'It's a get-to job, not a have-to': Nick Kelly has gone from PB intern to Alabama football beat reporter
Lakeville native Nick Kelly, 23, recently wrapped his first season as the University of Alabama football beat reporter for the Tuscaloosa News. Kelly, a former Post Bulletin intern, talked with the PB last week -- just days after the Crimson Tide lost to Georgia in the CFP championship game -- about his first season in Tuscaloosa.
ROCHESTER — Four-and-a-half years ago, Nick Kelly was a regular at Mayo Field, covering the Rochester Honkers for the Post Bulletin as a reporting intern in the Sports department in the summer of 2017.
Fast forward to last week. Kelly was in Indianapolis, completing his first season as the University of Alabama football and men’s basketball reporter for the Tuscaloosa News.
It’s been quite a journey for the 23-year-old Lakeville native and University of Missouri graduate — whose grandparents live in Rochester and Byron — from summertime baseball in Rochester to rubbing elbows with Nick Saban.
Following his time at the Post Bulletin, Kelly interned for sports departments at the Columbia (Missouri) Tribune, The Athletic in Minneapolis, the Boston Globe (covering the Red Sox and Patriots), the Tampa Bay Times (serving as the Lightning beat writer for a season) and the Columbia Missourian.
Over the past six weeks, Kelly went from Tuscaloosa to Atlanta (where Alabama beat Georgia in the SEC championship game), to New York City (where he covered Alabama QB Bryce Young winning the Heisman Trophy), to the Twin Cities (where he spent a few days with his family over the holidays), to Dallas (where Alabama beat Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl) and finally to Indianapolis (where the Tide fell to Georgia on Jan. 10 in the CFP national championship game).
“It’s been a wild six weeks,” Kelly said. “I’ve only been in Tuscaloosa for about three days. … It’s one of those things, this is a ‘get-to’ job not a ‘have-to.’ It’s a lot of work, but I’m really fortunate to be able to do this.”
The Post Bulletin caught up with Kelly — a 2016 Lakeville North High School graduate — last week, a couple days after the Tide fell to Georgia in Indianapolis.
YOU KNEW FROM A YOUNG AGE THAT THIS IS WHAT YOU WANTED TO DO. HOW’D YOU GET STARTED IN SPORTS REPORTING?
I was about 15 when we lost a classmate of ours, Alyssa Ettl, in a car accident. I’d met her once or twice and it was moment where, I hadn’t known anyone who had passed away at such a young age. I really internalized that was like, ‘what am I doing with my life?’ — not that you need to know what you’re going to do with your life at 15. It was a big self-reflection period for me. Through that, I came across the Minnesota State High School League’s student media program. I approached Russ Reetz — he was the AD at North, who’s now at Eden Prairie — and the next thing I knew I was covering a game.
AND NOW YOU’RE COVERING ONE OF THE MOST HISTORIC SPORTS PROGRAMS IN THE COUNTRY…
I just feel grateful.
WHAT ARE YOUR OFFICIAL DUTIES AT THE TUSCALOOSA NEWS?
I’m the football and men’s basketball reporter, and I’ll do some other stuff in the offseason. My primary focus is football and men’s basketball. I covered softball when I first got here. Alabama was in the women’s College World Series. The day I got to Tuscaloosa (in late May) — I hadn’t even unpacked much yet — my editor called and said ‘we need you to go to Oklahoma City.’ I hadn’t covered college softball before, but that was fun, a great experience.
WHAT’S IT LIKE FOR A MINNESOTA BOY TO CALL ALABAMA HOME?
It’s really different, but I was excited for that, to be in a totally different atmosphere. I love the food here. No offense to Minnesota, but the food in the south is next-level. We have Jucy Lucys and hotdish in Minnesota, but Thanksgiving down here, I went to a friend’s family’s house and — no offense to my grandma — but the food was next level. … It’s just a different culture and I’ve enjoyed getting to explore that.
YOU’VE COVERED SPORTS AT EVERY LEVEL, FROM HIGH SCHOOL TO THE PROS. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE COVERING THE CRIMSON TIDE FOOTBALL PROGRAM AND ITS RABID FAN BASE?
It’s hard to top. Honestly, it’s what you want as a writer in terms of passion. There are so many people eager to read and find out and learn about their team. You could go up to anyone in this town and they’ll have an opinion about Alabama football. There aren’t many places you can find an atmosphere like it. I’m sorry to say this, Minnesota fans, but it’s very similar to Green Bay. It’s not a metropolis, it’s a city of 100,000. They love their Packers up there. It’s the same here, people are so passionate. You could walk up to anyone on the street, randomly, and they can talk Alabama football with you.
DID YOU HAVE MANY — OR ANY — OPPORTUNITIES TO SIT DOWN ONE-ON-ONE WITH COACH SABAN?
Everyone knows how historic this run is (six national championships since 2009) and how he is as a coach. I don’t think I’ll ever cover someone like him again. He’s unique, so detail-oriented. The energy he has is (unbelievable) and he turned 70 this year.
I had a chance to co-host his radio show this year a few times at the end of the season. It’s at a restaurant and on a stage we had the radio voice of the Tide to my left, Nick Saban to my right. Most of the time I’d look over at him, his leg was bouncing or moving — just the antsiness of being ready to go. He just has so much energy.
I asked him, ‘how do you keep your energy up? Is it power naps? Something else?’ He said it’s definitely not power napping. His wife gave him a La-Z-Boy (recliner) and he tried taking one nap and couldn’t do it. He never used it again.
WHAT DO YOU THINK HAS MADE HIM SO SUCCESSFUL?
It’s so fascinating to see how he works and gets things done. He’s very … his time is so heavily accounted for that you don’t get many opportunities to talk one on one. The hour I spent with him on his radio show, that’s the most time I’ve talked to him. Whether it’s doing a commercial or recruiting, he’s always busy.
WHAT’S NEXT? IS THERE REALLY AN OFFSEASON WHEN COVERING A PROGRAM LIKE THAT?
There’s not really an offseason. There are slower periods and faster periods, but there’s always something going on. … The (NFL) Draft is a huge deal here. That’s just as much of a beat as the regular season and postseason. That’s what drew me to this job. I get to cover almost like an NFL beat, while at the same time being in a college town.