Entries in Home Team Friday (22)


You've Got Questions!

I have received so many questions and feedback about Home Team Friday and our Game of the Week football broadcasts.

When I find time I will answer them all here on my website.  Hopefully sooner rather than later!  I have just been so slammed at work with so many new responsibilities as well as my trip to LA that I haven't had time.

If you have any questions leave them at the bottom in the comments section, or click the Email Lance link on the left side.

Thanks peeps!


Happy Home Team Friday!

There is always a lot of excitment and a fair share of anxiety on the first Home Team Friday of the year.  This year even moreso with the live game broadcasts.  I have spent all morning prepping more for the Reitz/Henderson game.  The first week will be difficult with nothing to go off from the season.  Both the Panthers and Cols lost a lot of players from 2009.

I am really looking forward to a great atmosphere at Colonel Stadium.  It's Henderson's Hall of Fame game, and their fans are going for a "Maroon Out" wearing all maroon clothes.  You know Reitz will bring thousands across the river.  I can only imagine Mr. B's is going to be hopping on the strip.

On our end, the NEWS 25 crew has worked really hard for 8 months for this night.  Our engineering staff has been awesome.  They bought a lot of new equipment including a high end instant replay machine, new head sets, wireless mics, and other technical stuff.  We hired a 10 person production crew to work every Friday night.  You will see them all in grey NEWS 25 Sports Channel shirts.  The production staff as a whole has been awesome.  They are really sprucing up the graphics for tonight's game as well. 

Jody White and everyone at Henderson has been great in helping us out with our needs and making us feel at home.  Also, a big thanks to Hawk Guinn for helping me with Reitz information.

Also, if you know folks outside the viewing area that would like to watch tonight's game it will be streamed online.  This should be the link:  http://www.news25.us/Global/story.asp?S=12883945  It is not up right now, but that page will have the video player on it when our broadcasts starts at 7:30pm.

On the actual 30-minute Home Team Friday show we are attempting to tie our record for most games ever.  We have 17 games of highlights slated.  We have 8 photographers, including three rookies!  That's a lot for week one!  I hope it all comes together.  If nothing else you can tune in at 10:35pm to see if my hair is on fire when the show starts!

There are a lot of great games tonight.  Union County at Mater Dei is a real toss-up to me.  So is Jasper at Memorial.  Both the Tigers and Cats lost a lot from '09. 

Well if i ramble on previewing every game, I will never get anything done!!  I'm going back to prep work for tonight. 

If you have any questions or feedback, please leave it below or email me using the link on the leftside of the page.

Have a very happy Home Team Friday!


NEWS 25 to Broadcast 13 High School Football Games in 2010

EVANSVILLE – High School Football Friday nights are special in the Tri-State.  Starting this season, NEWS 25 and Vincennes University will make them even more special.   Fans will be able to watch a game live every week on NEWS 25’s digital channel. 

NEWS 25 and Vincennes University have teamed up to broadcast a high school football game each week for 13 weeks.

Here are the first four broadcasts:

Week One: (August 20th)  Reitz at Henderson County

Week Two: (August 27th)  Mater Dei at Central

Week Three: (September 3rd)  Owensboro at Owensboro Catholic

Week Four: (September 10th)  Heritage Hills at Jasper


The games will be broadcasted on the NEWS 25 digital channel.  Here is how you can find the station:


Insight                                 ch. 189

WOW                                   ch. 111

Time Warner                        ch. 184 & 311

Avenue Broadband              ch. 135

PSCI                                     ch. 6

I cannot even begin to tell you how excited I am about doing this!


Radio and TV Information on Memorial/Reitz State Games

The Reitz Panthers and Memorial Tigers will represent Evansville in the IHSAA State Championship football games up in Indianapolis this Saturday.

Unlike the past three weeks, NEWS 25 and RTV25 will not be able to televise the game.  The IHSAA produces all of the state finals on its own TV network.

The NEWS 25 Home Team Friday crew will have previews, profiles, and much more all week long in sports on NEWS 25 at 6pm and 10pm.

On Saturday we will have a crew at Lucas Oil Stadium as the Tigers and Panthers look to capture a state championship. 

Here is how you can watch and listen to the state finals:

4A REITZ (14-0) VS. LOWELL (13-1)
RADIO: ONLINE AT http://htf.news25.us/htf/newradio.asp




Home Team Friday to Televise Memorial/Heritage Hills Game

I am extremely proud and excited to announce that the NEWS 25 Home Team Friday crew will broadcast LIVE the Memorial vs Heritage Hills 3A Regional Championship.

Thanks to the overwhelming support from the Reitz/Jasper broadcast last week, the NEWS 25 management allowed us to do another game.  I am really hoping this becomes a trend for local sports all over the Tri-State.

The game will take place at Enlow Field.  The historic stadium is posing some different obstacles for us to broadcast.  The home side grandstand has poles blocking the view, and we cannot get our cameras high enough on that side, so we will actually put our up high cameras on a mechanical life on the visiting bleachers side of the 50 yard line.  I think that will make it look good with the big grandstand full of fans in the background. The only slight hiccup will be the Bosse logo will be upside down.

Everything else will be the same.  We will have the two cameras up top and the one roving on the field.  We will have the on-screen scoreboard, and Instant Replay.  The game will also be streamed live on news25.us.

Here is the link that will stream the game friday night:  CLICK HERE

The telecast will begin live at 7pm with kickoff being at 7:05pm.

I will post more details as they become available.


A Great Night for Reitz and the HTF/NEWS 25 Staff!

Every Friday in the fall is exciting for me.  My entire week builds towards Home Team Friday night.  However, yesterday was amped up a 100 times more than usual.  I woke up a couple of hours earlier than normal, and I was fired up.  Finally, I was going to get to do play by play for a television football broadcast.

Not just any football game, two 11-0 tradition rich teams with great fan bases: Reitz and Jasper. 

The night before during Countdown, my voice was giving out because of a nagging cough.  I didn’t feel sick, but I could not shake the cough.  So over the night and on Friday morning I drank 3 big hot teas with honey trying to take care of my voice.  Props to the pharmacist at CVS who recommended a great cough syrup that worked to perfection!  My voice held up all night.

When I got to the TV station, everyone was in a good mood and genuinely excited.  The engineers worked around the clock all week to prepare the Reitz Bowl for a television broadcast.  I saw two of the engineers outside of the station when I pulled in, and they were both confident we were going to be good to go.

You have to keep in mind that our station hasn’t done a live broadcast of a football game since the mid 1980s, so there was a lot of nervous energy of pulling this together.  There were so many cables to have connected to all of the cameras, and into the press box, up to the truck, then into the portable TV control room inside a loading dock in the back of Reitz High School.   All of the camera angles had to be tested, audio checked, hook up the replay machines, and get a clean signal from Reitz back to NEWS 25.

On my way to the Bowl, I stopped at a Subway and saw Memorial receiver Jon Wandling.  I asked him to give us some highlights in the first half when our photographer Aaron Hancock would be there.  Wandling laughed, and said no problem.  The Tigers looked great in winning the 3A sectional 42-20 over Washington.

I arrived at the Bowl at 3:30pm.  I knew I needed a quick escape to get back to the station after the game to host HTF, so I parked my car right near the exit.  It was a long walk up, but it was worth it having a premium parking spot.

Even at 3:30pm there were already Reitz and Jasper fans lining up to get in.  I love the Bowl.  It is such an amazing venue.  I walked the perimeter just to take it all in before going to meet up with our crew. 

I had to do two reports for our 5pm and 6pm newscasts.  Thousands of fans started pouring into the stands devouring the best seats, many of which were already marked with blankets from Reitz families that have gone to games for decades. 

I hung out with so many Panther fans.  All of them were so nice about us broadcasting the game.  The fans I talked with were so nervous and excited about the game.  I was so impressed with the knowledge by the Reitz fans. 

Finally it is gametime.  I had to open the broadcast in the stands, throw it to a commercial then race up to the press box and to my headset next to Randall Parmley.  That was our only technical snafu of the night.  I am not sure what happened, in that opening segment, but it looked like some wrong buttons were being pushed. 

My only real troubles were trying to see the numbers on Jasper’s uniforms on kick returns.  The Cats had 3 guys deep, and it took me awhile to make sure who had the ball. 

Other than that, I felt pretty comfortable doing the game.  My only play by play experience in football is on the radio.  So I think my delivery last night was more radio-like than TV.  I was setting up formations and trying to paint a picture of what was going on, but in TV you don’t have to do that as much. 

After watching it on my DVR, you can tell that my brain was working 3 times faster than my mouth.  I was trying to say too much at a time.  I thought I stayed neutral, and I made sure to wait for a referee signal before calling a play.

The game itself was so one-sided.  Like I said on the broadcast, I researched Jasper a lot during the week.  The Cats are a great team.  However, the Panthers are on another level.  A lot has been made of the advantage of the turf, but that is just a small part of the story.  Cory Brunson’s offense is so dynamic.  It is more complex than many college schemes.  By going 5-wide, an opposing defense has to spread out to cover everyone, and then the Panthers have the ultimate run/pass dual threat with Matt McIntosh at quarterback.  That is a lethal offense that has proven nearly impossible to even slow down.

Coach Lewis told us that he accepted the ball after winning the coin toss, something he normally defers.  Lewis said he wanted to score and put the pressure of Jasper.  The plan worked to perfection.  3 plays, 56 yards, 7-0…and really the game was over. 

The Cats are clock controlling grind out run game offense, and they just could not come from behind. 

The play of the night was the double reverse halfback pass from Jeff Hudson to Matt McIntosh.  All 11 Panther players on the field executed the play perfectly turning a third and 15 into a 28-6 lead.

I really love the play of Hamilton Carr and Cuda Dimmett.  They really compliment Hudson well in the receiving corps.  Dimmett is so difficult to take down, and Carr is like a kangaroo with great hands.  The kid just leaps up and snags any ball near him, including that great interception to end the first half.

The Panthers defense is just remarkable.  It was an entire team effort to completely shutdown Jasper.  I would start listing names of Panther defenders who had a great game, but I would run out of space!  Tip of the hat to the Reitz defense.

After the game, the Panthers celebrated their 12th sectional championship, and the NEWS 25 crew celebrated a successful broadcast.  Randall and I worked well together.  Director Stan Newman pulled it all together.  Photographers Aaron, Mike, and Derek did a great job and didn’t get faked out too many times.   Mark Glover saved the day with a TV timeout in the 3rd quarter.  Ryan Jenkins was in the booth next to me spotting and feeding and Randall stats and scores.

I made the long walk to my car, and my plan worked out well.  I avoided the traffic and I was on my way to the station to prepare for Home Team Friday.  This was the first time in my career that I wasn’t hands on during the highlight process.  Aaron Hancock, Blaine, Erica, Jason, and David Heckard were in charge of having the entire show together.   There was a lot to get done. 

It was pretty hectic.  I wanted extended highlights to showcase all of the sectional championship games.  We had almost every touchdown of every game.  Our guys did an excellent job of not only shooting a lot of highlights, but editing them to tell the story of what happened in each game. 

I am so happy for Mater Dei.  The Cats had a tough stretch to end the regular season, but they really put it all together to win the 2A sectional.  Cody Hess was a highlight machine.  He is the human blur.

I think every Memorial offensive highlight was a screen pass.  Grant Gribbins does a nice job of selling the screen, and then the blockers and receivers do the rest.  That play to end the first half was beautiful to Steven Sheu.  Ryan Hatler had another nice game at tailback.

Cody Schmitt played well for Heritage Hills.  The Patriots eliminated previously unbeaten Indian Creek.  The Pats have won ever sectional this decade except one.  Bob Clayton’s defense pitches another shutout.  That set up the showdown between Heritage Hills against Memorial at Enlow Field.

Castle’s great season comes to a close.  I was surprised to see the Knights lose.  Four turnovers will doom any team.  The loss spoiled a great performance by Logan Hayford who had 210 yards rushing.

Props to Clay Clevenger and Henderson County.   The Colonels won their opening playoff game.  They did it without injured quarterback Kolby O’Daniel.  Owensboro beat Grayson County 42-21, but the Devils will have to go to Bowling Green.

Home Team Friday went very smooth.  My voice started to go out in the final segment, but it made it through.  I can’t say enough about everyone on the HTF staff for pulling it all together.  It was a challenging night to do a live two and a half hour football broadcast, and produce a 30 minute highlight football show, but they did it. 

Thanks to everyone who watched last night, and thanks for reading this, I hope everyone enjoyed it!


Read Two Columns on the Reitz/Jasper Broadcast

Two different websites wrote up nice articles on the RTV 25's broadcast of the Jasper/Reitz game.  Thank you so much to Jake and Rudy.  Here are the links.  Give it a click and a read:


Jake's DTV Blog Story #1: CLICK HERE

Jake's DTV Blog Story #2: CLICK HERE

Dan "Rudy" Engler's Story on Examiner.com:  CLICK HERE


Blaine Train Previews Reitz/Jasper Showdown

Blaine Fentress is one of our top photographers on the NEWS 25 Home Team Friday staff.  He has covered many Jasper and Reitz games over the years as a photographer and as our Satellite Truck engineer, and he has seen them both several times this year. 

He put together this preview of the Unbeaten Showdown.  Like any commentary, Blaine's opinion is his own.  Thanks Blaine for taking the time, I hope everyone enjoys!



By Blaine Fentress
Home Team Friday Photographer

It's Jasper.  It's Reitz.  It's two teams that went the entire season undefeated.  It's November 6th @ the Reitz Bowl.  It's the Sectional Championship.  Enough said.
O.K., maybe more does need to be said. 
How about 2008?  It was Halloween night at Alumni Stadium in Jasper.  Because of the draw, these two teams met in the Sectional Semifinals.  This was the best game that I got to watch in person in 2008.  Two GREAT offenses, back and forth action, this game had it all.  Jasper and Austin Ahrens made plays on the ground.  Matt McIntosh and Reitz were making big pass after big pass.  In the end, McIntosh threw an interception and it sealed the deal.  The Wildcats won the game 38-35.  The cats went on to win the Sectional and lost to Columbus East at Regionals.  But, that was 2008.
I was blessed this year as I got to shoot football for Home Team Friday for the first time.  For the first few weeks, I became "Highway 231 Guy" as I got to cover Jasper, Southridge, and Heritage Hills.  Also, later in the season, I got to cover Reitz for a few weeks as well.  I have seen the Wildcats and Panthers pull off some great performances this season.  So trust me when I say this...Friday's game might be one of the best that has ever been played in the Tri-State in a long time.  I know, I know...too much hype.  But, when you break down certain elements of this game, you might discover that the hype is there for a reason.
Quarterbacks:  The offenses begin and end with McIntosh and Ahrens.  Both have the ability to avoid the pass rush.  Both have the ability to make big plays.  But, there are some differences.  Matt McIntosh has one of the best arms in the Tri-State.  He can literally throw all over the field.  But, the biggest thing that I think has improved from last season is how accurate he is.  I have seen high school quarterbacks that will just heave the ball in the air and pray it lands in the hands of their receivers, not the defense.  But, McIntosh seems to be able, from about 30 or so yards away, to be able to find Jeff Hudson, Cuda Dimmett, and Hamilton Carr very easily. 
While you have to worry about McIntosh's arm, you REALLY have to worry about Ahrens's legs.  Austin can throw the ball pretty good too, but his ability to run with the football makes him a dual threat.  The best example I have of this comes from the first game of the season against Memorial.  Ahrens takes a snap and immediately, I think the play is broken.  Normally, when a play breaks down, the Quarterback will throw the ball away and lose the down.  But, not Ahrens, not when you can run.  He ran around the left end, headed for the sideline, and was able to outrun Memorial's defense to the endzone.  There was a reason why Randall Parmely has called Ahrens "the Tim Tebow of the Tri-State".  He has also made big passes as well but, his biggest weapon is his ability to just take off with the football.
Running Backs:  Taylor Day is a very physical running back.  Last week, in the mud and rain at Alumni Stadium against Boonville, Day was just able to run.  One play, he ran for about 15 yards and hydroplaned for another 10.  He won't have to worry about mud on the turf field at the Bowl, but he will need to be very physical.  One thing that Day can do against other teams was run between the tackles and through the defensive line.  Can he do that against Reitz?  It will be tough but, he will need to establish the ability.  Otherwise, it may limit what Ahrens can do.
Alordo Bell is quick.  He can make cuts left and right. Against Mater Dei, there was one run that impressed me very much.  He took the snap and ran to the right end of the offensive line.  There were about two to three defenders there waiting and, somehow, he was able to fake them out and ran for about 25 yards.  Reitz seems to depend on him in short-yard situations as well.  When they get to about the two to three yard line, usually the first option is Bell and rightfully so.
X Factors:  Both teams have a chance at winning this game, but certain things will have to go their way if they want to make it happen.  For Jasper, pass defense.  Panther’s campaign ended last season because of an interception.  If they keep McIntosh from throwing the ball and Bell from making any big gains, Jasper has a chance.
For Reitz, they have a bulls-eye on Ahrens.  Last year, they gave up a lot of points to the Wildcats.  They will have to avoid giving up big runs to Ahrens and keep him in the backfield.  If they keep the run game from being established and force interceptions, Reitz has a chance.
There you have it.  I could go on and on more about these two teams but, the facts are simple; this will be a big time game.  So much is at stake for both teams.  I really feel that the winner of this Sectional will have a good chance at making it to Lucas Oil Stadium and the 4A Championship.  It is that big.  And, I have so much respect for both teams…I can't really pick a winner here.  All I can say is that 12-thousand is expected to be at the Bowl, maybe even more.  If you aren't able to make it to the Bowl, RTV 25 will have this game for your viewing pleasure.  There are other great games in the Tri-State Friday night, but it's Jasper....it's Reitz....someone will improve to 12-0.  I can't wait!



Answers to your Reitz/Jasper TV Questions and a Preview

With the first TV broadcast of a high school football game in the Home Team Friday era, there are a lot of questions.  These past two days I have spent a lot of time organizing this telecast with all of the great people at the station.

So let me update you on some items, and then I’ll answer some of your questions.

First off, many have asked exactly where to find our digital channel RTV 25.  If you are a cable subscriber, you have to have the digital package to be able to see the channel.  Here is a list of what channel RTV 25 is on every cable provider:

Over the Air: NEWS 25-2

Insight: Channel 189

WOW!: Channel 111

Time Warner: Channels 184 and 311

Avenue Broadband: Channel 135

More good news, we will stream the television broadcast online at www.news25.us .  A link will be on our home page, and on our sports page that will launch you into the webcast.  That means fans from anywhere in the world can watch the game.  Alumni of both teams anywhere can tune in.  I hope the stream looks good.  I know our computer tech people are working hard to get things setup for Friday.

The kickoff will be at 7:05pm, and our broadcast will go on at 7:00pm.  Reitz Athletic Director Beth Hagan and EVSC Athletic Director Paul Neidig have been great in helping out with this telecast.  The hardest part was figuring out where to put the two upper cameras.  Reitz is having a lift brought in from Doug Waterman at VANDCO on the right of the press box.  That will give us an angle up and over the fans and near midfield. Thanks so much to Doug and VANDCO for their help on that.  The only hiccup is that our two cameramen up in the lift will be right next to the PA speakers.  So to avoid any hearing damage, we have picked up two professional headphones from a gun range for the guys to wear.  Hopefully that will work.

Keep in mind since this is our first football broadcast we are trying to keep things simple so things will go smoothly.  It is my belief that we will get to do more and more games if the demand is there.  That is when we can expand some of the production quality and spruce things up, but for now, it is all about mainstreaming things and making sure you the viewer get what you need.

We will have instant replay.  We are bringing in deck to record the game and cue up replays.  My buddy from Wabash Valley Junior College in Mt. Carmel Kyle Peach will run the replay machine. The angle of the replay will be the exact same as what just aired, but at least it will be a replay. 

We will also have an on screen scoreboard up the entire time. There will not be a clock on the scoreboard, so I will try to say the time on air as much as possible so everyone knows.  I am sure we will also have a camera shoot the scoreboard in between plays from time to time.

I talked with both head coaches the last two days.  Both Tony Lewis and Tony Ahrens were really nice and complimentary about the broadcast.  They are also both excited about being a part of such an enormous game.  Ahrens told me that Jasper has played in the rain and mud 9 out of its 11 games.  He said he is looking forward to playing in good weather and on the turf.  Coach Lewis is focused on the running game of Jasper.  He said that the Cats have been pointing to this year for awhile as a special season. 

The one thing that should not get lost in this entire night is how special it is for everyone involved.  I was talking with Matt McIntosh, and I asked him how he would describe this kind of game to some random high school football player in say New Hampshire.  Matt told me he doesn’t ever take the support and atmosphere for granted.  He said he gets chills every time he runs out onto the Reitz Bowl.  He went on and on how great the Reitz fans are, and how lucky the team is to have the support.

I also talked to Panthers safety Erik Bryant about Jasper quarterback Austin Ahrens.  Even though Ahrens and McIntosh are not identical players, they have a lot in common.  They are dual threats that make great decisions.  Bryant talked about how good Ahrens is, and how difficult it is to defend him. 

I appreciated how much that both Jasper and Reitz respected each other.  There were absolutely no derogatory remarks by either team.  That is refreshing.

I joked with Coach Lewis that I wasn’t rooting for either team, but I would like it to go to overtime with one of the teams going for 2 and the win.  He laughed and said that just may happen.

I want to emphasize that I really like and respect both teams.  I will do my very best to do the broadcast as neutral as possible.  It is very difficult.  I remember when I did the KWC/USI basketball game in 2000; I had eight emails from KWC fans claiming I was biased for USI, and six emails from USI fans claiming I was biased towards KWC.  It was kind of funny.  I will keep the broadcast positive, and try to paint the best picture as possible of what is going on.  I will also make sure to wait for a referee’s signal on a play!  I will never live down that Reitz/Cathedral ending!!

I will say though, whoever wins…I will be rooting for that team to win State.  That goes for all of our teams left in the Tri-State!!  I love it when our teams win State Championships.  There is nothing better than that!


Ok, let me answer your questions:

Somehow can you get this on the internet also, through the stations internet site or maybe through ustream.com or another site...tons of Reitz alum in Indianapolis that would love to watch it


That would be great if they could somehow stream the game online for people outside of the area!

-Panther Man 98

Yep!  Go to www.news25.us and go to the sports page on Friday


Ill be at the game and still would like to record it at home for later playback. I get the over-the-air signal and can't record onto my dvd recorder. What are my options for getting this game recorded?


My best advice for that is to go Old School and hook up a VHS VCR to your over the air box and record it on tape.  I know that is not the greatest of answers, but I am not sure what the other options are.  Hopefully a Reitz or Jasper fan will be able to capture the webcast and upload it for the fans to download and save it to their computer.  I will look into the possibility of being able to save the webcast here at the station for online for downloading purposes.


How many camera's are you going to use at the game? Would be nice if it was broadcast on the web also. How many people will actually have access with the game being on the digital channel? It is great what you do to help promote high school football. Hopefully this turns out well and you can do more games in the future!!!


We are going to have 4 cameras at the game.  Like I said earlier, we are keeping things simple on our first telecast.  Anyone with a digital antennae can get the broadcast free over the air, but on cable you do have to purchase the digital package.  I do think if things go well, we will do a lot more of these for not only football, but for other sports.  (crossing my fingers)


That's great! I hope your ratings are really good might help for future broadcast......


Just as important as ratings and sponsorships is feedback!  Emails and calls to the station on how much you enjoy the broadcast go a long way!!  Just the feedback we have gotten in two days has not gone unnoticed by my bosses.


Lance, thanks for all the wonderful coverage you do for HS football, and especially all you did for our 07 team.

Is there a way to get this broadcast if I'm on DirectTV?


Unfortunately no.  DirecTV does not carry the digital channel.  Hopefully that will change, but I am sure it will take awhile.  You can watch it online, or better yet, go to a buddy’s house that has RTV25 bring a pizza and have a great night!


If you have any other questions, let me know.  Also thanks for all of the other kind posts that didn’t have questions, but just thanks us for doing the game.  That is very much appreciated. 

Three days till kickoff!  I can’t wait.  We have a lot of interviews from both teams that we will be running preview stories all week in my sportscasts on NEWS 25.


Best wishes to both Reitz and Jasper!


Jay's Journey: My Relationship with Bears QB Jay Cutler

I have known and covered Jay Cutler since he was a sophomore at Heritage Hills High School in Lincoln, City, Indiana.  The Pro-Bowl quarterback for the Chicago Bears recently asked me to help put together both written and video stories for his brand new website: www.jaycutlersix.com

This is the first installment of Jay’s Journey.  It is an overview of my relationship of Cutler, and the real side of Jay from his high school days until now. 



Jay Cutler made his first varsity start at quarterback for his high school as a sophomore on September 18, 1998.  Cutler led Heritage Hills to a 27-0 victory over a conference rival.  Since that day, I have had the great opportunity of watching Jay’s journey from a tall skinny high school sophomore into an NFL Pro Bowl quarterback.

My connection with Jay really started with my relationship with his hometown.

Heritage Hills High School was one of my first beats as a young sports reporter back in 1993. I worked then, and still to this day, for WEHT-TV in Evansville, IN which is an ABC affiliate. I learned quickly that the communities that make up the high school are extremely competitive, and fiercely loyal.  Those are two qualities that burn inside of Jay to this very day.  

In my first years on the job, no one from the Evansville media market covered the Patriots on any kind of consistent basis.  I was the new guy, and my bosses would saddle me with the hour long drive to the Patriots home field affectionately known as The Jungle.  I was told often from my peers how much they dreaded making that trip. 

To my surprise, I instantly loved this beat.  These were my kind of people.  I would roll up in a TV news van, and the great folks at HHHS would trip over themselves in making me feel at home.  The more I covered the Patriots and put them on TV, the more great friends I would meet on my return trips.

A few years into my career I was named Sports Director which meant I was making the calls on what games we would cover and who would report on them. Instead of staying close, I kept going back to Heritage Hills.  I became very close to the entire coaching staff, and I met some really great friends that I am still close to today.  I am supposed to be objective as a reporter, but back then I could not help but get caught up in Patriot Fever. 

I live by the golden rule.  I treat people just how they treat me.  I never intended to show over the top favoritism to Heritage Hills during my sportscasts.  However, the Patriots were so dominant, that all of my coverage was easily justified. 

I spent a considerable amount of time at Heritage Hills during the Jay Cutler era.  I interviewed Jay countless of times.  I also got to know his father Jack who was a well-respected Indiana State Trooper at the time. 

I always had a tough time getting Jay to talk about himself.  He always deflected any praise.  I would bring up some great play he made, or some stats that he piled up, and he would lower his head diagonally and rock back with a look on his face that was in between a smile and a smirk.  He then gathered his thoughts, and would give credit to his teammates and his coaches.  To this day, I see that exact same look when Jay is addressing a press conference on TV.

1999 NEWS 25 Home Team Friday MVP Banquet Picture -- Evansville, INIn 1999, I started a player of the week type of award at the TV station.  Every Wednesday for 13 weeks we would do a profile called the MVP on the best players from around the Tri-State (SW Indiana, SE Illinois, and NW Kentucky).  As a junior, Jay Cutler won one of the first MVP awards.  That winter our station held a banquet to honor all 13 MVPs, and to recap their great seasons.  Jay’s family has always been extremely supportive, and of course they attended the banquet as well.  It was a great time to get to know the Cutlers away from the gridiron.  Jay was one of the few underclassmen at the banquet.

In 2000, Jay had one of the best seasons in state history.  He was simply by far the best player on the field for all 15 games as he led his Patriots to the school’s only State Championship in any sport.  He was remarkable to cover that year.  He would make plays that were just not typical of a high school player.  His cannon arm, quickness, and incredible football instincts put him so far ahead of his opponents. 

Even when I would go cover a practice, Jay was taking each snap, and each drill as serious as in a game.  There is no sympathy for mistakes under Heritage Hills head coach Bob Clayton.  Coach Clayton simply never then or now tolerates errors, sloppy play, or being unprepared.  Cutler bought right into that philosophy.

Cutler scored the game-winning touchdown in overtime at the RCA Dome in the State Championship game.  In an instant, he solidified himself as a hero to his community, and one of the best athletes in any sport that I had ever covered. 

It was so much fun getting to know Jay during that magical season.  He always treated me with the utmost respect, and over time he trusted my news judgment on stories. 

2000 NEWS 25 Home Team Friday MVP Banquet -- Evansville, INA month after winning the State Championship, our station held our second annual MVP Banquet.  There were some amazing players in that room.  Justin Miller was a second round draft pick by the Jets, Jake Schiff led Mater Dei to a 15-0 record and the 2A State Title, and then there was Jay.  Cutler won the 2000 MVP of the Year, and he and his family were so appreciative of the whole night.  After the banquet, Jay came to the station and was live during our 10pm sportscast to talk about the evening.  I even had him do some sports casting at the end of the broadcast.

Jay’s college recruiting story is well documented.  I have heard and read many different versions, but I will tell it as I remember it.

All during his senior season, Jay was set to play for the University of Illinois.  It was a given that Champaign was his destination.  Former Heritage Hills’ standout and Indianapolis Colts Tight End Ken Dilger also played for the Illini.  There really was not even any big secret about it.  Jay was going to Illinois.

Then during the winter months after Cutler’s senior season ended, I got a call at my desk.  It was Jay’s father Jack.  As I remember, Jack told me that Illinois wanted Jay as a safety and not as a quarterback.  He said that the family is pretty much back to square one with recruiting, and he wasn’t sure where Jay was going to go. 

Then Jack said that out of the blue Vanderbilt had called and inquired about Jay.  Jack said that it was odd, because it was the first time ever that Vandy had showed any interest in the entire recruiting process.  Since the season was over, Jack said that Vanderbilt wanted a highlight tape of Jay, and he asked me if I could help. 

After my 10pm show that night, I stayed at the station looking over 3 years worth of video tape.  I finished up around 3am, and sent the tape fedex to the Cutler’s house.  A few days later Jack called me back.  He said, “Lance, I have great news.  Vanderbilt offered Jay a scholarship!”  I was so thrilled!  Jack told me that the Vandy coaches were really impressed with Jay in the video I made.  I am not about to take any credit whatsoever for his scholarship, however, I will say I was doing back flips when I got off the phone knowing how it all worked out.

During Jay’s press conference at the school to sign with Vandy, he thanked me publicly for helping him out.  It was such a kind gesture, and it goes to show you how grateful and well-raised Jay is.  I always enjoy covering our local players when they go on to college, and sometimes even the pros, but this connection with Jay at Vanderbilt was so exciting.  I couldn’t wait to watch Jay’s college career start.

Our station covered Jay down in Nashville.  He really exploded on the national scene his junior season.  It was so amazing seeing him play on national TV down in The Swamp at Florida, or at Death Valley at LSU.  I slipped in quick stories whenever I could in my sportscasts.  We really got some great video of him playing for the Commodores.

After his college senior year, there was no doubt that Jay would be drafted.  In typical loyal Jay Cutler fashion, he did not go to New York for the draft, but instead stayed in Nashville with all of his family and friends.  Of course I went to the Music City to cover the draft.  The banquet room at this restaurant was overflowing with Cutler fans.  I remember how well Jay spoke on the stage they had setup, and how he really had transformed from a kid in high school into an adult on the brink of a professional career.  He genuinely thanked everyone from his heart for all of their support, and he said that this day of celebration would never have been possible without them. 

Then when he was selected eleventh overall in the first round, the place exploded with joy.  I saw his high school coach Bob Clayton in the back corner.  We were both taking the excitement in.  Clayton was so proud.   Heck, everyone was so proud.

Me and Jay in Nasvhille on NFL Draft Day 2006It was a whirlwind for Jay after he was drafted.  He had to speak to the national media, and then he had to speak to the Nashville media, and then fly out to Denver to meet his new teammates and coaches and speak to the Denver media.  Through the craziness, always being loyal, Jay gave me a one on one interview in a back room of the Nashville restaurant.  In an extreme act of unprofessionalism, I couldn’t help but get a picture taken with him.  I probably shouldn’t have done it, and I never do anything like that normally, but I don’t regret it for a second!

Since Denver was so far away, it was hard to cover him as much as I would have wanted.  I have the NFL Sunday Ticket, and I haven’t missed a single game of his (not even pre-season).  During the off-season I have interviewed him when he would come back home.

I am an enormous sports fan.  Obviously, that’s why I chose my career path.  My favorite team of all my favorite teams is the Chicago Bears.  Since I was a kid, I have lived and died with every single game.  I have screamed at the TV and thrown remote controls during losses.  I have gone to games at the old and new Soldier Field, and even some Bears road games.

I cannot even begin to explain my elation on April 2, 2009.  My man Jay was now on my team!  I literally ordered a Cutler Bears jersey that day.  That night I also emailed the Bears to find out when I could interview him.

It turned out the first time Jay met the media in a Bears uniform was during an OTA in May.  I made the seven hour drive to the Bears practice facility.  It was such a sight to see the same kid I had covered since 1998 now in a Chicago Bears uniform. 

At Jay Cutler's hometown of Santa Claus, IN 2007There were so many reporters on hand that afternoon.  I am not used to that massive media setting at all.  I was not sure what to expect.  Once, again, Jay gave me a great one on one interview.  Despite the craziness of the media circus surrounding him, Jay and I had a great conversation touching on quite a few subjects both on and off camera.  We talked a lot about his high school days, and he told me how some of his former Patriot teammates are doing.

To the day I die, I will never understand the insane media scrutiny over Jay’s trade from Denver.  I am not naïve enough to think it’s not an enormous story.  Of course it is.  However, I just cannot fathom how so many national analysts have taken so many shots at him.  I guarantee you; none of them have even spent 2 minutes with Jay.  Of course I am biased in my opinion of Cutler, but I also know him pretty well.  I know for certain he is nothing like some have portrayed him.

The ultimate reply to all of the critics is winning, and if there is one thing I know for sure, Jay Cutler is a winner.  I look forward to the day when I continue covering Jay’s journey and interview Jay holding the Lombardi Trophy.



Jay’s Journey will continue with Part II when I take a look at Cutler’s magical high school senior season in which he led his team to the school’s only State Championship.  It is a story that is right out of Hollywood that starts with painful losses and ends with a triumphant crazy play in overtime to end a 15-0 season.  Click here to read Part II.

Feel free to leave a comment below.  If you would like to contact me directly, email me at lancewilkerson@gmail.com.