Catching Up with…Cole Underwood
Not every college athlete spends a majority of their life playing a sport that differs from the sport for which they receive a scholarship. Occasionally, though, the pieces all fall into place and players end up where they’re meant to be.
After attending schools in Denton and Corinth, Cole Underwood began attending Guyer High School with his older sister. As a freshman, he didn’t know many people, but looks back fondly on the welcoming environment, great teachers, and friendly students in the early days of the school. A natural born-basketball player (his dad played for South Carolina and East Carolina), Cole played basketball his entire life, starting on a traveling team. He always dreamed of playing basketball for Stanford.
His sophomore year, Cole showed up to varsity basketball practice, and it confused the coaches. He took a closer look at his schedule and realized it said varsity football. After a meeting with Head Football Coach John Walsh and Coach Adam Lynn, he learned that they had been watching him and wanted him to try to play football. He hadn’t played since he was a little kid. He began working out on weekends, improving his skills, as the Guyer Wildcats began improving on the field, winning more games. By his senior year, the scholarship offers began arriving. The first two offers he received were on the same day – Illinois and TCU. Yet, he tried to remain open to other offers and to be patient. Soon, SMU, Nebraska, Purdue, Stanford, Yale, and Baylor all offered scholarships. Yet, one stood out above the rest - the chance to play for his beloved Stanford.
But don’t take our word for it, here’s Cole in his own words…
Denton ISD: Did you always know you were California and Stanford bound someday?
Cole Underwood: I did and I have to credit my mom for this. My parents are the reason I am where I am. They helped me achieve all of my goals so far. When I was little, my mom subconsciously ingrained in my mind that I was going to go to college. I wanted to go to a smart school and she would say, “There are the Ivy Leagues and Stanford.” I always thought palm trees sounded awesome and then I started researching on my own in middle school. I wanted to be a Stanford basketball player so badly. I wasn’t even following the men’s team, but Nicole Powell was a small shooting guard for the women’s team. I loved her and as I continued my research about the school, I fell in love with it, too.
DISD: What was it like to win the Orange Bowl as a freshman at Stanford?
CU: It was a huge deal for the school, their first time to a BCS bowl in a long time. I had redshirted, but it was amazing because I got to go to South Beach. We played Virginia Tech and received championship rings, which made me happy because all I had wanted was a ring. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a Guyer state championship ring, but it came around. We went to the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona the next year, which was an interesting game because lots of Guyer Wildcats were on the field and sidelines. JW Walsh was quarterback at Oklahoma State, Josh Stewart was corner and receiver, and Jimmy Dean was there. There were guys on the other sideline I grew up with and we ended up losing to OSU, which was tough.
Denton ISD: How did you decide that you wanted to work for ESPN?
CU: I blew out my knee junior year (of college) and I was forced to sit out an entire year. I became more focused in my academics as a media studies major with a minor in communication. I always wanted to write movies and had been working on scripts. While I was hurt, I did a lot of writing. One of my mentors, Andrew Phillips, checked on me after he had graduated. He told me to meet Tom Friend, a producer for ESPN, so I spoke with him and he told me he’d love to do a story on Stanford one day. He liked an idea I had about a walk-on on our team who had a nearly perfect ACT score and a photographic memory. In college football, you can’t take pictures of plays during games, but he would look at the defense and their formations against our first 20 plays and write them all down (from memory). He became an extremely important part of our team. Tom said “I love this, let’s call it “A Beautiful Mind,” like the John Nash movie. He sent my story to ESPN. They liked it, green lit the project and sent a feature producer and crew to film for College Game Day. Once we finished, I asked them, “What can I put on my resume?” They told me to put Associate Producer. I couldn’t play but felt like, in a way, I contributed to the publicity of our team. After that last Rose Bowl, I interviewed and got offered job before I graduated.
DISD: Tell me more about what you do at ESPN.
CU: I first started doing entry level work as Chris Berman’s prompter and there was never a dull moment on NFL Countdown working with him. Later, I got to work on NFL Countdown, producing creative content, montages, and contributing to segment video and ideas. For about the last year now, I have worked for the ESPN Rise unit. We are the content creators, designers, creative consultants and serve as “think tank meetings.” We figure out the cool ways to go into/out of commercial breaks. We customize every hour of every show on ESPN and it is my job to make every show look unique and brand through music video or trailers.
DISD: Any advice for students interested in playing college sports or working for ESPN?
CU: In regards to college sports, one thing I knew and learned even more about after I got the scholarship, was that I had to be the most intense, tenacious, focused and prepared player since I wasn’t really a big kid. After games I would run 1-2 miles when others were off. I would go home and watch film. I don’t think everyone has to do that, but my advice would be no matter how good you are, look at yourself and everyone around you. Someone else is doing more. You’re always racing that invisible person coming for your spot and scholarship. Put in extra work. There are lots of distractions, high school is a beast and being a teenager is a mess. You have to understand that you can’t really be blinded by the social temptations.