Kevin Nelson realized he wasn’t destined for a career as a professional athlete. So, he embraced the next best thing and ascended quickly from the collegiate classroom to the broadcaster’s booth.
A 2012 graduate of Enumclaw High School, Nelson was recently tabbed as the new play-by-play announcer for the wildly successful football program at Oregon’s Linfield College.
Nelson’s sports roots run deep, to nights spent listening to the legendary Dave Niehaus and Rick Rizzs as they called Seattle Mariners games on the radio. Later came days on the playing field, where Nelson ran cross country for coach Jeff Jacobsen and played baseball for coach Eric Fiedler at Enumclaw High. Wanting to experience college ball, but figuring a Division I program was beyond his grasp, Nelson headed to McMinnville, Oregon, and the Wildcats. His diamond dream came close, but he was the final player cut from the Linfield squad.
Missing a spot on the team, he instead found a second home, enjoying the slightly-isolated comfort of Yamhill County, not too far south of the metropolitan Portland area.
Announcing has long been an interest, Nelson explains, noting that his EHS senior project had centered upon sports broadcasting. At Linfield, he is earning a degree in mass communication, having crafted something of a specialized program that included becoming part of the Wildcats’ athletic world since his early undergraduate days.
“I kind of created my own path,” is how he explains it.
Followers of Linfield athletic teams are familiar with Nelson’s voice. Aside from hosting a sports-talk program on the college radio station, he has provided play-by-play coverage of a wide spectrum of Wildcat sports offerings, including basketball, volleyball, soccer, baseball and softball. But the top job comes with football, where Nelson served as a sideline reporter.
Now, he’s the “voice of the Wildcats,” leading the charge for a rabid fan base that appreciates Linfield’s long run of success. It has been more than 60 years since the Wildcats have suffered through a losing campaign.
Nelson’s introduction to the play-by-play job came unexpectedly and from an unfortunate situation. Out of necessity, he was called upon to fill Bill Johnson’s seat in the broadcast booth during last season’s football playoffs when Johnson became terminally ill.
Nelson’s boss comes off as perhaps his biggest fan.
“Kevin has the special ability to take listeners on a magic carpet ride throughout the course of a game,” said Linfield sports information director Kelly Bird, who oversees the college’s sports broadcasting operations. “Listeners grow comfortable hearing him in much the same way they become comfortable wearing their favorite pair of jeans. The quality of his voice, ability to fluctuate the intensity level to match the flow of the game, plus his natural ease on camera and behind the microphone, make him an extraordinary all-around talent.”
Nelson envisions a career in collegiate athletics, aspiring to learn all aspects of the industry – not just the broadcast booth.
But, for now, he’s most visible as the young man at the microphone.
“Sports broadcasting is something I’m very passionate about,” he said. “I take pride in every broadcast I’ve done, from volleyball to softball and everything in between.”
But, he admits, it will be nice to focus on a single sport. Part of his reasoning is that other sports can be handled by student broadcasters – giving others the same opportunity he had.
Nelson, who earns his bachelor’s degree this month, doesn’t feel overwhelmed by his new, professional duties. The transition, he said, should be “really seamless.”
Nelson will admit, however, that he’s experiencing a learning curve with a second element of his Linfield job. He also is tasked with reaching into the community to build partnerships with local and corporate businesses.
“It’s a lot of teaching and a lot of learning,” he said of his immersion in the business and promotional side of collegiate athletics.
But he’s confident the support will come from a community that loves its football.
“With the support Linfield enjoys within the business community,” he said, “I believe we can make some wonderful changes happen.”