GHSF Daily is expanding its Four Questions feature this season beyond head coaches to other voices in high school football. Today's interviewee is Jon Nelson, who has covered high school sports for Georgia Public Broadcasting for more than 20 years. He's a host and correspondent for the "Football Fridays in Georgia" game of the week. GPB's first televised game of the season will be Carrollton at Rome on Friday.
Jon Nelson, GPB correspondent/host
1. You've covered a variety of sports in your time, but what has pulled you toward high school sports, and football in particular? "I have always been a bit of a traveler and fascinated by telling stories. Combine the two and you get what I get to do on a weekly basis at GPB. Seeing the student-athletes that we get to cover and see at the next level (and beyond) is a bit of an added bonus. We can sit there and go, 'Yep, covered you, covered you, covered you ... .' It's funny, when I watch games now, I identify college and pro players by saying the high school they graduated from first. And when you get to see all the different counties and schools and how the fans and alums wrap themselves around their teams every year, to me it just reminds me of just how special Georgia is as a state for sports."
2. What's the most memorable Georgia high school football game that you've witnessed or called, or person you've interviewed? "I'll give you two off the top of my head that I had the pleasure of calling. The Griffin-Carrollton final from the Dome where it turned into Nintendo and everyone got to see Jacquez Parks run the Bears' offense on a state-wide scale, and the Blessed Trinity-Westminster title game that went to overtime two years ago. GPB was nominated for a regional Emmy for that production, and it was a tremendous effort by everyone to capture the whole feeling of the Westminster comeback in the fourth quarter and the overtime drama. It was a blast to call that game. Then, you get into the times that I was on the sideline to be a part of the GPB broadcasts for the last 21 years (I've been here for 24), and I could write a book about it. Hey, now that you mention it ... . [Nelson has written five books about football in the Southeast, including Peach State Pigskin: A History of High School Football in Georgia.]
"As far as favorite player or coach, can I just say that I 'love them all equally?' When you get to sit down with a coach or a player that has a good story to tell, I'm all in. It could be a big school or a small town for me, it doesn't matter. And when you get to share that story with the rest of the state, it lets everyone know that the more we're different, the more we're the same, really. I enjoy the historical aspect of talking to a retired coach or the in-the-now idea of picking the brain of a Rush Propst down at Colquitt. And that's just one example. At the beginning of every football season, we do what has been affectionately called the 'Southern Swing.' We put close to 900 miles on a van in a few days and catch up with as many coaches as possible to get prepped for the upcoming season. The renewed optimism of every school and team is what gets me jazzed for every new year."
3. What's in store for GPB coverage of high school football this year? "Our presence really ramped up in the summer getting ready for the 2018 season. Our social media department in sports has been hitting the pavement gathering a lot of content across all of our platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat) since June, really, and have been interacting with schools, teams, and fans since high school football never stops.
"We always have up-to-date content with all of the folks who are contributing this year on a weekly basis - Tommy Palmer (who also puts up with me on the weekly Football Fridays podcast - so subscribe to that, too!), Sam Crenshaw, Brian Jordan, Matt Stewart, myself, Paul Crane and Stan Awtrey will give you our thoughts all season long over at gpb.org. Our FFIG host, Chelsea Tafoya, has done her share of traveling, too, checking in on the towns we're showing on the games every week. She puts her own special twist on what she sees. And, like, friend, and be a part of the conversation in all of those places I mentioned above. If you haven't done so already, download the GPB Football app on iPhone and Android to stay informed as well.
"I think what we do better than anyone else is give the viewer the feel for where we are every Football Friday. We give you the stories about the towns we're in and pull back the curtain on what makes those towns, schools, and communities so special. To have the resources to do that, to me, is invaluable to the experience we get to show and tell every time we go someplace. In our 'All-Access Pass' pre-game show, we get you ready for everything going on around the state as well and we fly around and give you in-game highlights to keep you apprised of what's going on, too. Everyone you see in the credit roll every week pours their heart and soul into the broadcast, and it shows. I could not be more proud of everyone that works inside GPB Sports."
4. What are some things that fans probably don't understand about GPB high school football coverage, particularly why there aren't as many games televised in South Georgia games [a common question among some fans]? "I would say the two things that come to mind first have to do with our annual budget and our corporate sponsorships. In the last few years, our Sponsorships Department has done a fantastic job in bringing in sponsors for the production. At the same time, budgets have been trimmed as high up as the national levels, and we're trying to be more self-sufficient in combination with the dollars we've been given. Second, when we exceed a certain distance from headquarters, our budget for a game basically doubles. It means that GPB is paying for another day of crewing, their transportation and care, another day of renting the satellite equipment and another day of the production truck. Those expenses build very quickly. There have been times where businesses outside of the market have invested so we can come and do games outside of our travel radius, and we're incredibly grateful for the opportunity to visit all the towns we can. Trust us, it's not that we don't ever want to go to a certain town or not do any other programming. I just hope everyone understands that we're trying as hard as we can. We can't wait for another season of being out in the communities and telling all the stories we can get our hands on! And we can't wait to see each and every one of you."
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