From Scottsdale to SportsCenter: Matt Barrie

Sara Walsh and Matt Berrie during SportsCenter on the Road from Notre Dame the first weekend of the college football season. (submitted photo)

Sara Walsh and Matt Barrie during SportsCenter on the Road from Notre Dame the first weekend of the college football season. (submitted photo)

When Scottsdale residents tune to ESPN to see the College Football Playoff National Championship coverage happening in Glendale, they might recognize one of the hosts on SportsCenter.

Matt Barrie, a Scottsdale native and graduate of Saguaro High School and Arizona State University, has worked his way up the ranks to every sports journalist’s dream job: SportsCenter anchor.

This weekend, he returned home with “SportsCenter on the Road” to cover Monday’s tilt between No. 1 Clemson University and No. 2 University of Alabama.

Mr. Barrie says his favorite part of returning home is flying into Sky Harbor International Airport and seeing the mountains while flying over Sun Devil Stadium. He also enjoys the Phoenix cuisine.

“The food is always something I look forward to coming home,” he said in a Jan. 8 phone interview. “Being able to see it all again has been great.”

Mr. Barrie played football and baseball in high school and was on Saguaro’s first state championship team in 1996. Tim Beck, now the co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Ohio State University, coached Mr. Barrie during his playing days with the Sabercats.

One of Mr. Barrie’s teammates, Mike Brown, went on to play at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and played for the Chicago Bears.

“That was really the first time Saguaro went from being an afterthought in football to really sustaining some success,” Mr. Barrie said. “After the ’96 championship and through the years they’ve produced some of the best talent in the state. It’s always fun to say we were part of the first one.”

Mr. Barrie graduated a Sun Devil, but he originally packed his bags for Tucson.

He had chosen the University of Arizona because it was far away from home, but he ultimately decided his best career choice was in Tempe.

“I really wanted to do sports broadcasting because I wasn’t going to grow anymore, I wasn’t going to play pro sports,” Mr. Barrie said. “I really wanted to be involved with sports and talk about sports. At the end of the day I was thinking it’s stupid to go to place like Arizona, who doesn’t have one of the best broadcasting schools in the country like ASU.”

Mr. Barrie already had his dorm assignment at Arizona when he decided to change his plans and enroll in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State.

Pre-ESPN: from the tundra to Dallas

After his sun-filled days growing up in Scottsdale and going to ASU, Mr. Barrie made his jump into the real world. He headed to Wausau, Wisc. in 2001 for his first experience in the real world and his first experience with a real winter.

“It was brutal. It was absolutely brutal,” he said of his first winter. “With all due respect to the fine folks of Wisconsin, if I had to choose a first market for a kid who grew up in Arizona—that wouldn’t have been it.”

Mr. Barrie still carries memories of his first job with him today. He had the opportunity to cover Brett Favre in his Packers days and the University of Wisconsin football team, but one memory in particular sticks out.

“I’ll never forget—it snowed on Cinco de Mayo,” he said. “For all of the getting accustomed to the winters and all of that, it really was a good jumping off point for me. I’ll remember it for that more than I’ll remember the bone-chilling negative degree temperatures.”

After covering the frozen tundra, Mr. Barrie went to warmer weather in Lawton, Okla. and Columbia, S.C. where he covered college football for KSWO-TV and WLTX-TV, respectively. During these stops, he was able to cover Oklahoma University’s back-to-back national title games in 2003 and 2004 with Jason White and Adrian Peterson, as well as Steve Spurrier’s first year with the University of South Carolina.

“To be imbedded in the SEC culture when Spurrier was making his comeback to college football—I couldn’t have planned it any better,” Mr. Barrie said.

Mr. Barrie’s roots in the Valley fostered his love for college football.

“We didn’t have the Arizona Cardinals until the late 1980s,” he said. “We grew up with season tickets to Arizona State football and I remember the guys like Jeff Van Raaphorst, Nathan LaDuke, Grady Benton and Larry Marmie, the head coach. I grew up in a college football setting because here in Phoenix, at the time, that was what you grew up around.”

His first taste of football involved watching some of college football’s greats practice at Scottsdale Community College in preparation for the annual Fiesta Bowl.

Immediately before coming to ESPN, Mr. Barrie spent five years with KXAS, NBC5 in Dallas, where he traveled with the Dallas Cowboys and covered the Mavericks and Texas Rangers as well.

While in Dallas, he won multiple awards, including five Lonestar Emmy Awards and the 2010 national and regional RTDNA Edward R. Murrow Award.

“It obviously has meant a lot,” he said. “I really prided myself on storytelling and doing features out there…I don’t think careers are defined by awards, but it certainly means a lot to know that your work is being recognized.”

Matt Barrie

Matt Barrie

On the Road with ESPN

In his current job with ESPN, he has had the opportunity to be a part of the “SportsCenter on the Road” program, where ESPN posts up at sporting events around the USA.

Mr. Barrie says his favorite stop so far was a stop in Collegeville, Minn. for the storied rivalry game between Division III’s St. John’s and St. Thomas. A rivalry that turned 100 in 2001 drew a big crowd to the SportsCenter set.

“They had close to 5,000 people out that morning during the show when we were on at 6 a.m. local time,” Mr. Barrie said. “It was incredible. The energy and the way with which they embraced us being there is what SportsCenter on the Road is all about.”

A lover of college football, Mr. Barrie says Ann Arbor, Mich., home of the University of Michigan, has been the best college town so far.

“I just think that place epitomizes what a college town should look and feel like,” he said.

ESPN has also taken Mr. Barrie to some non-mainstream sporting events such as the World Cornhole Championship in Knoxville, Tenn. and the National Horseshoe Pitching Championship in Topeka, Ks.

“Our management thought that it would be really fun to take the SportsCenter on the Road bus to some of these summer events that are unique to these particular areas,” he said. “You have these really, really cool events that get a lot of local attention and they said this would be a unique way to deliver SportsCenter on the Road.”

Mr. Barrie says co-anchoring with Sara Walsh is fun, and a lot of the fun happens during the commercial breaks, when the two talk about random topics and laugh before going back on air.

“I think it’s important to have fun,” Mr. Barrie said. “At the end of the day, you’re informing viewers and providing them content in the sports world, but you want to have fun doing it.”

While Mr. Barrie has worked at ESPN for nearly three years, he says he still has work to do.

“Once you think that you’ve made it, you can get lazy and complacent,” he said. “I do believe that ESPN is the best place to work in our industry. If you want to have a career in sports broadcasting, I believe ESPN is the place to do that in terms of resources, great people and a very fun work environment.”

Scottsdale Independent Sports Correspondent Justin Maskulinski can be contacted at jmaskulinski@newszap.com. Follow him on twitter at twitter.com/Maskulinski.

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