Enthusiasm, embracing opportunity lead Toll to ESPN Central Texas

ESPN Central Texas offered Drake Toll an opportunity to broadcast a high school baseball playoff game on the day of his college graduation last spring. The Baylor senior said yes. “[ESPN’s] Steve Levy once told me to never turn down a job, so I accepted the gig and left my graduation ceremony early,” Toll recalls.

Following his first playoff series, Toll was offered a full-time role. He’s joined ESPN Central Texas as an afternoon host, host of the Baylor Football Kickoff Show on the university’s flagship station, and an account executive.

“I’ll also host the Locked On Big 12 podcast on the side,” Toll adds.

When asked what he did that helped him land the job, Toll’s reply was simple.

“I said yes. We have all heard the adage ‘know when to say no.’ But it is just as important to know when to say yes.”

Toll’s high energy approach

Toll’s approach to sports talk and play-by-play is high-energy. And it’s completely natural. “If caffeine counts as natural,” he jokes. Then Toll gets serious. “While my energy and explosiveness is often likened to Stephen A. Smith or Skip Bayless, I liken it to Drake Toll. It’s who I am.

“I often worry that many of my colleagues are taught early on that personality overshadows the game, but then we’re just generating robots who wear headsets. Everywhere I go, I cultivate community and work to become a staple amongst my audience. Sports media is really just sales, and you’re the product. Don’t sell the business, sell the story. I embrace autonomy and use my energy to set myself apart.

Additional motivation

Toll applied for STAA’s Jim Nantz Award and All-American program each of his final two years at Baylor. The program recognizes the nation’s most outstanding collegiate sports broadcasters. Toll never placed. “Drake is as talented as anyone who applied,” says STAA Owner Jon Chelesnik. “But I thought he needed to better balance substance and style. It doesn’t mean Drake won’t be great, though. Joe Davis applied for the All-America program as a college sophomore and also didn’t earn honors.”

Toll says, “I greatly respect the [Jim Nantz] award, but my exclusion from its ranking does not mean I’m a bad journalist. For those like me, do not give up. You belong in this industry. Fresh out of college, I own a media company and have two other wonderful on-air jobs, even without the Nantz Award. You can certainly do the same.”

Additional advice

Toll offers an additional piece of advice, this one to folks who are in the sportscasting job market, “Send an email. You want that job? You’re ready for a change? You’re hitting dead ends? Send one more email. Get personal. Separate yourself from others. You may not achieve your dream on email one, but many don’t even make it that far. Go the extra mile and show you exist outside of the box.”

Toll certainly lives outside the box. His positive, energetic approach to life is reflected in his sportscasting. And he never says no to opportunities. Today, Toll’s approach has landed him at ESPN Central Texas. And one day, Chelesnik predicts, “Drake will be a household name in sportscasting.”

Scully, Lawler, Miller fuel Ibrahim’s path to Iowa Media Network

Zak Ibrahim started getting into sports in fifth grade. He was tall for his age so he gravitated towards basketball, though he enjoyed football as well. He marveled at the athletes he saw on TV, but it was the announcers who especially captured his attention. “Growing up in Los Angeles meant hearing some of the most iconic voices in sports, such as the great Vin Scully, Ralph Lawler and Bob Miller, Ibrahim recalls. “All three spoke of how fortunate they were to be doing be doing what they loved, so I knew that if I ever got the chance to try it, I’d likely fall in love with it too.

Ibrahim, indeed, fell in love with play-by-play. And now he has his first professional job. The recent Indian University grad is joining Iowa Media Network as a play-by-play broadcaster and host. He learned of the opening In an STAA Job Leads+ email.

“This opportunity checks a lot boxes in terms of what I was looking for in my first job,” Ibrahim smiles. “With play-by-play being my passion, this position gives me the opportunity to call games fulltime as the voice of Clarke High School, calling up to eight different sports on quality broadcasts throughout the year. In addition, I’ll host a weekly morning show about the community in Osceola, IA which will help me hone that skill of being a talk show host while learning about the amazing people in the area and providing them with a platform.”

Early start

Once Ibrahim realized his interest in sportscasting, it didn’t take him long to get involved. *I got my first chance to broadcast as a junior in high school,” he remembers. “I did color for our basketball team the first few times I was on air and I loved it. I never had more fun in my life. The positive reinforcement I received from coaches, players and my family helped me gain confidence to continue and eventually take that into my first play-by-play rep later that year. After calling an incredible state playoff overtime basketball game, I knew that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

It was also during his junior year in high school that Ibrahim discovered STAA. *I found out about STAA shortly after that first play-by-play rep. Once I told my parents I wanted to go to school for sports broadcasting, they urged me to research some of the best programs to attend. STAA had recently released a list of the top 20 sports broadcasting schools in the country. Among Syracuse, Missouri, Arizona State and others was Indiana University, a school I had multiple cousins attending and planned on touring that spring. That list was how I first stumbled upon STAA. It stuck with me throughout my application process and is a big reason my desire to attend IU was confirmed.

Ibrahim continues, *While applying to schools, I continued digging around STAA’s website and learned about how it helped broadcasters find jobs. STAA was clearly legit and professional. I’d go on to follow the content it produced all throughout college until ultimately becoming a member my senior year.”

Rapid Growth

While at Indiana, Ibrahim continued developing his play-by-play skills. He broadcasted various Hoosiers sports on Big Ten Plus and on IU student radio. During two of his summers, he called baseball for the San Luis Obispo Blues of the California Collegiate League. The reps he gained during college prepared him well for his new opportunity with Iowa Media Network. “That program [at IU] prepared better than I could’ve imagined,” Ibrahim enthuses. “It gave me the opportunity to call almost every sport at some point during my four years, and to call Big Ten athletics. The reps were invaluable.”

Also helpful was Ibrahim’s first job, which ironically, was not in broadcasting. “It happened to be in sales, which my new position also entails. I sold kitchen cutlery. I never knew how much I was helping myself down the road by having sales experience and learning early on how to communicate effectively before I really started broadcasting. My dad used to always say, ‘Son, right now you’re selling knives but after college you’ll be selling yourself.’ And boy was he right.”

Ibrahim was certainly successful in selling himself to the Iowa Media Network. And now the man who grew up listening to Southern California’s great broadcasters will be sharing his own passion for play-by-play with sports fans in Iowa. And perhaps one day, an Iowan will say his love of broadcasting came from growing up listening to Zak Ibrahim.

Luisi embracing leaving comfort zone for Odessa Jackalopes

When Brandon Luisi told his wife that he had a job offer in West Texas, Jammie Luisi was less than thrilled. “She was terrified,” Luisi laughs. “She originally was super scared because neither of us have never lived outside the state of Illinois.”

The Luisi’s quickly got past their trepidation and are moving to Texas where Brandon is the new Director of Broadcasting and Media Relations for the Odessa Jackalopes of the NAHL.

“The more Jammie got to learn about the Permian Basin area, the more excited she got,” Luisi recalls.

Odessa connection

Luisi learned of the Jackalopes opportunity in an STAA Job Leads+ email. “The reason I was so excited for this position is because of Peoria Rivermen broadcaster (and fellow STAA member) Jason Ruff, who I’d been interning for the past two seasons.” Ruff formerly held the job in Odessa. “I knew that if I reached out to Jason, he would have more information on what it’s like being there and what the leadership group was like. He got me in contact with the owner of the team and it went from there.”

One thing Luisi believes helped his pursuit of the Jackalopes opening was how quickly he contacted team president Rick Matchett after learning of the opportunity. “Rick is a fast moving guy. I reached out to him with interest in the position; one other broadcaster did as well. By Monday he told me that it was between us. He is a very busy guy and likes to move fast when it comes to hiring people. Therefore he didn’t really have a window of time for applicants, which ended-up benefiting me.”

Relationship building

Relationship building, as he did with Jason Ruff, has long been a strength of Luisi’s. He encourages young broadcasters to not be scared when contacting new people. “Throughout my senior year of high school and freshman year of college, I DM’d multiple NHL journalists, beat reporters, announcers and studio hosts and asked for advice. I would get a response within a day from 95% of them. Some of those connections are still prevalent today. One of them being the Carolina Hurricanes broadcaster, Mike Maniscalco.”

Luisi is a 2023 graduate of Bradley University, where one of his instructors was the highly regarded Dave Snell. Luisi broadcasted Braves hockey while on the Peoria campus. That was in addition to internships with the Rivermen and the Peoria Mustangs. He joined STAA after his junior year.

“My STAA membership has been the cornerstone for me in becoming a broadcaster,” he states. “While I may not be the most engaged person in the [private STAA Member] Community, I do read every single email. I read through threads. I read the job leads and see who’s contributing [in the Member Community]. The community that STAA has built is beneficial for any broadcaster of any sport at any level.”

Luisi, and his wife, are excited to start a new chapter in Odessa. “The NAHL is a perfect league for broadcasters to get their first gig right out of college, to hone their skills and get better,” Luisi believes. “I also think being in the South division is going to benefit me because of the style of hockey they play. It’s old-time hockey. A lot of physicality, a lot of the hockey I grew up on.”

Furtado to call pro hockey while pursuing Masters

Play-by-play broadcaster Joseph Furtado was uncertain of his next step when he graduated from Arizona State University in May. With just two years of games under his belt, he was considering returning to school to get more experience. “After speaking with a few of my mentors, they suggest that I’ll learn more at a job than in school,” Furtado recalls.

Influenced by that advice, Furtado is joining the expansion Baton Rouge Zydeco of the FPHL as a Media Relations and Communications Specialist. He’ll be the voice of the Zydeco on Internet, radio and TV, handle media relations, produce video content and update the team’s website.

“Having the opportunity to call games on TV at a pro level, I couldn’t pass up,” Furtado enthuses. “Some games will be broadcasted locally, which was another plus.”

Help from STAA

The Zydeco opportunity is one of more than 10 unpublicized professional, junior and major college hockey play-by-play jobs that STAA has shared with its members this summer. Furtado received the Zydeco opening immediately upon becoming an STAA member in June.

“I joined STAA because I wanted to better myself as a broadcaster, so I figured what better way to do that than joining the STAA,” Furtado remembers. He also admits feeling skeptical about joining. “I really wasn’t sure what I would learn from STAA that I haven’t already been taught in school. I had the opportunity to attend Arizona State University, which is a great program.” Furtado continues, “In the end, I thought I should at least give it a try. If I don’t like it, I could cancel my membership, but I won’t know unless I don’t try. Now here I am with STAA!”

Furtado quickly adds, “In just a few short weeks, I’ve learned so much about the industry, from how to improve my play-by-play to relationship building. They provide a lot of resources.”


A major step Furtado has accomplished is rebranding himself as a broadcaster. “I applied all the tips from each of the assignments that [STAA] has given me and they helped so much! We tackled the five variables in the sports broadcasting job market: demo, resume, cover letter, presentation and follow-up.

“With all of [STAA’s] help, I found myself receiving job offers from a few employers to whom I didn’t even apply. I even got a few compliments on my resume and presentation. Not only has being an STAA member been very helpful in my success as a sportscaster, it’s taught me so much about the job market.”

While working in Baton Rouge, Furtado will continue the work on his Masters that he started this summer. Most of the classes are online. “Though I will have to return to the campus at some point to take one class in person to complete my professional program requirement. I am looking to complete that over the summer in 2024.”

After just two months of membership, Furtado now understands what people can learn from STAA that they aren’t taught at even the nation’s best sports broadcasting schools. “[STAA] is a great place to learn the ins and outs of the industry,” he states. “From broadcasting to building relationships, STAA can help take your broadcasting career to the next level, which is why most join – that’s why I did. Plus, they have a great community, which makes it fun to be a part of!”

Also fun to be a part of will be the first-year Zydeco organization. “I just felt the like Zydeco were a really good fit for me, especially with what they offer coming out of college.”

Mauro hired to co-host on SportsMap Radio Network

Luke Mauro has been a play-by-play broadcaster who also hosted sports talk shows. While he still wants broadcasting games to be part of his career, Mauro is now putting sports talk first. He’s joining SportsMap Radio Network in Houston.

Mauro will co-host The Sports Kings weekdays from 4 to 6 pm EDT. “I look forward to working alongside Gene Thompson and continuing to build the great brand,” Mauro enthuses.

Mauro spent the past five years in Charleston, SC as the play-by-play voice of The Citadel and as a host on the local ESPN Radio affiliate. The SportsMap opportunity arose when the network’s COO and PD Craig Larson asked STAA to help fill the opening. Mauro becomes the 14th STAA member hired by Larson in STAA’s 17 years.

“Luke is a tremendous broadcaster,” says Larson. “He’s someone who’s been on our radar for quite some time. I think pairing him with Gene will be a perfect mix of hard hitting sports talk with extremely charismatic personalities.”

“The opportunity to work with Gow Media, and take my voice to the national level, on one of the most affiliated networks, was a no-brainer,” said Mauro.

Unexpected referral leads Ryan to Blue Ridge Bobcats

A job for which Charles Ryan unsuccessfully applied has led to an opportunity with a different employer. Ryan is the new Media Relations/Communications Specialist for the Blue Ridge Bobcats, an FPHL expansion team in Wytheville, VA.

“I originally saw the job posting in an STAA Job Leads+ email but did not apply because they were asking for someone local to the area, Ryan recalls. “But then I was referred to them by the [FPHL expansion] team in Baton Rouge after applying there. So I reached out and was able to snag the job.”

In addition to broadcasting the Bobcats’ games, Ryan will handle media relations and social media for the team. That includes video content and graphics.

“I am able to continue calling hockey and making feature sports stories like I had been doing in college. But now I get to build on my skill set and add social media skills to it, which will help me down the road,” Ryan enthuses.

Ryan is a 2023 graduate of Bowling Green University. He joined STAA in June on the advice of fellow BGSU alumnus and STAA member Brandon Loe. Shortly after, Ryan interviewed with the Baton Rouge franchise.

“After my interview, they told me they had decided to go a different way,” he recalls. “But they had sent my information to this new team in Wytheville. They gave me the email of the person they forwarded my info to, so I decided to reach out and introduce myself. I think that really helped me land the job — taking that extra initiative.”

Justin Allegri is the new Cal Bears voice

Justin Allegri’s move to his new job will be a short one. Allegri is leaving San Jose State to be the new voice of Cal Bears football and basketball. The two campuses are roughly one hour apart.

Allegri is an experienced broadcaster and a Northern California native. At Cal, he succeeds legendary voice Joe Starkey.

“This is a role that’s highly coveted, not only because of the university and the academic integrity that it has, but the athletics it has as well,” Allegri said. “This is a job that Joe Starkey held to such a high standard for a long, long time. I’m never going to use the phrase, ‘filling his shoes’ or ‘taking his job.’ I’m always going to use the phrase, ‘hoping to carry the baton.’ Joe is Cal football and forever will be.”

Allegri is in his 12th year as an STAA member. He grew up in Santa Cruz and earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from San Jose State.

Cal Athletic Director Jim Knowlton and the Cal community are excited to welcome Allegri aboard. “Justin is a multi-talented broadcaster and a Northern California native, and is the perfect fit to tell the story of our football and men’s basketball programs.”

Allegri is the 10th STAA member to accept a DI play-by-play job in the past 14 months:


* Justin Allegri, Cal
* Luke Martin, Southern Illinois
* Reily Chestnut, Western Kentucky


* John Fitzgerald, Illinois State
* Keaton Gillogly, Montana State
* Rob Hipp, North Dakota State
* Blake Olson, Northern Colorado
* JW Cox, Northern Iowa
* Zach Mackey, Virginia Tech
* Brad Klein, Western Kentucky

Celli joins WJFW-12 in Wisconsin

Broadcasting for Drew Celli started early in his teens. “I would do the PA for Little League All-Star games at local fields in Massachusetts,” he recalls. “In high school I did high school hockey play-by-play. After that I knew that the sports field was where I wanted to be.”

The sports field is, indeed, where Celli continues to be. His next stop: WJFW-12 in Rhinelander, WI as a sports anchor/reporter.

The applicant pool for the WJFW position was deep. The content Celli chose for his reel helped set him apart. “I could have added a package of a local athlete announcing a commitment, but that could be on every single reel an employer views,” Celli states. “You’re never going to stand out sending in a basic reel. My package was of a 55 year old local who competed in the World Curling championships. I can all but guarantee you I was the only applicant with a package like that. What that shows is an ability to go out and find a good story that isn’t in your every day popular sports.”

Celli joined STAA two months before graduating from Bryant University in Rhode Island in May, 2022. Upon accepting his diploma, he joined the sports staff at WBKB in Alpena, MI. He’s grateful for the growth he experienced there. “I found my voice in a way I never had before,” he recalls. “From a confidence point of view, I am miles from where I was when I started. But most importantly I’ve learned that not all the viewers are going to like you. Don’t let it ruin your day. Just keep doing what you think is best for the job.”

Doing what is best for the job is what Celli did as a PA announcer at the ball fields of Massachusetts. And it’s what he’ll do next for his viewers in Northern Wisconsin.

Competitive Hesse joins KCHI AM/FM in Missouri

The roots of Brent Hesse’s competitiveness and his love for sports are obvious. “I am the oldest of five boys, he reminisces. “We have our own basketball team, and played every sport imaginable in the driveway or backyard growing up!”

Now, in addition to playing sports, Hesse is broadcasting them. He is joining KCHI Radio in Chillicothe, MO as Sports Director and Afternoon Host — a position that includes plenty of play-by-play.

“The job at KCHI began thanks to checking the STAA job listings and applying from there,” Hesse recalls. “I had a Zoom interview and then made the seven hour drive the following week for an in person interview. I was offered the job shortly after that.

Valuable opportunities

Hesse moves west to Chillicothe after five years at WOCC AM/FM in Corydon, IN. “At WOCC I was only part-time on a day-to-day basis as the mid-day on air talent. Now I am full-time as the afternoon host [at KCHI]. Plus I was only calling basketball and football games. Now, along with basketball and football, I will get to try my hand at baseball, softball and soccer.”

One key to Hesse earning the Chillicothe opportunity was making clear that he wants to be there. “Being from out of town, you have to prove that it is worth the risk to make the hire. I am a superfan of the KC Chiefs and have visited that city quite often in recent years. I have friends that live there and it was a draw that Chillicothe is only about 1.25 hours away. I made that known right away when meeting with [KCHI GM Patti Leatherman]. I think that gave her confidence that I would be able to fit in and be happy in a new town.”

Hesse’s candidacy was further boosted by several strong referrals. “The people that I asked to give me recommendations for this job are individuals that have not only been great colleagues and mentors, but are friends. They want to see me succeed and gave honest, detailed and personalized responses for why I am the right candidate for the job.”

Helpful recommendation

Speaking of recommendations, it was upon one from a fellow Ball State University alumnus that Hesse joined STAA this year. “In trying to figure out what I wanted to do as my next step in my career, and in how to get there, I reached out to Mick Tidrow who is a fellow 2018 graduate of Ball State University, and now the voice of the Cardinals! He is a fantastic broadcaster and he clued me in to STAA as a place to go for new job openings and also as a place to improve my craft.

“I joined because I was serious enough about giving my all to advance in this competitive job market. I felt with the tools, resources and connections that STAA provides, it was worth the investment.”

Hesse’s career motivation is similar to the drive that fueled him in the family driveway basketball games. “I don’t like to lose, so I won’t take it easy on anyone be

Cripps finds perfect fit with Emporia State

Blake Cripps fits Kansas like wheat fields and rolling hills. He grew up in Topeka and graduated from Kansas University. His parents live in Burlingame; his sister in Kansas City. And Cripps has spent the past 11 years working in Wichita. He has accepted a new job, but one that will keep him in the Sunflower State. Cripps is joining KVOE Radio in Emporia as Operations Manager and Voice of the Emporia State University Hornets.

“I accepted the job because of the amazing reputation of the staff and stations in Emporia,” Cripps enthuses. “The community is heavily interested and invested in the Hornets. And the Emporia State athletic department is a consistent contender for MIAA championships and postseason appearances. I truly believe this is one of, if not the best, Division II jobs in the country.”

Fast hiring process

Cripps learned of the ESU opportunity through a Jobs Leads+ email. “I applied the same day and received a message from Emporia’s Radio Stations GM Ron Thomas the same day that he’d like to talk the next day,” Cripps recalls. “Things progressed quickly from there!”

In addition to play-by-play, Cripps will be in charge of operations for KVOE. “Basically making sure that all of the content we are planning to air is getting to where it is supposed to go. I would say that, and ESU coverage, will combine for 85% of the job. The rest is normal odds and ends stuff like sports anchoring, production, website writing, hosting our Saturday sports show, etc.”

Cripps has big shoes to fill as Voice of the Hornets. He succeeds Greg Rahe, a Kansas broadcasting icon. “It is an incredible honor to follow an ESU Hall of Famer like Greg Rahe in this role,” Cripps states. “He’s been such a huge part of the Emporia community for 35 years and I’m incredibly grateful for all of his help during this transition. Greg is a true gentleman in this profession and an impossible act to follow. And while I’ll never be able to replace it, I hope that I’ll be able to continue his legacy in the booth and in the community.”

Love for Wichita

Cripps moves to Emporia from Wichita, less than 90 minutes southwest of Emporia on Interstate 35. He’s held various play-by-play roles in Wichita since 2012, including calling games for Wichita State University and the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference. For the past four years, he’s been the voice of Newman University (NCAA DII) men’s and women’s basketball.

“I’m incredibly grateful to Wichita and the many personal and professional friends I have made there over the last decade, but I won’t be too far away and I’ll definitely be visiting when I can!

Cripps has been an STAA member since 2012. “STAA has been a tremendous resource for me, from helping to construct my talent page to job updates that you just can’t get anywhere else.”

Cripps’ new hometown of Emporia is the birthplace of college basketball legend Dean Smith. And it’s a great fit for Cripps. “Emporia is literally the perfect middle ground right in the middle of my home state. I’m looking forward to getting settled in the community. My grandma grew up in Emporia so I have ties there as well!”