A Recognizable Storyteller
As host for ESPN’s “College GameDay,” Rece Davis knows a thing or two about telling stories. After all, the college football pregame show didn’t earn a Sports Emmy five years in a row by hiring professional storytellers who are just “OK.”
But, to hear the Muscle Shoals, Alabama, native tell it, one of the more valuable journalism lessons he learned while a University of Alabama student involved a UA professor explaining how one of Davis’ stories could have been so much more.
“‘It’s fine,’” Davis recalls Dr. Danielle Riffe remarking after reading one of Davis’ college journalism efforts. “‘It could have been great, but it wasn’t.’ You’ve got to do more to get deeper into the story.’”
It’s moments like Riffe’s critique that Davis says still ring in his ears when he’s prepping for his ESPN broadcasts.
“I’ve never forgotten that,” says Davis, who graduated cum laude from UA in 1988 with degrees in news and public affairs. “A little moment like that always makes me think, ‘Did you tell the whole story? Have you gotten the right perspective? Have you gotten something that will resonate with people?’
“There is nothing more important in television or in broadcasting or journalism than telling a story. Everything is a story. It doesn’t have to be a long-form or a three-hour documentary. It can be, in my case, a twenty-second lead-in, but you need to tell a story because stories live in people’s hearts.”
Davis’ on-screen presence lives in sports fans’ dens far and wide. First joining ESPN in 1995, Davis is also the network’s prime host for on-site coverage of both the College Football Playoff and the NCAA Men’s Final Four. And, when it comes to weaving basketball tales, Davis hosts ESPN’s “College GameDay” basketball road show and calls Thursday night basketball games, while regularly contributing to “SportsCenter,” ESPN Radio and hosting the NBA draft on ESPN.
Speaking 30 years and two days following his UA graduation, Davis downplays his celebrity status.
“All I’ve done is be able to pursue a job that I love and feel like I have never gone to work a day in my life because I would be studying and obsessing over sports, anyway, if I were selling insurance or working as a machinist or whatever it might be. This has always been something that has been a part of me, and I’m fortunate enough to get to pursue it.”
There was a time, during his youth, when Davis says he expected Alabama football to be an even bigger part of his life.
“I was like most every other kid in the state of Alabama, I think, I thought I was going to have this long and glorious career for the Crimson Tide and after that I was going to be a broadcaster. And, only part of that happened.”
It happened first for Davis at WCFT-TV in Tuscaloosa, Channel 33. After first working as an intern, he continued there a few months after his UA graduation. He later worked as a reporter, weekend anchor and sports director for WRBL-TV in Columbus, Georgia, before joining WJRT-TV in Flint, Michigan, in 1993 where he served as a sports anchor and reporter.
Davis says he considers hosting “GameDay” the best job in television but suggests the key to reaching the top in one’s profession is enjoying the journey rather than being hyper-focused on the destination.
“I think the biggest key to actually getting there is to not be so obsessed with the end result that you aren’t concentrating on doing your job in the moment. At Alabama, they like to call that ‘the process’” he says, in a tip of the straw hat to UA head coach Nick Saban.
“I love my job at ESPN. But, I also have really fond memories of carrying my own camera in Flint, Michigan, and watching Mateen Cleaves and Morris Petersen play basketball. Those were great. They were just high school basketball games.”
Ah, but for those attuned to sniffing out stories, good ones can be found and relayed whether originating from small, snow-covered high school gymnasiums in Michigan or from within a sun-soaked Bryant-Denny Stadium whose immensity dwarfs everything in its presence.
“At Alabama, I felt like my teachers, not only in the School of Communication, but university wide, really helped me learn how to tell a story,” Davis says. “And, because of that, I’m really grateful.”