As sophomore Ava Nichols stood on the sidelines watching one of the largest sporting events in history, she was in complete disbelief that this was reality.
“On my right was a reporter who traveled from Quebec, and on my left was a reporter who traveled from Beijing—it really put things into perspective for me. Many reporters work their whole lives and never attend a Super Bowl. And here I was—a student reporter—living the dream.”
Nichols, who grew up in small-town Indiana, toured NAU as a seventh grader and since then, had her sights set on becoming a Lumberjack. She knew she wanted to pursue sports broadcasting—as an avid volleyball player herself, she spent countless hours watching sports on TV and in high school gyms across the Midwest. She looked up to the women sports reporters and knew someday, that would be her.
She also knew that in addition to hosting spring training annually, Arizona was set to host the Final Four and the Super Bowl during the duration of her college career. Just the thought of being in the same state as such large sporting events was an added bonus to her decision to come to NAU.
As a high school senior intent on becoming a reporter, she reached out NAU’s sports media advisor Rory Faust to find out how she could go about turning her reporting dreams into a reality. Instead of telling her, he set up a visit for Nichols to come to campus and get a special studio tour of NAZ Today, NAU’s student-run news station.
“I had always dreamed of attending NAU, but seeing the facilities and with Rory’s support, I was more set than ever.”
When her freshman year began, she dove headfirst into all things sports broadcasting. Majoring in both journalism and strategic communication with an emphasis in public relations, she quickly climbed the ladder to become the NAZ Today Sports Director, works as an Athletic Communications intern, runs the social media for NAU’s sports media program and does sideline reporting for NAU-TV on ESPN+.
“I have continued to fall in love with NAU as I have been immersed into the sports media program. The opportunities at NAU are like no other. I was able to get on-air experience as a freshman!” Nichols said.
One opportunity she definitely did not expect? Getting to attend Super Bowl Media Week and cover the game. Thanks to Faust, even that became an attainable goal.
“I worked professionally in sports media from 1999-2010 and covered the NFL, so I have some insight into how the credentialing process works,” Faust said. “Super Bowl media credential requests must be submitted in November, nearly three months before the game, and they are very selective about who gets to attend. I requested credentials for NAZ Today, our live nightly newscast which serves Flagstaff and the entire northern Arizona region.”
Then, the wait began. Weeks later, he received the email.
Not only was Faust granted a media week pass for himself and five students, but also got one game day credential as well.
“Deciding which students would receive credentials was hard. Versatility is important for these types of events. The top priority was identifying individuals with superb camera and video editing skills, since we would be making numerous video story packages to air on our NAZ Today newscasts. The turnaround time is tight, with some story packages airing the same day they are made. Beyond that, other intangibles we looked for are their ability to work under pressure, interviewing skills, character, reliability and trustworthiness, etc.,” he said.
After some debate, he settled on the most qualified five: senior Michael Manny, senior Brenden Martin, senior Casey Everett, senior Lindsey Ridgway and Nichols.
“I had just gotten back from winter break and was actually getting ready to sideline the Men’s Basketball game against University of Montana on ESPN+ when Rory called me to tell me the news,” said Ridgway, who also works as a reporter for NAU-TV. “Everything after that was a blur—I was too excited to concentrate on anything else!”
After a month of meetings—sometimes three times a week to discuss logistics, equipment, content and story ideas—the group headed south prior to the big game for Super Bowl Media Week, a chance for media from throughout the world to connect with coaches and players through a variety of events.
“Our job while we were there was to cover the Super Bowl and surrounding news,” Nichols said. “NAZ Today has two weekly live shows and a 15-minute sports show that airs on Fridays called ‘The Overtime.’ In Phoenix, we created news and sports content for all three shows and sent it back up to Flagstaff to air locally. We produced the segments, edited our own packages, wrote our own scripts, conducted our own interviews and covered all the events we could be at.”
Not only did Nichols cover the events leading up to the Super Bowl, she was the lucky student who was selected to attend the game. Faust felt she was the best candidate for a number of reasons. Not only was she the NAZ Today Sports Director and a reporter who recently covered the college football playoff Fiesta Bowl game between Michigan and TCU, but he appreciated that as a returning student, she would be able to share this experience with future students.
“It was such a reward for all the hard work I put in throughout the week and an extreme honor. I am so grateful to NAU and my professor, Rory Faust, for giving me the opportunity to represent them at the biggest football stage.”
“Getting to experience Media Week with all of these people I have looked up to my whole life was such a surreal experience,” Ridgway said. “I will forever take away just how big of an opportunity this was and just how validating and confirming it was that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
Faust said this opportunity not only bolsters the students’ portfolios and demo reels, but also sets them apart. “This really is a big deal. Very few of their peers across the nation will be able to tell a potential future employer they covered the Super Bowl. It really doesn’t get any bigger than that when it comes to the sports media field.”
Faust, who worked as a sports reporter for 10 years and was never afforded the opportunity to cover the Super Bowl, knows these students will never forget this once-in-a-lifetime experience. And, he’s hoping opportunities like this will encourage other students pursing sports broadcasting to attend NAU.
“In Fall 2023, we’re launching the Sports and Adventure Media program,” he said. “While NAU students have had much success in the sports broadcasting world, up until this year, we have not had a formal academic program for our sports media students. Now, prospective students and their parents will be able to see the Sports and Adventure Media program listed formally among the other academic programs on the NAU website, and they’ll also be able to see that we do some pretty amazing things here, like cover the Super Bowl.”
Carly Banks | NAU Communications
(928) 523-5582 | firstname.lastname@example.org