‘It Was A Dream’: Alum Works The Sidelines At Penn State-Auburn Game
Many Penn State communications students dream of the prospect of working the sidelines for a big-time football game. One alum got the chance to do just that for the Big Ten Network during Penn State’s matchup against Auburn back on September 17.
Hannah Mears’ path to the sidelines in Jordan Hare-Stadium started during the summer going into college when she decided she wanted to pursue a career in the broadcast journalism field. Mears, a 2020 graduate, excelled during her time at Penn State, getting involved in any way she could right from the get-go.
She introduced herself to professors and explained her ambitions to them. Things started to quickly click for Mears, as when an opportunity with Penn State Athletics presented itself, she was ready to take it head-on.
Mears earned a number of opportunities during her time in Happy Valley. From covering Super Bowl LIV to working on the Centre County Report, the hands-on experience prepared her for the many jobs she takes on today.
“Penn State is the reason I’m here,” Mears said. “From the moment I stepped on campus, I was determined to be doing stuff on the sidelines and with sports teams. Penn State provides this really magnetic energy in terms of wanting to be involved in the sports world when you’re on campus because it’s everywhere, right?”
In addition to her new role with the Big Ten Network, Mears spends her time doing work with Picks And Parlays, USA Wrestling, and the Pittsburgh Steelers, among other roles. While her experiences at Penn State undoubtedly prepared her to handle such a workload, there’s one job she did, in particular, that was most beneficial, and most challenging, for her in the long run.
After spending the previous summer being taught video by Kyle Rinaldi, Mears got the opportunity to go to the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine and cover the likes of Trace McSorley and Miles Sanders.
“I was the only Penn State person there covering these like seven guys,” Mears said. “I was covering their press conferences, their benchpress, their on-field skills, and drills, while also trying to produce content behind the scenes, while also trying to do social media. I would wake up at 6 a.m. every day and stay up until maybe 3 a.m. every night editing stuff. I was all by myself.”
“But, it really prepared me for what this industry was,” she continued. “I had to go there and shoot, I had to edit, I had to report, I had to use connections, talk to people, and figure out stuff by myself. It ended up being the best experience and the most realistic experience to what this industry is.”
It was her connections, in part, that helped her land the sideline reporter gig for Penn State’s matchup against Auburn in SEC country. When offered the position, she was overwhelmed with emotion. The entire prospect of it — getting flown to the game, being trusted in such an important role, and just being on the sidelines — was her dream.
“To know that it was a full circle moment of actually getting to cover Penn State at one of their biggest games of the season and getting to see an SEC environment that I had never seen before — as a football fan, and as someone who’s in this industry, it was a dream.”
As her big assignment inched closer, Mears wasn’t necessarily nervous to do the job. However, she felt nervous because she wanted to represent the Big Ten Network, in the SEC, in the best way possible. It meant more to represent the company than herself.
Her time in Auburn gave Mears the opportunity to reflect on some of the more difficult parts of her journey. This opportunity showed her that all her hard work, dedication, and struggles were worth it.
“All those times I was crying or nervous or substitute teaching or just doing other things outside of this — just working to get here — has all led to this moment, and I’m so thankful,” Mears said. “I can’t even begin to tell you what that feeling was like. Imagine one of your dreams coming true right in front of your eyes and barely even getting to wrap your head around it.”
Prior to the game, all media members were given field access to roam around, interact with one another, and get up close during player warmups. While this featured a Bellisario College reunion, it also featured a different kind of reunion for Mears.
One of Mears’ college classmates was getting ready to play in the game. Her former classmate happens to be Penn State starting quarterback Sean Clifford, and he approached her during warmups to soak in the moment together.
“I was on the field, and Sean Clifford had come up to me,” Mears said. “He said, ‘Hannah, this is going to be so cool.’ Sean and I were classmates at Penn State…To be standing on the field beside him watching us both get to do something really big in our careers was super cool and such a moment of ‘Holy Cow, we’re doing it!'”
As we all know now, Penn State dominated Auburn 41-12 to make a statement down in SEC territory. Mears was busy immediately following the game, as she interviewed the likes of Clifford, James Franklin, and Curtis Jacobs.
While the opportunity to cover the Penn State-Auburn game was clearly a high point in Mears’ young career, it wasn’t an easy road to get there. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected millions across the world, Mears included.
She graduated in 2020 which landed right at the height of the pandemic. While still pursuing her dream, Mears had to waitress and substitute teach to make some money, as many places simply weren’t hiring, which she called a “super discouraging” time.
Furthermore, she was supposed to cover Penn State wrestling at the 2020 national championships, but evidently, that was canceled due to the pandemic. Despite the hardships, Mears tried to find positives during what were truly unprecedented times.
“It was more scary than anything,” she said. “Not to say that COVID was a blessing, but I guess for the point in my life I was at, it was a blessing in disguise because coming out of college, I would have felt like I had to take a job and go. That’s what this career field makes you feel like.”
Mears found work with a local network, Westmoreland Sports, that allowed her to get reps and add to her reel, which helped jumpstart her career.
She credits so many of her Penn State professors and mentors, which include but are not limited to Shannon Furman, Mike Poorman, John Affleck, Jim Nachtman, Arielle Duernberger, Adam Gilbert, and PJ Mullen, for helping her get where she is today.
As far as what’s next for Mears, she’s already picked up a few more gigs with the Big Ten Network. She covered the Iowa-Rutgers game on September 24, and she returned to the sidelines at Beaver Stadium to work during Penn State’s game against Northwestern on October 1.
While the industry she’s in always tries to make you question “What’s next?” Mears is trying to just focus on the present and put her all into what she’s currently doing.
“One of my biggest goals right now is to be present and enjoy the moment,” she said.
However, for her long-term goals, she would love to cover the NCAA wrestling championships, and she’s always aiming to share more and more of her opinions on her platforms.
If you want to keep up with Mears’ work, you can follow her on Twitter.
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