The More Things Change…
A little over 10 years ago Scott asked me to write a guest blog post. At the time I was working at a small advertising agency in Monroe, LA with a passion for doing photography. I had a few opportunities to photograph Louisiana Tech sporting events alongside Donald Page. I’m not sure either one of us really had any idea of where the future would take us, but it’s amazing what all you can pack into a 10 year span. I’ll do my best…
In 2012 I got my shot with the Atlanta Falcons. Scott posted about the journey here. It was go time. I knew this was what I wanted to do and I knew I wanted to rise in the industry.
I spent two seasons with the Falcons. This was my first time spent as a creative for a sports team. By no means was this a new position in sports. My boss, Michael Benford, I believe was going on his 10th year at the time. My eyes were wide open. In 2011, when I was doing everything I could do to make any sort of name for myself as a sports creative, it was mostly just creating at my house. No flash. So imagine when I went from Spencer St., in Ruston, LA, to the Atlanta Falcons Headquarters. I was surrounded by likeminded people who ate, slept, and breathed sports the same way I did. Mike hired me as a graphic designer but he also knew that I could take a pretty decent game photo. So I had that going for me.
In 2012, in sports, there really weren’t a lot of options as a creative. You had graphic designers, videographers and a director. Social media was just starting to really become a thing. We had Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts, obviously, but from a creative stand point I remember really only doing a handful of graphics that would server as headers for articles or promote our matchups. Most of the other things fell on to the web as banner advertisements.
I learned under Benford about the importance of brand and brand consistency. The ‘why’ we do something. Before, I would just do things that I thought were cool with no real reason for it. Michael taught me how to mesh the cool with goals of our brand. And on Sundays, well Sundays we took the field and I did so with my camera in my hand. The same camera that got me to this point.
I was at home on the sideline. Each weekend I would look for a way to sharpen my skills a little bit more. I watched how most photographers clumped together and shot from the same elevation with monopods…so I moved away and never used a monopod. I shoot low. I want the hero shot. I want the ‘other’ shots. The game unfolds between the lines…you follow it. But there are other things.
I studied the sports photography greats and I wanted to be like them. Keep in mind, this is 2012, there weren’t a lot of us doing this. Instagram still wasn’t what it is now. But I still did my best to get my best work up on the platform. I wanted to make a name for myself. And I wanted to do it through my passion: sports photography.
I love doing graphic design, don’t get me wrong. Graphic design is my trade. It’s my ‘base.’ I was trained in school for it and I cut my teeth doing mainly that after school. But photography had me. It had me as a kid and it took me as an adult.
I loved working in Atlanta. I loved my coworkers. I love the city. I loved the fans. I miss them all to this day. But I knew when my wife and I were expecting our first child that I needed to move up and on at some point. I don’t know if I was ready at the time, but I was about to find out one way or another. When Nick Saban’s program calls…you go.
In 2014 I became the Assistant Director of Graphic Design/Head Creative for the Alabama Crimson Tide football program. This was pretty new territory as there was a budding industry in college football. College football teams were beginning to bring creatives in-house to promote their programs from within. When I interviewed, I asked what they needed me to do. ‘Make cool stuff’ for recruits. Okay. That sounds simple enough.
In theory it was, but it wasn’t. I went from Mike’s tutelage to on my own in the blink of an eye. Tom Rinaldi said it best when he said, “You feel the pressure when you walk through the front door.” He’s right.
I’ll never forget my first meeting with Nick Saban. He was concerned about their presence on social media. He wanted to know what we were creating to put in recruits’ hands. Luckily I had been putting together a binder of designs up to that point (yes a binder…2014…we still used paper). The feeling walking into his office, with all of his rings staring back at me as he sat behind his desk and opened my binder.
“You make this?”
“All of this?”
“This is great stuff.”
And he closed it. That was it. I was relieved. God had spoken. I was off and rolling at Bama.
Now I was on my own to create. No real checks and balances. Creative freedom can be a terrifying thing. I also was no longer taking photos. The thing I loved the most in Atlanta, I wouldn’t be doing at Alabama. I would shoot and edit video instead. Along the way, I would jumpstart Alabama’s football social media presence.
I followed a tremendous creative in Buddy Overstreet, who had begun posting content to the Alabama Football Instagram account. When he left, it died on the spot. So we began CrimsonTideFB, our ‘recruiting’ social platform. You see, in 2014 at Alabama, our SID deemed our graphics a little ‘too edgy’ to go on the main account (they now post on the main accounts and do a tremendous job). So now, not only am I doing design and video as my main tasks, I’m also managing a new social presence to post our content. Myself. For Alabama. No pressure.
Alabama was everything you would think it was. It was a tight ship where excellence was expected every single day. It started at the top and it trickled down throughout the entire staff. I loved it. Hooked. I needed this. I needed to walk in the shadow of someone like Nick Saban. I loved watching him operate. I took mental notes every single day. I had always considered myself a hard worker, leading up to Alabama, but during my time there I learned how to take to another level of expectations for myself and those around me.
Success came. Obviously. The games were amazing. Life was good. I hired Tony Turnquist from Minnesota as my right hand man in design. Since that day I not only trained him in design but he has become a hell of a photographer in his own right. I had a young and energetic student who was eager to learn design and video by the name of Michaiah Smith who is now a tremendous videographer for the University of South Carolina. Every day we challenged ourselves and pushed each other. The work got better and better, getting recognition. By the 2015 the industry was growing. We were proud of where we stood in the expanding sea of content creators who now called college football home.
Still not shooting photos. Things change.
Somewhere in 2016 Tony, Michaiah and myself would have conversations and questions like, “If you could work anywhere, where would it be?” I always said LSU because it was home, Colorado because it was gorgeous and Texas because IT’S TEXAS. At the end of 2016, Texas had an opening. I pounced. This time with a 2nd child. It was time to move up again.
Back to photography…and more. Things change.
I stood on the sideline of the National Championship game in January of 2017 and talked to Coach Herman for the first time. He was down to earth and told me what he would expect if I were to come to Texas. That night I told him I wanted to be there. It was the best move I ever made.
I moved to Austin, to the dream job, closer to family. In 2017, Texas Football, internally, looked a lot like what I imagine it looked like around 2008. We had a task to do. And we are on our way to completing that task. I brought Tony with me and we have been surrounded by amazing staff.
Coach Herman put his trust in me and has allowed me to do what I need to do and manage a full team of creatives (Tony Turnquist & Derek Ochoa) and four amazing student workers (Paige, Bailey, Nick and Jonathan). I find excitement in teaching the students, training and preparing them for jobs after school. I want so badly for them to find success. We have control over arguably the largest football brand in the entire country.
In 2012 we were just designing marketing materials. Today we create anywhere from 2-8 graphics/materials everyday plus videos. We manage internal creative and technology. We do numerous photoshoots every week whether it’s our players, recruits, gear or something else. We do it all. We also manage all social for Texas Football.
I firmly believe that I wouldn’t be able to do it at the level that we do it at Texas if it weren’t for Scott connecting me to Michael Benford. If it weren’t for learning under Mike. If it weren’t for Coach Saban and his pressure. And if it weren’t for Tom Herman believing in us and allowing us to do what we were trained to do. I cannot thank him enough. I’m bound and determined to do everything that I can do, everyday, to help him be successful and win a championship at Texas. I have my dream job.
Oh…and I’m back on the sideline with a camera in my hand. I’m back in my zone. For 12-15 Saturdays a year I’m back to being that kid that picked up my father’s camera. I’m back to being in the Georgia Dome looking across the tunnel in awe of Tony Gonzalez standing in front of me. I’m back where I need to be. I get goosebumps just thinking about it.
It’s been an AMAZING 10 year journey since my first guest blog post. One can only imagine what the next 10 years hold. So with that being said, the more things change…
…the more things stay the same.
I just want to thank my amazing wife Chelsea. You’ve been here through this entire journey, the ups the downs, and have held the house down while I grind at the stadium. You’re the real MVP. I love you so much.
Thank you Scott for having me back!
You can see more of Matt’s work at MattLange.com, and keep up with him on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Behance.