Building a Championship Team
I found myself skimming through the New England Patriots roster recently. A big chunk of their team is “homegrown," either drafted by the organization or signed as undrafted free agents. It got me thinking about the construction of another championship-caliber squad.
If you want to see homegrown talent, check out this.
Rick Willis / San Dieguito Academy & SDSU (17th PPR season)
Rick Willis came to KUSI in search of an internship. At the time Rick was holding down three jobs. He was a substitute teacher in the morning, a waiter in the afternoon and bartender at night. The second day of his internship, there was an unexpected termination in the sports department. “Can you edit this in 30 minutes?” I asked the soon-to-be-ex-California Pizza Kitchen server. “Sure,” said Willis, who knew that I knew he knew nothing about the editing process. 30 minutes later the story came back ready for air. How he did it, I’ll never know. 17 years later, not a single show decision is made without his input and oversight.
Brian Birk / Co-Producer (17th PPR season)
Back in the day, the PPR began every episode of the show with a unique “open." Usually a spoof on a current event or commercial, these “opens” gradually became more and more elaborate. Inevitably, Brian and I would meet in the executive editing suite Thursday at midnight and “speed” edit until morning. We’d be walking out as the GMSD crew came in. You can learn a lot about a person when you’re both suffering from extreme sleep deprivation. I learned Brian is a dedicated professional who isn’t shy about speaking his mind. His PPR contribution is one part what he’s done, and one part what he’s kept me from doing.
John Soderman / South Bay Game of the Week Reporter (17th PPR season)
With my arms raised in the air, I asked the recently hired KUSI news reporter, “Do you know what this means?” “Touchdown?” guessed the reporter. “You’re hired,” I replied in what remains to this day the shortest interview in PPR history. John Soderman came to San Diego as a battle-tested hard news journalist. His résumé is hard to beat. A former Marine, Oakland A, police officer, and big market TV reporter, Soderman prefers the titles "devoted husband," "father" and "drummer." He didn’t know what he was getting into when he agreed to moonlight for the PPR on fall Friday nights. But you can now add Czar of the South Bay to his already impressive biography.
Stephanie “The Rattler” Kelly / University of San Diego HS & USD (14th PPR season)
Stephanie Kelly came to the PPR with a diamond stud in her nose and a chip on her shoulder. A no-nonsense worker bee, Stephanie is motivated to be the best at whatever she’s doing. Ms. Kelly served the longest apprenticeship in show history, but when her on-air break came, she seized the opportunity and never let go. Affectionally nicknamed “The Rattler” for her lethal first strike capability; Kelly has appeared in at least a dozen PPR Opens, most notably the spoof of the then popular TV show “Elimidate.” Stephanie is also the architect of the Silver Pigskin Gala. Her Gala template is still used to this day. She will go down as one of the “best finds” in PPR history.
Joaquin Duncan / Game of the Week Photographer: (10th PPR season)
Joaquin Duncan was one of the few PPR employees who were “drafted” for the actual job he’s doing. A Riverside native and collegiate soccer goalie, Joaquin Duncan’s gift for shooting football video is second to none. If he owned long pants, Joaquin would be working for NFL Films. But his ability to track a football in mid-flight is only part of his talent portfolio. A true workhorse, no load is too heavy for Mr. Duncan. A man of few words, when Joaquin does speak something hysterical usually comes out. Joaquin Duncan, the ultimate PPR teammate.
Brandon Stone / SDSU (9th PPR season)
Shortly after graduating from San Diego State, Brandon Stone was accepted into the PPR’s Red Jacket orientation program. Eight years later, Brandon is the lead instructor of the very same training program that indoctrinated him. Mr. Stone is the market’s preeminent one-man band. He shoots his own stuff, he edits his own stuff, he writes his own stuff and he anchors his own stuff. A Golden Tripod winner (awarded annually to the PPR’s top videographer), Stone has one other amazing attribute: his ability to teach the new PPR Pigs. The new Red Jackets avoid me like the plague but they stand on line at Stone’s desk.
Allie Wagner / Ramona HS & SDSU (9th PPR season)
Back when I lived downtown there was a night watchman by the name of Luigi. He was always talking about a check-out girl at his grocery store. “Mama Mia, she’d be perfecto for your progamma.” So one day at Luigi’s insistence, I agreed to meet the gal working at register #8. Seven days later Allie Wagner was wearing a PPR Red Jacket. The former Ramona cheerleader originally took over the Pigskin Idol segment but it wasn’t long before she was lighting up Friday mornings with the “Rally with Allie.” Often imitated but never equaled, Ms. Wagner’s enthusiasm is matched only by her preparation. A true Bulldog, Wagner can’t be outworked.
Matt Gilson / West Hills HS & Pt. Loma Nazarene (8th PPR season)
The son of a preacher, it took Matt a while to get adjusted to the PPR office vocabulary. A gentleman first, there is a sincerity to Mr. Gilson and his work that is unfortunately way too rare in this industry. A father of two, Mr. Gilson is a true family man who appears to be younger then Wally Cleaver. Matt takes a methodical approach to his job. But it’s his creative flashes that make his contribution special. His live interview with Brother Peter Gilson will go down as one of the funniest moments in show history. It involved San Diego Zoo animals. Let’s leave it at that. I’m currently 0-7 lifetime against Gilson in fantasy football.
Mike Millburn / La Costa Canyon HS & CSUSM (13th PPR season)
Mike was working for a local radio station when he wandered into the PPR flight path. Originally hired to field produce for the PPR Game of Week, Millburn has taken on more responsibility with each passing season. Like everybody in this column, Millburn is a tireless worker who shows up early and stays late. Now part of a unique social media campaign, Mr. Millburn has “sweat equity” in the show. One part producer, one part reporter, and one part whatever we need that day, Mike Millburn has made his mark on the Prep Pigskin Report.
Danielle Norman / Helix Charter HS (3rd PPR season)
Danielle Norman is the newest member of the PPR inner circle. Recommended for hire by Brandon Stone, Ms. Norman started as a PPR field producer and quickly worked her way into a leadership position. I often chuckle at the sight of grizzled PPR veterans being bossed around by our pint-sized producer. Most recently Norman displayed her versatility by providing emergency relief as the North County Week Game of the Week reporter. Still in her beach sandals, Norman delivered a priceless performance with next to no preparation. While she is no doubt vertically challenged, it would be a mistake to underestimate Danielle Norman. She’s a pro’s pro who asks no quarter and gives none.
Tim Gaughen / Hoover HS & SDSU (13th PPR season)
A long time San Diego news photographer, Tim Gaughen answered a PPR advertisement seeking additional “shooters." More than a decade later, “The General” is the dean of the PPR photography staff and a trusted advisor to the inner circle. Gaughen works a seemingly endless string of six-day weeks. His passion is prep sports (and Little League baseball) and he is recognized at fields, courts and diamonds throughout the county. One of Tim’s best qualities is his ability to pull me aside and gently tell me where I’m messing up and how to fix it. If you have a Tim Gaughen as a friend you’ve got gold in your pocket.
Jose Martinez / RBV HS & US Army Ranger: (2nd PPR season)
A decorated combat veteran, this Army Ranger came to the PPR as a free agent photographer. But few have made the “total buy-in” like Jose. If you’re trained to sit in a hole for four days without sleep waiting to take the “shot," a couple long back-to-back TV days is a stroll in the park. An excellent photographer, Jose’s real mark on the show has been in the social media department. Martinez has orchestrated a wide-ranging campaign that is lifting PPR awareness to a new level. Jose displays a “never say die” attitude that is infectious throughout the PPR ranks.
John Shacklett / Morse HS Coach (13th PPR season)
John Carroll and Troy Starr are getting lots of PPR attention these days but both coaches owe a debt of gratitude to Coach Shack. The former Morse Tiger paved the way for his younger coaching contemporaries to join the PPR Shed. Years ago, I was the master of ceremonies at Coach Shackett’s retirement dinner. Before I introduced him, I ad-libbed that Coach would be joining the PPR the following fall. He didn’t know I was joking. 13 years later his trademark “snort” is the most imitated portion of the program. He’s also the PPR’s moral compass. When I need guidance (which is often) it’s Coach Shack who gets the call.
Travis Burgher / Pigskin Idol Photographer/Editor (14th PPR season)
Travis came to KUSI via the cornfields of Iowa. At his job interview I noticed he was wearing mismatched socks. I thought to myself, “If I don’t hire him nobody will.” Today Travis is a fixture on the show, shooting the Pigskin Idol game along with directing traffic on editors’ row. Travis is just another late round pick-up that has woven his way into the very fabric of the show.
Ellen Rhein / UCSD (18th PPR season)
Ellen has been with the show since Day One. No one else can claim that. I can’t remember how we found one another but as sure as the Emperor penguins migration, when the call to arms goes out every August, Ms. Rhein is always the first to respond. Rhein and Rudy are the only PPR employees to work all 18 seasons.
Tom Borgeson 17 years, Kevin Coffin 10 years, Dave Evenson 10 years, Mike Saucedo 15 seasons, Kerry Garnett 11 seasons, Scott Nunes 10, the 3 Mike’s (Shorten, Hacker and Wall) and on and on the list goes. For the purposes of time I focused on PPR veterans with double digit years of service. But the show’s employee retention is truly a TV anomaly. To have a core group this big stick together this long is a statistical Haley’s Comet. We currently have 78 names on our PPR roster. A quarter of those are first-year hires, and still our average length of service is 7.8 years.
But what really is eye opening and what connects us to our viewers is the fact that 3/4’s of our roster either attended high school or college here in San Diego. Just under a 1/3 did both. That’s a homegrown ballclub!
Individually we are nothing special. But collectively, we’re the best damn high football show on the planet. We are the Prep Pigskin Report.
Make sure to tune in Friday nights at 10:30 pm.
Creator of the PPR