When ESPN officials told Wes Durham that they were considering pairing him with Roddy Jones to be a broadcast team for the soon-to-launch ACC Network, there was no need to test the waters.
“(ESPN officials) called me and said, ‘This is kind of what we’re thinking about, and I went, OK,” Durham said, his “OK” expressed with the tone of an 8-year-old who had been told by his parents that they were kind of thinking about allowing him to stay up to watch TV and eat ice cream.
Jones, a former Georgia Tech A-back and captain, forever remembered by Yellow Jackets fans as the star of the 2008 win over Georgia in Athens, felt similarly.
“There were some hints that it could be possible,” he said. “But, absolutely, I was excited when I found out.”
Their relationship began as renowned Tech voice and, as a four-year starter and team leader, frequent interview subject. Durham took on the role of mentor as Jones went down the path of a career in sports broadcasting, starting in 2014 as the analyst for Tech’s radio team, then advancing to field-analyst jobs at Raycom and ESPN. Jones calls Durham “one of the three biggest reasons I’m in this industry.” In separate interviews with the AJC, they expressed their eagerness and fortune to now be professional partners at a new network that both aspired to join.
“I feel really fortunate to be working with him,” Durham said. “I think it’ll be fun.”
For Jones, working as a game analyst is the next step in a quickly ascending career. Following his 2011 senior season, he wanted to step away from sports, managing a store for AT&T and then taking a job as an account executive for a carpeting company.
“I just wanted something different,” Jones said. “Then I realized the grass is not greener, and this is what I enjoy.”
In 2014, he replaced Rick Strom as an analyst for the Tech radio broadcasts, a position he envisioned himself holding in perpetuity. But, after one year, his work for Tech earned him a spot as a sideline analyst for Raycom for two years, and then ESPN in the same role for the past two.
Now he’ll have a more pronounced role breaking down the action from the broadcast booth. To prepare, Jones has been talking with others who have done the job, drawing from one game he called last year in the booth and “just kind of doing some dry runs on my own,” he said.
With more opportunities at the ACC Network possible and some additional work with SiriusXM satellite radio, Jones is nearing a point where it will be his only vocation. To develop his career to the point where he can support his family (he is married with two young daughters) through a job in sports “is pretty cool,” he said.
“I sold cellphones and carpet,” he said. “Now I get to sell the ACC.”
For Durham, who had been calling ACC football and basketball for Fox Sports South and will continue serving as the radio voice of the Falcons, the play-by-play job is one of two hats he’ll wear for the network, launching Aug. 22. He also will co-host a three-hour morning talk show that will originate from the basement of his co-host Mark Packer’s home in Charlotte. It’s a continuation of a show they’ve done together for SiriusXM.
Being part of a venture that’s the combination of the conference that’s in his blood (his late father, Woody, was the legendary voice for the University of North Carolina) and ESPN, which owns the network, is tickling.
“I feel really blessed,” Durham said. “My mom, she’s talked to me about how proud my dad would be and stuff like that, and I think that’s kind of cool.”
The two will be joined by former Buffalo Bills center Eric Wood, who played at Louisville and will contribute from the sidelines. Durham and Jones aren’t the only talent at the network with Tech ties. Chris Cotter, a Tech grad who has worked at ESPN since 2012, will be a play-by-play voice for a different broadcast team.
Their broadcasts figure to be easy banter with plenty of humor.
“I want to make him look good,” Durham said.
For Tech fans, hearing two favorites call a Jackets game with an impartial perspective may be an unusual experience, though both have already done so separately.
“I look forward to hear the Tech fans when I say something that’s a little critical of something that Georgia Tech has done,” Jones said, tongue in cheek.
Jones said “we’re all kind of waiting with bated breath” to find out if he and Durham will be tabbed to call the network’s first game, the much-anticipated season opener between Tech and Clemson on Aug. 29.
Wherever the first assignment is, it won’t actually be the first time they’ve worked a game together. The two once called a Tech baseball game that was streamed on ESPN3 that Durham did as a prep for calling the ACC baseball tournament for Fox Sports South.
“We had fun, but now we’re going to get to do a whole season of football, so we’re really excited,” Durham said.
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