For Randy Buffington, ’17, football was everything. Well, almost everything. When he spoke to the team during his senior year, he offered his younger teammates some personal wisdom: It’s OK being uncomfortable. Expect the unexpected and be ready to adapt to it.
“My message was, ‘Try not to get lost in it (football). Figure out what’s next. Find something you’re passionate about outside football because it is going to come to an end,’” he remembers telling them.
He took his own advice.
With a strong work ethic, a lot of creativity and a stroke of luck, Randy has landed his dream job – “a match made in heaven” – as the content creator for USA Today Network Ventures.
But it wasn’t always easy getting there.
During his senior year at Heidelberg, and with a year of football eligibility left, Randy found himself waiting for the phone to ring. Though it wasn’t for a lack of effort, the job offers weren’t pouring in. So he decided to stay on at Heidelberg and enroll in the PlusOneAdvantage® MBA Tuition-Free Scholarship Program. “If I wasn’t at practice or in the weight room or in class, I was in the Media Communication Center (now the GEM Center), in front of the green screen, making videos and getting creative,” he recalls. “I was laser-focused. That gave me the motivation I needed.”
In March 2018, after applying for a multitude of jobs on LinkedIn, he landed at WOIO in Cleveland, his hometown. He was hired as a digital content producer and multimedia journalist, writing, shooting and editing his own online pieces. “If they liked it enough, they’d throw it on TV,” he says.
At WOIO, Randy found his niche covering human interest stories in addition to sports. A couple of years later, he got an opportunity to produce video segments with ESPN, The Undefeated, the premier platform for exploring the intersections of race, sports and culture.
“It’s just crazy how everything lined up,” he says.
Seizing ESPN opportunity
During his senior year at the ‘Berg, Randy was among a group of Communication and Media students selected to travel to the Bristol, Connecticut studios of ESPN for a meet-up with ‘Berg alum John Buccigross, ‘88. Just meeting the long-time EPSN anchor wasn’t enough. Before the trip, “I hit up everyone on LinkedIn, asking to meet them personally,” Randy says. About five or six ESPN employees gladly agreed to meet with Randy during the trip. That networking led to the opportunity to come on board as a contributor for ESPN, The Undefeated.
With the onset of the pandemic in March last year, work dried up at WOIO. “I had been excited about where I could go, then the world just stopped. It was very frustrating, but I still wanted to create,” he says.
He continued to make videos, utilizing the local library’s green screen. Eventually, he purchased his own equipment and went live from his living room. Working for free, however, sent him into a funk.
But things turned around when he least expected it.
An unsolicited email
Randy got a random email from a USA Today Network Ventures producer who would become his boss. After finding him on a database of the National Association of Black Journalists, she reached out to him with “a really, really cool opportunity.” He would get to create content, ultimately elevating the stories of elite high school student-athletes and the celebrity hosts who are part of the USA Today High School Sports Awards, one of USA Today Ventures’ signature events.
Since joining the team in March, it’s been a match made in heaven.
“A major part of my job is focusing on digital content, creating short-form video segments about the athletes (called Icebreakers), interviewing celebrity presenters and telling some inspirational stories,” he explains.
The job involves a lot of travel, which Randy enjoys. But he really loves the storytelling aspect. “It’s been amazing,” he says. “I have a lot of freedom to create and have fun with my work … getting to know some of the student-athletes, traveling and telling some really cool stories along the way.”
He also interviewed pro athletes like TJ Watt, who participated in the show, which aired Aug. 5, and led the charge for the show’s Courage Awards.
“I just want to be at a place that wants me to be me. I have a lot of freedom to create, to have fun and to engage.”
For a long time, everything was about playing ball. Randy worked his whole life to get to the NFL Draft. “The first assignment thrown my way was to cover the NFL Draft in Dallas back in 2018,” he recalls.
Funny how life works out sometimes.
Catch Randy doing his first gig with college football when he serves as the color analyst for the Central Michigan vs. Robert Morris game on Saturday, Sept. 11. The game will air on ESPN3.
Follow his work and the High School Sports Awards on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok at @randyisice.