Time is now for Jac Collinsworth as the television voice of Notre Dame football on NBC
At a time in life when many his age don’t know what they don’t know, 27-year-old Jac Collinsworth knows.
He knows football, and has from such a young age when he would sit with his father, Cris, at their home in suburban Cincinnati and watch the game, talk the game, think the game. Even while he should’ve been outside doing what kids of his age did, Collinsworth was obsessed with rewinding that third-and-three call with his dad’s coach’s clicker — run it back again — and dissecting/discussing what the linebacker or the quarterback or the head coach might’ve been thinking.
That’s just the way father and son rolled. Still roll.
He knows that the big step that beckons Saturday — NBC television play-by-play voice of Notre Dame, his alma mater — couldn't be made possible if not for countless others that no one saw.
Like calling Notre Dame baseball games with maybe two dozen fans in the Eck Stadium stands. Like driving through the snow and the cold and the darkness to work an Atlantic-10 men’s basketball game somewhere in an Atlantic-10 city. Like making Notre Dame pro day worth watching. Like being tossed into the ESPN high-wire act that is NFL Live and being told that he had exactly 22 seconds — not 23, not 24 — to explain something before throwing it to a colleague or a commercial.
He knows his view Saturday inside Notre Dame Stadium — Touchdown Jesus off to his left, the Joyce Center in front of him, the sea or parking lots to the right — won't ever be taken for granted.
He knows that had it not been for a confluence of decisions from two people he considers mentors, considers family, he wouldn’t be where he will be Saturday. When long-time Sunday Night Football play-by-play voice Al Michaels moved to Amazon’s Thursday Night Football, and Mike Tirico moved into Michaels’ vacated Sunday night chair, that left the Notre Dame play-by-play job open, and Collinsworth in play.
He knows Notre Dame football is a big deal to a lot of people, including Collinsworth, a 2017 Notre Dame graduate, and his family. He went there. He sat in the stands there while brother Austin, played safety there. Saturday’s big, but not too big. It can’t be.
“To be honest with you, it does start to become remarkably normal, which is a very weird thing,” Collinsworth said by phone earlier this week while on the way for a … haircut. “Calling Notre Dame games for NBC, that part of it is never normal. You just get used to it.”
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How is Collinsworth here? How much does his surname have to do with his quick climb of the professional broadcasting ladder? It definitely helped, but Collinsworth is here for another reason. A bigger reason.
“I really have wanted to do this in my life and wanted to do it while I was young for a long time,” he said. “I’ve always been dead serious about this.”
Serious since eighth grade. Seriously.
Do it all and do it all well
Middle school helped make him. That’s when Collinsworth already had an eye on the future. His future. In broadcasting. When it came time for someone in the school to read the morning/afternoon announcements, the PTO meetings, the volleyball and wrestling results, the rundown of after-school activities, Collinsworth grabbed the chance. It was his in.
Give him a script and some leeway to have some fun and Collinsworth was good. As a freshman at Highlands High School, he discovered a class was offered called “Introduction to Film Making.”
He was hooked. At 14.
“I was like, ‘Whoa, I don’t know what you guys are doing in here, but I want to be a part of it,’” said the Fort Thomas, Kentucky native. “It sucked me in like quicksand.”
Not just the play-by-play stuff or the interview stuff. All that would come, and come rather easily for the affable Collinsworth as he worked his way through Highlands and then as a Film, Television and Theatre major at Notre Dame. In high school, he flushed the nerves out by getting one rep after another after another in front of the microphone, then, in front of the camera. At Notre Dame, he learned the art of storytelling, and how best to use his brush and canvas and skills to paint the pictures that needed to be painted.
Collinsworth worked in production. He worked as a cameraman. He worked as an editor. At some point, somebody decided (smartly) to stick him in front of the camera and see if he could swim.
He was freakin' Michael Phelps.
“Sometimes I hear people who are trying to figure out what they want to do, and it’s a bit of a foreign concept to me,” Collinsworth said. “I just decided what I was going to do and I just started laying out the steps.”
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With the seriousness of a surgeon. He had the personality. He had the looks. He had the last name. He was unique. He was natural. All of that was evident early. He might have been just a freshman, then just a sophomore, then a junior or senior, but it didn’t take much to realize that the kid was on a rocket-rise of a career arc.
He just had it.
“I knew pretty quickly,” said Nathan Bush, lead producer for live events for Fighting Irish Media, who worked alongside Collinsworth at Fighting Irish Digital Media. “He has the chops to be whatever the ceiling is for him. He has the skills to do it. Working with him, it was like, I know that when he graduates in four years, there’s a good chance he’s going to be on a national network somewhere doing something great.”
And doing something football related. It always was going to be football. It had to be football. You don’t grow up in a house that lives and breathes and sleeps and eats and talks the game and not do that in some form or fashion when it’s time to make a living.
Collinsworth has the pipes and the personality, but he also had the background. The understanding. The everything.
“He’s an extremely knowledgeable football person,” Bush said. “First time you meet him, it’s like, that guy just knows football. He’s put in a lot of time and effort behind the scenes and worked on his craft.”
Almost time to go to work
Collinsworth still had to nail every chance along the way. First time on ESPN’s NFL Countdown, he had to nail it throwing to a recorded interview out of a live segment. First time he hosted the 90-minute NFL Live he had to nail it. Same with calling college basketball games in winter. Then, USFL games this spring with NBC partner Jason Garrett.
The two had to be good in a setting where it seemed like no one was watching. They were good enough to move into the NBC booth Saturday, where they’ll be the fourth different play-by-play/color analyst team in the last four years.
“It’s just a million little moments that you feel like add up to where you are now,” Collinsworth said. “You only have one shot and it continues.”
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Collinsworth leans on his father for professional advice. He leans on Tirico. On Michaels. Collinsworth will write their encouraging words on a Post-it note, then stick to his mirror so to see it every day.
Still, he really didn’t think he’d be where he’ll be Saturday. In a way he did. He figured he’d still be at Notre Dame Stadium, but hosting the pre- and post-game and halftime shows for NBC, or for Peacock. He didn’t think he’d be in the booth. That was a dream for somewhere down the road. Way down the road.
“I just figured Tirico would do it forever,” Collinsworth said.
When Tirico decided after six seasons in South Bend that it was best to focus on Sunday nights and the NFL, the Notre Dame job opened. NBC — not his alma mater — decided on Collinsworth.
“There was no other job I wanted, man,” he said.
Come 2:30 Saturday afternoon, it will be time for Collinsworth to go to work. Not to be the kid with the famous last name or the Notre Dame graduate, but the voice of Irish football. He might not do his dad’s famous slide in (if you know, you know). There will be plays to call and players to call. There will be times to get excited, and times to stay silent.
It will be a ride like no other for Collinsworth. At 27. For NBC.
“Life moves at a million miles an hour, so you take it one moment at a time,” Collinsworth said. “To be honest, man, it’s happened really, really fast. I don’t know if I could be more prepared to call this game.
“It’s a pretty amazing deal.”
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.