WFXR Sports activities Sitdown : Virginia Tech graduate Evan Hughes honored with 2021 Jim Nantz Award

BLACKSBURG, Va. (WFXR) — How does someone develop into the top collegiate sports broadcaster? For Evan Hughes, it was a journey that began as a 12-year-old when he volunteered as the public address announcer for his sister’s all-star softball games. 

There’s one moment that still sticks out in memory for Hughes along the way. He was calling play-by-play football on Patriot Talk Live, the network home he created for all sports radio broadcasts of the high school he attended, Patrick Henry High School in Ashland, Virginia.

In the tense final moments of the 2014 Tomato Bowl, the epic rivalry between Patrick Henry and Lee-Davis High School (now Mechanicsville High School), the Patriots sealed the win with an interception in the end zone.

On the call, Hughes spontaneously bellowed “Holy Toledo!”

“It was sheer joy that I got to call this awesome moment,” Hughes said. “I just knew at that point. Not that I knew I was good enough to pursue play-by-play broadcasting, but I knew I loved it. I said this is more than just a hobby. I look back on that being the first big moment I got to call, and I remember thinking this is something I really want to do.”

“Holy Toledo!” has become synonymous with Hughes calling games over the past four years at Virginia Tech. Now, another phrase can forever be linked to him: 2021 Jim Nantz Award winner.

On May 28, Hughes learned that the Sportscasters Talent Agency of America had chosen him as the 2021 Jim Nantz Award winner, which recognizes the nation’s most outstanding collegiate radio and TV sports broadcaster.

“I’m just at a loss of words, to be honest,” Hughes said. “I feel lucky to be in this position because there’s so many talented people around the country. The reels were so great this year. I’m just excited for Virginia Tech. This is one of the happiest days of my life.

“It’s not everyday you see your parents cry in front of you. Just a really special day. I feel so lucky I get to experience it with my family.” 

Hughes, who graduated from the School of Communication earlier this month, made history by becoming the first All-American (those ranked in the top six) from Virginia Tech when he finished second in 2020. This year, he stitched his name in collegiate broadcasting lore by becoming the university’s first winner in the 13-year history of the award.

“This is a landmark day for Evan and for the School of Communication,” said Robert E. Denton Jr., director of the School of Communication. “When we officially made sports media and analytics a major in 2020, we were excited to see the results it would yield. This is just the first step. Congratulations to Evan, our hard-working faculty in this area led by Bill Roth, all of our students in the sports media and analytics major, and everyone else who has helped the program transform into what it is today.”

It’s all a testament to the work that has been done to elevate Virginia Tech’s sports media and analytics program into one of the most competitive majors at the university. When Hughes learned that Roth was returning to Virginia Tech in 2016 to join the School of Communication and bring his expertise in the sports media industry as a professor of practice, it was a dream come true.

Hughes’ father, Kelly, played soccer for Virginia Tech, so the family had long been Hokie fans. Many Saturdays growing up, Hughes would sneak away from the bleachers at his sister’s softball games and find comfort in the car listening on the radio to Roth’s “Touchdown Tech!” call, which became iconic over his 27-year career as the Voice of the Hokies.

“I look back on it and think how lucky I am that I can not only meet my idol, but work with Bill on a daily basis,” Hughes said. “I’m in the position I am today, the person and the professional, because of the person I admired growing up. That’s really special.” 

From the moment Hughes arrived on campus as a freshman in 2017, he’s worked hand-in-hand with Roth and all the students in the sports media and analytics program to improve his craft. Hughes gained valuable experience over the past four years as a play-by-play broadcaster for the ACC Network Extra, the play-by-play broadcaster for the St. Cloud Rox of the Northwoods League, the podcast host for TechSideline.com, and the sports director for 3304 Sports, the multimedia platform for student sports journalism at Virginia Tech.

“I’m elated for Evan, who has developed into an outstanding broadcaster at Virginia Tech,” Roth said. “His work ethic, his enthusiasm, and his passion for our craft were evident from the first day he stepped on campus. He’s played a profound role in the growth of our sports media and analytics program, and I’m proud he’s the first Jim Nantz Award winner from Virginia Tech.”

Now, it’s no longer a secret: Virginia Tech is producing some of the top rising stars in sports journalism. And it intends to keep it that way for years to come.

“Sports media and analytics, 3304 Sports, Virginia Tech, stand up baby,” Hughes said. “This is a win for Virginia Tech and for our program. I’m proud to be a Hokie!”

The next time Hughes takes the broadcast booth, he’ll go through his normal routine. A routine that always includes a reflective moment as he looks into the stands with an attitude of thankfulness that everyone can apply to their own individual journey.

“Honestly, being a good person and showing kindness and compassion to others is so important,” Hughes said. “If you make other people feel like they’re important, that’s three-fourths of the battle, in my opinion. Then, the broadcasting will take care of itself.”

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