Former Genoa High School and Bowling Green State University basketball standout Simone Eli still looks the same, but her vocabulary has changed somewhat.
“I say ‘y’all’ in every sentence,” she said. “That was one of the first things I picked up on, and saying, ‘yes, ma’am’ and ‘no, ma’am.’ ”
Eli, 22, joined the FOX10 news team last May as a sports anchor/reporter. Her new adopted home is now Mobile, Ala. — which is 923 miles from Genoa. Eli, who does the station’s sports broadcasts at 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. each night, said Mobile is the 59th largest TV market in the country.
“We’re the No. 1 station in the market, for both shows,” Eli said. “That was before I even came here.”
Eli, a two-time All-Ohio player at Genoa who played point guard on three Mid-American Conference championship teams at BGSU (2010-2012), worked as a sports commentator and reporter for BCSN and for a TV station in Bowling Green while she was in college. Last spring she sent her resume to former Fox Toledo general manager Gary Yoder, who is now the GM at Fox10 in Mobile.
|Simone Eli, Mobile's (Ala.) FOX 10 sports anchor.
“I interned at Fox in Toledo when I was a freshman in college,” Eli said. “I really didn’t know Gary personally, I just knew of him. I sent him my resume and said, ‘hey, you might remember me from back in the day.’ He had an idea of who I was through college basketball at BG.”
Yoder passed her resume to the news director at Fox10, and Eli got a call a few days later.
“About a week after that, I got my first big phone interview,” Eli said. “They wanted to bring me down to Mobile. They flew me down and it was such an awesome experience. I wore a suit and it was like 101 degrees here and I was sweating the whole time. We went to see alligators and I loved Mobile already.”
A week went by and Eli hadn’t heard anything. On April 29, the day before her 22nd birthday, the news director called and offered her the position of sports director.
“I wanted it right away, but I wanted to talk to my mom ( Rebecca),” said Eli, who earned a masters degree in sports administration from BGSU last May. “He totally understood. The next day, on my birthday, I called back and accepted pretty much my dream job.”
Meeting Nick Saban
Eli had never even been to Alabama prior to her interview in Mobile. The only thing she could relate to with Alabama was the Crimson Tide football team’s rout of her beloved Notre Dame in the 2013 national championship game.
“I hated (coach) Nick Saban and Alabama because they beat the crap out of Notre Dame,” Eli said. “The SEC is a powerhouse, and being from Ohio and looking down at these schools from the South, now that I’m here, I’m already drinking the SEC Kool-Aid. It did not take long.”
|Simone Eli alongside Alabama football coach
Nick Saban at a golf outing.
Eli began working at Fox10 on May 20, and within two weeks she sat down for an interview with none other than Saban, who was promoting his Nick’s Kids Foundation.
“It was the greatest experience ever,” Eli said. “I was so nervous. My first question, he was like, ‘Who is this new young chick?’ I was extremely intimidated. Now, I’m the biggest Nick Saban fan. He was so much fun to talk to.”
Eli, whose duties include covering Alabama and Auburn football as well as the New Orleans Saints, said the entire region literally lives and breathes football year round.
“The high school football down here, I’ve never seen something valued so much in the community,” Eli said. “Growing up in Ohio, football and basketball was such a big deal. Down here, football is the only thing that matters. All the big games have sold-out crowds.”
Just in the past two months Eli has had the opportunity to cover two of the wildest college football games of the 2013 season. She said she covered a college or pro game every week of the season, but three stand out.
Eli was on the sidelines at Auburn when Tigers receiver Ricardo Lewis caught a tipped pass for a 73-yard touchdown with 25 seconds left in an improbable 43-38 win over Georgia.
“I was standing right across from the catch, at the 20-yard line,” Eli said. “It was like nothing I’ve ever seen in my life. I couldn’t even hear myself think. It was the loudest I’ve ever experienced anything. I never thought I would ever see something so spectacular - until I did two weeks later.”
That would be the Alabama-Auburn game in the Iron Bowl on Nov. 30 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Crimson Tide was ranked No. 1 in the country, and a berth in the SEC title game was up for grabs.
“I felt like my life changed that day,” Eli said.
With the game tied at 28-28, replay officials ruled that Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon stepped out of bounds – near where Eli was standing - at Auburn’s 39-yard line with one second left. The Tide went for a field goal that fell short, and Auburn’s Chris Davis returned it 109 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
“The field goal was short and I looked over at another (sports) anchor and said, ‘it’s going to overtime,’ ” Eli recalled. “Chris Davis starts running it back and I said, ‘there’s no way!’ I’m standing at the end zone they had kicked it to. Davis gets it and tip-toes the sideline and he was gone.”
Pandemonium ensued as most of the Auburn fans rushed the field.
“The next thing I know, I’m stuck on the field for an hour,” Eli said. “I almost missed (Auburn coach) Gus Malzahn’s press conference. I had stuff poured on me, I was getting hit by elbows. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I was wearing a suit and stuck in Jordan-Hare with everyone in the stands now on the field. Everyone was in utter disbelief. I’ve had the most incredible experience this football season that I’ll never experience again.”
A week later, Auburn beat Missouri for the SEC championship and vaulted into the national championship game against top-ranked Florida State. Eli was sent to California to cover Auburn the week leading up to the game, and she also got to cover the game at the Rose Bowl.
“I knew going in it was going to be a lot of work,” she said. “When Ohio State lost (in the Big Ten championship game), I was so happy because Ohio State punched my ticket to California for the first time in my life. I was there for nine days and (broadcast) live outside the Rose Bowl every day, three times a day. It was like nothing I’ve ever had the opportunity to do.”
The game itself, a 34-31 Florida State win, was surreal for the girl from Genoa.
“I was almost overcome with emotion,” Eli said. “I was getting to experience the biggest game in college football. A year ago I was watching my Irish get drilled by Alabama. Never in a million years did I think I would be watching the national championship game in person.”
Eli, who has an apartment in mid-town Mobile, said the city “has a big-time feel, but everybody also knows who you are.”
“In Alabama, everything is so gorgeous,” she said. “People take care of things. When you hear about southern hospitality, it’s a real thing. People here welcomed me. You have beautiful trees and the streets are clean. Downtown you have Mobile Bay and it’s beautiful. It’s like sight-seeing for me. It’s been an incredible experience.”
Eli’s father, Art, said he and his family couldn’t be more proud of Simone.
“One thing about her is, she’s a go-getter and always worked hard,” he said. “She’s doing what she loves, which is sports. My wife and I are very proud of her. She’s worked hard for everything she’s ever gotten and she's taken advantage of her opportunities.”
Simone said other broadcasting opportunities have presented themselves, but she’s happy to be where she is.
“I’m not going to up and leave Mobile anytime soon,” she said. “I would love to be on the NFL Network or work for ESPN. At that point you know you’re at the pinnacle of your career. Following the teams I do and having the opportunity to see the people who are on that stage, it makes me go to work with a smile on my face every day.”