Before Walsh became a well known “SportsCenter” personality, she was a University of North Florida soccer star. The communications major once scored a school record nine points (goals and assists) in a single game. In fact, several of the UNF soccer records she set before graduating in 1999 still stand.
“UNF was a great experience both on and off the field,” Walsh said during a recent telephone interview from Tampa, her hometown. “They did a really good job of getting our minds to where they needed to be. They didn’t tell us that success would be easy, but they told us it would be worth it.”
Walsh was hired by ESPN in 2010 as a “SportsCenter” anchor, and has become a staple at the network, hosting shows such as “SportsNation,” “First Take,” “NFL Live,” “NFL32,” “Fantasy Football Now” and NFL Draft specials.
Her path to success wasn’t an easy one.
After suffering three knee injuries during her soccer career at Gulf High School in New Port Richey, Walsh made it her goal to play at the college level.
In 1996, Walsh enrolled at UNF just as the school was shifting from NAIA to NCAA Division II in athletics. She saw the fledgling program as an opportunity to get playing time, and followed through by playing every game for the Ospreys over the next four years.
“When you play every game after knee injuries, everything else isn’t so difficult. And when you have two a days in the middle of August, it’s really hard, but then everything else isn’t so difficult,” Walsh said. “Soccer was the foundation of certain decisions I made in the future, and it all spiraled into the next opportunity.”
After earning her degree in communications, Walsh worked as a reporter for the Beaches Leader in 2000.
Johnny Woodhouse, the newspaper’s associate editor who oversaw Walsh during her time as a sports reporter, said he knew Walsh was going to succeed.
“I’ve seen a lot of people who were athletes, but they couldn’t write sports,” Woodhouse said. “But she was in her element as an athlete, and it was natural for her to write about it. She hit the ground running.”
Not long after that, Walsh took on her first television role as a sports director for WPGA in Macon, Ga. In 2003, she went to WKRN TV in Nashville, and in 2006, Walsh became the weekend sports anchor and Washington Reds jerseyskins reporter for CBS affiliate WUSA TV in Washington.
When her contract was coming to an end, Walsh knew where she wanted to be, and took a somewhat fearless approach in getting there.
“Most people have an agent when they want to go to ESPN, but I just did it myself. I sent my tape in, and I remember thinking, ‘Who do I think I am? They’re probably all laughing at me,’ ” Walsh recalled. “ESPN contacted me almost immediately. I might have been a little naive, and I didn’t know how it worked. But for me, that was how it worked.”
Walsh returned to the UNF campus last October to share her success with communications cheap baseball jerseys students. After the event, students showed support as they lined the room to ask individual questions for nearly two hours.
“From that event, a lot of students I spoke to will reach out to me on social media to ask questions and keep me updated,” Walsh said. “It’s been a really awesome community to be a part of.”
Her work with ESPN has not only made her an example of success among UNF students, but a celebrity in her hometown.
After Walsh tweeted that one of her dreams was to throw a ceremonial first pitch before a Tampa Bay Rays jerseys game, the team invited her to do so.
She visited the Tropicana Field mound on June 12 and threw out the first pitch before a game against the Boston Red Sox jerseys.
As she looks back on her unlikely career, Walsh said, “UNF really shaped who I am. My path was not normal, and I always like to remind people that anything can happen.”