three days later.

At UNF, she displayed more perseverance by fighting through a number of injuries, including a broken foot her senior year, to play in all 73 games of her career.

After overcoming those challenges, Walsh was undaunted by the demands of sportscasting and the desire to succeed in what remains a male-dominated field, even in 2014. She didn't have parents with connections in the industry, she didn't come out of the No. 1 broadcasting school. But lacking those advantages just fueled her drive.

Today, she tunes out those who criticize her simply because of her gender but never loses sight of consistently delivering on air.

"You have to prove yourself every day. You're judged on what you do every day," Walsh said. "Do I think in 2014 I'm judged more harshly than a man? Absolutely. But when you say overcoming obstacles, there were so many women before me who paved the way for someone like myself to be able and be fortunate enough to do the job I do."

The joy Walsh exacts from the job is laced in every word. Her popularity has grown with the rise of the fantasy show but it's the camaraderie she shares with the cast — host Robert Flores and analysts Tim Hasselbeck, Matthew Berry and Stephania Bell — that seems to provide the most fun.

"Even though there are five people, including Sara, on the show, I think we all genuinely enjoy the concept of fantasy football and we all love the NFL," Flores said. "Despite being a large group for a show, we have good chemistry."

A running joke on the show revolves around the fact that Walsh hasn't been able to gain a spot in the network's elite "war room league" and compete against Hasselbeck, Berry, Bell and others. They've teased that she wasn't good enough and fans have lobbied for her to be included.

This season, she finally gets a spot and she's ready.

"If they get beat by me, it's going to be embarrassing and I'm not going to let them forget it," Walsh boldly said.

Says Flores: "We're definitely excited to see what the results will hold. If she does poorly, it'll be even better fodder for the show, but I have a feeling she's going to do very well."

It's the trash talking and playful teasing that reminds Walsh of the locker rooms she grew up in as an athlete. Now the atmosphere provides a different kind of locker room, one where athletes she watched as a kid sit beside her and Hall of Famers lend insight on the air and swap tales off the air.

Most of all, she relishes the role of offering tips to fantasy football players, even if her forecast doesn't always prove true.

"It's crazy, I get recognized more for Fantasy Football Now than SportsCenter," Walsh said. "People really want you to help them, and if it doesn't work out on that Sunday or over the course of the season, they will let you know."

Ernest Hooper can be reached at Follow @hoop4you.

ESPN Fantasy Football Convention

Friday, Saturday at ESPN Wide World of Sports, Lake Buena Vista

The weekend will feature a live telecast of ESPN's Fantasy Football Now (Saturday at 10 a.m. on ESPN2), a question-and-answer session with ESPN commentators sponsored by Champion and a fantasy football draft where fans can interact with and seek advice from the network's experts. The team of host Robert Flores, senior fantasy sports analyst Matthew Berry, Tim Hasselbeck, injury expert Stephania Bell and Sara Walsh will participate in the weekend festivities along with NFL Insiders Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter, analyst Mark Schlereth and Insider KC Joyner.

From Gulf High sports to SportsCenter, Sara Walsh revels 08/21/14 [Last modified: Thursday, August 21, 2014 10:24am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Judge tosses life sentences for D.C. sniper Lee Boyd Malvo


    McLEAN, Va. — A federal judge on Friday tossed out two life sentences for one of Virginia's most notorious criminals, sniper Lee Boyd Malvo, and ordered Virginia courts to hold new sentencing hearings.

    A federal judge has tossed out two life sentences for D.C. sniper shooter Lee Boyd Malvo. [Associated Press, 2004]
  2. Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's national security adviser, dies


    Zbigniew Brzezinski, the hawkish strategic theorist who was national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter in the tumultuous years of the Iran hostage crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the late 1970s, died on Friday at a hospital in Virginia. He was 89.

    Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, participates in Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on March 5, 2009, in Washington, D.C. [Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]
  3. USF eliminated by UCF in AAC baseball; Florida, FSU, Miami win


    CLEARWATER — Roughly 16 hours after a ninth-inning collapse against East Carolina in the American Athletic Conference's double-elimination baseball tournament, USF returned to Spectrum Field presumably set for a reboot.

    It simply got booted instead.

    ’NOLES win: Tyler Holton gets a hug from Drew Carlton after his strong eight innings help Florida State beat Louisville.
  4. Pinellas licensing board executive director settled hundreds of cases without getting his board's approval

    Local Government

    By Mark Puente

    Times Staff Writer

    Eleanor Morrison complained to the Pinellas licensing board in 2015 that her contractor installed crooked walls and windows and poured too much concrete for her carport.

    Eleanor Morrison poses at her home in Treasure Island, 5/26/17. Morrison filed a complaint with the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board and later learned that its former Executive Director, Rodney Fischer, dismissed the case in a private meeting with the contractor.
  5. Report: Kusher wanted secret communications channel with Kremlin


    Jared Kushner and Russia's ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Donald Trump's transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, U.S. …

    The name of Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's White House senior adviser, has come up as part of the Russia investigation. [Associated Press]