Nebraska may not be for everyone as the new marketing slogan says, but for ESPN’s College GameDay broadcast, this week it was just right. For three men working with ESPN, the trip to Nebraska was more than a jaunt to the middle of the country consisting of bison b-roll and cornstalk background images.
For Mike Ruhlman, Joe Andreasen and Chris Swihart, visiting Nebraska was visiting the state they are proud to call home.
They all grew up in Nebraska. They went to school in Nebraska. They all graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. No matter how long it has been since they last stepped foot on campus, they are excited to be back and see what has changed and grown and what is the same.
Andreasen graduated first in 2000, Ruhlman followed a year later and Swihart a year after. Andreasen is a camera operator for College GameDay and Ruhlman is the stage manager for the show. Swihart is the operations producer for ESPN for college sports.
Andreasen said this was his first time returning to campus since 2007, even though his sister lives in south Lincoln as he now lives in Colorado. He said he enjoyed taking a walk around campus reminiscing about his time at UNL.
“It’s nice that a lot of the old buildings are still here,” he said. “I can pretty much name off all the names of the buildings and what classes I took there.”
For Ruhlman, on the other hand, the transition back was one of some fond college memories, but he does not recognize as much on campus and said he couldn’t give directions when a passerby asked for assistance. Ruhlman said he is most excited about how everyone in Lincoln and Nebraska reacted to the program coming to Memorial Stadium.
“I’ve always been and always will be proud to be a Husker,” he said. “But when all of my colleagues come here and see how great the fans are and how great everyone here is to work with, it just makes me even more proud to be a Husker.”
He said he is also excited for his alma mater to bring back the same football success and culture as the team and fanbase had in the late ’90s.
“The fact that we’re here means that the program is headed in the right direction,” he said. “GameDay wouldn’t choose to come here unless Nebraska is starting to become a relevant program nationally again.”
He said the momentum from his time at UNL feels like it is coming back and he is looking forward to seeing where the head football coach can take the team.
“I love Scott Frost,” he said. “He’s such a great dude, such a great coach.”
He said he has enjoyed watching Frost grow as a coach. The two were in college at the same time and knew each other a “little bit” and Ruhlman said they have reconnected a “little bit,” but the friendship comes with the struggle of finding somewhere to hang out without it becoming an adventure.
“You can’t escape the fact that he is the head coach of the most important sports team in this state,” he said. “You go anywhere with him and it’s a spectacle. It doesn’t matter where you go in Nebraska, he’s a celebrity.”
Aside from his college buddies, Ruhlman said he has a lot to remember and a lot to relearn about the UNL campus. Things like the volleyball team not playing in the Colesium and adding the Pinnacle Bank Arena are all things he has to get used to when visiting his college.
Ruhlman said he hoped to stop by the new College of Journalism and Mass Communications building in Andersen Hall since the journalism and broadcasting programs were held in Avery Hall when he attended UNL.
Likewise, Swihart said he was grateful to spend a few of his college years in Andersen Hall because he believes the building was better suited for the needs of journalists and was admittedly confused why the programs were housed in the same building as math and science.
Swihart lives in Lincoln and has stayed “reasonably up-to-date” on the news on campus and enjoys bike trails that go past UNL but is also excited to share his school with the crew at ESPN.
“I love coming here when I can,” he said. “I still have a lot of ties here that I can fall back on here that I don’t have when I go other places necessarily.”
He said his career started by working a lot of local jobs in Lincoln so he knows the venues in town better than anywhere else.
All three said they love their jobs and worked hard to get to where they are today. None of them ever thought they would get to work for ESPN, but they each said they started from low rungs as recent college graduates and took their time working to their current positions.
They said they were grateful for their education at UNL but admit it takes hard work and years of experience to get the opportunities they and students like them have always dreamt of.
Andreasen said the experience is to die for. He has worked over 250 shows, yet every Saturday morning has the same excitement.
“We get here at 5 or 6 o’clock in the morning and you see the crowd and it still gives you chills,” he said. “Even right before the show comes on when we do our open scene set, the music starts playing, the crowd starts cheering, I mean that’s an adrenaline rush every Saturday morning- that’s never changed.”