Sara Walsh was in her childhood bedroom in New Port
Richey, Fla. when she received a life-changing phone call. The UNF graduate was
home on a visit and had been looking through newspaper clippings that
highlighted her days as a young soccer star. She had just read one in which she
had proudly proclaimed she would one day make it to ESPN, the worldwide leader
in sports, when her phone rang.
It was the sports network, offering her a job.
“To have that in writing from so many years ago is pretty
cool,” said Walsh, who is now a four-time Emmy winner.
The former soccer star and broadcast major at UNF had
realized one of her life ambitions. ESPN hired Walsh in May of 2010 as a sports
anchor, and has made regular appearances, anchoring such programs as
SportsCenter and SportsNation and has conducted several high-profile interviews
Walsh was a member of the inaugural team for the UNF
Women’s Soccer program in 1996, just as the University was making the
transition from NAIA to a NCAA Division II athletics program. Having been a
standout player for Gulf High School in New Port Richey, she said the
opportunity to play for a new program at a college like UNF was an attractive
“I liked the facilities, I liked the coach and I just had
a good vibe about the place,” she said. “It was exciting to be a part of an
inaugural program and to be able to be a part of the program's foundation.”
Walsh still holds several records in UNF Women’s Soccer,
including most points – 9 – in a single game, which include combined points
from assists and goals, and she also holds the single-game goal record with
“I looked through an old media guide and it had a picture
of her playing. You can just see the intensity she possessed in that photo,”
said Kathy Klein, former compliance director for the UNF Athletics Department
and current director of Parent and Family Programs at UNF.
Klein still keeps in touch with Walsh, and would do anything
to get her back to the University to speak to current student-athletes about
life after sports.
“She’s certainly an example of success,” she said.
Walsh made it no secret throughout her college career
where her interests lay. She was constantly learning as much as she could about
other sports and talking about life after college.
“In my first year at UNF as coach, it was no secret that
[broadcast media] was her goal,” said Mike Munch, Walsh’s coach during her
junior and senior seasons. “She wanted to be on SportsCenter. Everyone always
talks about goals and the things in life they’d like to achieve. It was clear
that is what she wanted to do and it’s not surprising to me to see her there
As a student-athlete, a majority of her time was split
between soccer and academics, which didn’t leave much time for jobs and
internships other broadcast majors were applying for and winning.
“I felt like I was so behind because I couldn’t have a
job like that [while a student at UNF],” she said.
In her final year at UNF, Walsh had already completed
enough courses to graduate early, but chose to stay to finish her final season.
That allowed her to take advantage of the opportunities around town and as soon
as her season was over, she was able to procure a position running the
telepromtper at a local TV station as well as covering sports for the Beaches
From there, her career started to progress as she landed
jobs in Macon, Ga. and Nashville, Tenn. where she received her four Emmys (for
Best Sportscast and Best Sports Event Coverage in 2006 and for Best Sportscast
and Best Sports Program/Series in 2005). Walsh moved on to Washington, D.C.,
where she covered the Washington Redskins for WUSA-TV for four seasons until
ESPN came knocking. A lot of hard work went in to getting to ESPN, she said. It
certainly didn’t happen as fast as people might think. Walsh said there were a
number of years that weren’t easy as she worked her way up in the industry.
Now settled into her career in Connecticut, Walsh said
she is taking the time to enjoy the work she is given and won’t take a minute
of it for granted.
“It’s definitely surreal,” she said. “I will be in
commercial breaks and look around and say, ‘Man, how did I get here?’”