Mike Rapsys courtesy photo

The time is 3 in the morning. It is a weeknight. Most people are asleep and comfortable in bed but not Mike Rapsys. He is awake and editing a highlight video for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln men’s basketball team. Caffeine and a passion for sports videography are his fuel to keep going through the night as he finishes a video due later that morning.

Working behind the scenes for Huskers athletics includes traveling with the team and putting in long hours of working day and night to promote teams, student-athletes and also the future of videography.

Rapsys is not alone in this pursuit. Other UNL sports videographers like Rob Washington and Josh Ferdico can relate to the late night grind of editing sports video. They share an origin of getting into sports videography with high school football, falling in love with photography first, and eventually for Rapsys and Washington, it was making skateboard videos.

Washington shot photos and videos of high school athletes in his hometown of Denver, Colorado for a few years where he formed relationships through creating content.

“There’s a kid who passed away last summer,” Washington said. “I was just out testing some new equipment one day, and I shot photos of him. And then the last photo of him was the one that I took. So then I was like man, I need to find out who these kids are who surround him.”

The young man who passed away was Davarie Armstrong, the 17-year-old was set to enter his senior year at Denver South High School. Washington also followed a high school girl and her basketball season. He mentioned that she played her heart out that season for her lost friend. He talked about how his friends on the football team responded on the field.

“And then his other friends, who play football, I would go shoot them and see how they all played. They were a terrible team but after that (losing Davarie) they went undefeated. And these kids lost a friend due to gun violence. Just being able to have a story that people can always hold on to forever means a lot,” Washington said.

He shared the last photos of Davarie with his family and friends. The highlights he created of these high school kids also went a long way, not just for the young athletes but also for him in return.

“During the high school football season they (Davarie’s friends) actually put a mural together of that (of the final photo of Davarie) and surprised me with it. I was like wow and to see all the support from different people and everybody was just like showing me love. I try to be a guy behind the scenes, I’m just like trying to test the lens one day and you know he was working hard, so I was like well I’m gonna focus on him right now,” Washington said.

Washington was not only doing what he enjoyed but was getting appreciation and forming relationships in return.

“One of the coaches came to me one day, ‘Hey, your footage got a kid into a Division I college, you’re giving kids opportunities out here by shooting stuff’, wow, ok, this is deeper than I realize,” Washington said.

He now works full-time with Huskers football. No matter the location of the game, he is running all over the field catching video of the Nebraska football team.

“Everything we do from after a game, making videos or taking photos and giving it to the players and making sure they are posting this content because it’s going to help their brand grow,” he said.

With the rise of NIL and social media, sports videographers are crucial to the branding of college athletics. Washington also plays a big role in recruiting for Nebraska football. During the off season, he works to content for Husker commits and recruits.

“Everything that we’re sending to the kids to get their eyes on Nebraska and get that brand to grow more and having those kids come here and know that they’re gonna have opportunities to grow their brands, it’s always benefiting the athletes,” he said.

Making highlight videos, graphics and other content has caused relationships to form between videographers and student athletes.

“We were doing short documentary pieces and on some players during fall camp and spring ball. And having them come up to us afterwards. ‘Like man, that meant a lot for you to kind of really show who I am, and like what I can do outside of sports.’ And like one of our players he loves to meditate and really take care of his mental health in that way. He’s one of the guys crystallizing all that and bringing players together. Developing relationships with those guys means a lot. Playing Madden with those guys or joking around with those guys every time I see them. It’s fun, dude,” Washington said.

It’s not all sunshine and roses, though. He’s experienced the ups and down while traveling and spoke about the tough trip home after a gut wrenching loss to Michigan State.

“This past weekend I rode home from MSU. It was brutal. Late at night and we didn’t arrive back at the stadium until 2 a.m. You feel that on the plane and you feel it immediately as soon as the game’s over. You feel the pain, maybe not the same pain that players have, but you know you feel like you’re part of the team being there. I feel like somebody stabbed me in the eye and I have to walk around with this knife there. I can’t pull it out like it has to stay there. I gotta look into these guys eyes and talk with them. Seeing them come together after that, you know what they’re not giving up,” Washington said.

The late night flights home from road games are a small fraction of the time he dedicates to Husker football.

“The work life balance is like a challenge. During fall camp, it’s like 7 a.m., so whenever we’re completely done that could be 10 p.m.,” he said.

It’s a 365 days a year-job.

“I don’t get to see my family. I don’t know when I will have legitimate time off to go back to Colorado. Sometimes I am having a creative block, I’m like, am I even good? When we do have imposter syndrome. We might see a video or something that we made or have a clip or a moment that we’re like, I can do this forever. I can do this,” he said.

In the future, Washington is looking forward to a future where he has more free time and the work he puts in pays off.

“I don’t know if I see myself working in sports forever, because I do miss the aspect of storytelling and having more creative control. To travel or spend time with my family, I have to get to that level. I have to have a work life balance but then get to a point where I’ve worked so hard to get to here whatever I choose to do with my creativity,” he said. “There’s definitely long nights, but it’s so worth it like being able to go back and look at your footage.”

Ferdico works mainly with baseball and also with football and says sports are nothing without student-athletes.

At the end of the day, it’s all about them,” he said. “The content we create around these athletes still directly benefits them. With the NIL stuff, personal branding has never been bigger, especially within student athletes, we’re here to support the athletes.”

Through his work, he spends a lot of time with the baseball team and is able to form connections with then.

“You share those high moments with them, you share the low moments with them, you’ll share meals and it makes it a hell of a lot easier if you like each other,” he said.

Last season, Ferdico interacted with “a baseball mom.”

“Cam Chick’s mom told me ‘Your stuff’s fire’, and I was like, ‘Thank you.’ There’s just something special about working with the team and being that support system for them on the digital side.”

What he loves as a traveling sports videographer is the romance.

“That romantic feeling and sports is like that roller coaster of emotions. The highs are high and the lows are so very low and I mean that’s why we love it though. I mean nothing else delivers that feeling. I just think it’s so exciting. The environment, atmosphere, fans, I’ve never shot anything like shooting sports and just the rush in the excitement it’s never the same. It’s a blast,” he said.

But it’s not all. glamorous.

“We spend the majority of our time not on the field or on the courts. There’s huge backend processes after the game you need to take your SD card and dump the footage or photos. Then you need to tag them. So you need to enter in all this metadata, watch your videos, name them and organize them correctly. And even then your photos aren’t color graded like your footage looks almost black and white because you shot in log, and it’s like a mountain of things you have to do afterwards,” Ferdico said.

For Rapsys, a senior majoring in emerging media arts, his work this year includes filming and creating a documentary for men’s basketball player, Derrick Walker.

“He has a really cool legacy that he’s left but still has more to accomplish. I think it’d be cool to kind of capture his last year of basketball, that’s where I kind of got more of a perspective of these athletes. Especially being with Derrick, I mean we rode in a car for six hours total driving to Kansas City and back. Already just right there, you kind of form a close relationship, and I think that’s what’s super cool with working with the basketball team, is just kind of getting to know all the players. You’re making content but also building relationships while you’re doing it,” Rapsys said.

A quick conversation with Walker unraveled Rapsys’s schedule during basketball season.

“I was shooting with Derrick Walker in Kansas City this weekend. He was asking questions about what I do. I told him, I’ll be going to the office at 10 o’clock at night, because of class, after class I have to do homework. And then I got to eat dinner. I like to take a couple of hours, kind of doing my own thing, and then I go to the office ’til 2 in the morning. And he was like, ‘What, that’s actually insane,’” Rapsys said.

Ferdico agreed.

“When you’re there sitting at your computer at the ass crack of dawn, 3 a.m., you’ve got work, is this really that fun? You know? Maybe, I should just not do photo and video work anymore. I think it’s important to make those sacrifices. It’s the name of the game in this industry. So, you know, the grind is absolutely real,” he said.

They often have to work past their 20 hours a week — hours that are not compensated for.

In the future, Ferdico said trying to grow his own photo and video business.

There’s something to be said about having one 100% creative freedom,” he added.

Rapsys said he is excited for this year’s basketball season, his documentary with Walker and the future at large.

“Maybe I just want to have an editing bay at my house and be a freelance editor. Hopefully after I graduate, I can take my first couple of years to just network and just meet as many people as I can, so I can get to a point where I’m like, hey, I want to start freelancing. I want to have a happy family. I want to get some Border Collies. I want a good backyard,” he said.

The life of a traveling videographer can be a rollercoaster.

“When you lose away, it’s tough. The thing about this field is the highs feel so high and the lows feel so low,” Rapsys said. “To feel the lows in order to feel the highs, that’s part of what’s so cool about working in this industry.”