BROADCASTING EAGLES – Former Student-Athletes Find Success in TV News

Laura Harris (‘08), former soccer player, and Leslie Almond (‘07), former basketball player, were captains at Georgia Southern. Although Harris and Almond played two different sports, they had one big thing in common, they were both sports fanatics. That love of sports led them into sports broadcasting and eventually a seat at a TV news anchor desk.

LAURA HARRIS

“I love sports. I love everything about it,” said Laura Harris, co-anchor of “NBC5 Today” in the Dallas/Fort Worth metro area.

Originally from Atlanta, Harris and her family moved to the suburbs of the city when she was 7 years old. Living in suburbia, playing soccer was a central tenet of her lifestyle.

“That was my big thing,” said Harris. “We played soccer all of our lives. So when I got to high school I was getting a little bit better. And they said, ‘You know what? You might be good enough you could play in college.’”

Harris initially chose Georgia Southern because of soccer and the program in sport management, but also because it wasn’t too far from home. “I knew that if I went too far away from home, Mom and Dad couldn’t see my soccer games,” she said. “That was one reason I went to Southern. But it was beautiful and it was a big school with kind of like a small town feel. My parents loved that campus. We loved everything about it.”

What kept her at Georgia Southern?

“I think that Georgia Southern really fostered a place for people to be well- rounded. I had the opportunity to do so many different things.”

The summa cum laude graduate was involved in Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, she was the Student-Athlete Association president, in the National Honor Society, on the dean’s list and the president’s list.

The last semester of her senior year, Harris did an internship with CNN Sports. That experience changed her mind about a plans for a career in sports management.

“I realized then, this is what I want to do. I want to be a sports broadcaster.”

After graduating she sent several audition tapes to local television stations.   Finally, she got a TV job in Toccoa, Georgia, a small town north of Atlanta.

“Monday through Friday I was a general assignment reporter for news, because they promised me that there would be some sports opportunity. Then I would drive back to my parents’ house to work at CNN Sports on the weekends.”

Later, Harris got a job in Charleston as the morning anchor. Subsequently an opportunity opened in Tampa, where Harris could move up to a larger TV market. The only downside, the job was just as a morning reporter.

“Everybody said I was crazy,” said Harris. “You’re leaving this job where you’re the main anchor and going to a job where you’ll just be a reporter. But I always knew, there’s more for me there. I gotta go.”

It was the place to go, as Harris was promoted twice during her six years in Tampa, where she won an Emmy and two Associated Press awards for breaking news coverage. Then a job as an anchor/reporter opened in the huge number five TV market of Dallas/Fort Worth.

“I am one of the morning anchors here. In the 8 months I’ve been in Dallas, I have already been promoted from weekend anchor to weekday mornings in the fifth largest TV market in the country. It has just truly been an honor to get such an opportunity at such a young age.”

Looking back on her time at Georgia Southern, Harris remembers it as an incredible experience for a student–athlete.

“Georgia Southern has captured lightning in a bottle. It doesn’t matter how big it gets, the University will always have this special thing about it.”

LESLIE SPOON ALMOND

“I’m such a sports fan,” said Leslie Almond, a morning show anchor for WWL-TV, the CBS affiliate in New Orleans. “I just fell in love with Georgia Southern when I came for my recruiting trip and we went to a football game.” Almond, a native of Shreveport, Louisiana, was recruited to Georgia Southern as a basketball player in 2002. Basketball was the only thing that was important for her until her freshman year got underway.

“Basketball got me to college, now I had to decide what I wanted to do,” said Almond.

So Almond began working toward a degree in public relations.

Broadcasting was Calling

Shortly before her scheduled graduation in December 2006, she woke up one morning and decided she wanted to be a sports broadcaster. Having previously taken numerous electives in broadcasting, she found she only needed 18 more hours to double major, so she completed an additional semester to graduate in public relations and broadcasting.

After completing her coursework, she interned at KTBS, an ABC affiliate station in her hometown of Shreveport.

“After my internship was over, I sat down with the news director and told him, if you want to hire me, I’d love to work here,” said Almond. “And he just kind of laughed. There was no opening in sports.”

Prior to her internship, then Georgia Southern President Bruce Grube told her he was creating a new position as coordinator of spirit and traditions, and wanted Almond for the role. After the disappointing news from KTBS, she jumped at the chance to work for Georgia Southern. She held the job for a year-and-a-half, coordinating pep rallies and starting events like the Christmas Lighting on Sweetheart Circle.

“It was just a really cool job, but deep down I wanted to be in sports broadcasting,” she said. “My boss let me do sideline reporting once for a Georgia Southern football game. I had never done it before, so I just winged it. It was so much fun.”

At about the same time, Almond heard from KTBS. They had an opening and wanted her to move back home. She loved her job at Georgia Southern, but made the difficult decision to move on.

Almond moved home as a sports broadcaster for KTBS. For four-and-a-half years, she covered everything in sports. “I mean you name it, we covered it. At that point it was a two-person sports department, so I did everything.”

Covering the Packers

She realized then she could do it all, from running around and getting her own shots, deciding what highlights to show from the games she covered, what stories to run, then anchoring broadcasts. So Almond began to send out resumes and tapes, and got a job as sports anchor and reporter for the CBS affiliate station in Green Bay, Wisconsin, WFRV.

“That was just amazing,” she said. “I traveled with the Packers every week. I  was live before the game. We had pregame shows and five Packers shows each week. So, pregame, I was live wherever the game was. Then I also started doing national hits for CBS Sports Network. I could have done that job forever.”

But after three years Almond got the opportunity to come closer to home, to New Orleans. She covered the Saints for two and a half years as a sports anchor/reporter. August of 2017 an unexpected door opened.

“One of the anchors on the morning show was leaving and my news director said, ‘Hey do me a favor and fill in on the morning show for a week and see if you like it.’ So I did it and I really liked it.”

Almond really loves sports reporting, but moving to the morning show was a better fit.

“My husband, Dustin Almond, and I had our first child, a girl named Avery, last August, so the morning show is a better fit for a new mom. After almost a decade in sports broadcasting I covered a Super Bowl, a BCS National Championship, a Final Four, a College World Series and two Bassmaster Classics. It was time for a new chapter.”

Almond credits her experiences at Georgia Southern with helping pave the way to broadcasting success.

Her first job at the University introduced her to sideline reporting, and that’s what got it all started.

– Liz Walker

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