Identifying a career path is challenging for many people, but not for Davis Gregory. Broadcasting a Rose Bowl game is first on his professional bucket list, and he began the journey toward realizing that dream after graduating from the University of Tennessee at Martin on May 6 with a degree in mass media and strategic communication.
Gregory received his degree during the second of two spring commencement exercises in the Kathleen and Tom Elam Center. His early interest in sports broadcasting has grown into a passion for Gregory who developed his skills while following major college sports in his hometown of Knoxville.
The stepson of Kerry Witcher, vice president for development and alumni relations of the UT Foundation, Inc., Gregory attended middle and high school at Christian Academy of Knoxville. He learned about football as a manager for the team and began broadcasting baseball, basketball, lacrosse, soccer and softball for CAK’s Warrior Network, which is part of the NFHS Network that broadcasts high school sports nationally. His work led to being named his senior year as a top-three finalist for best high school sportscaster in the nation.
Although he followed UT athletics during his middle school and high school years, Gregory is an unabashed Auburn Tigers fan and counts the late Auburn radio voice Rod Bramblett as one of his sports broadcast idols along with CBS’s Kevin Harlan and Fox Sports’ Gus Johnson. “They (these announcers) got me excited about the game because they were excited about what was happening on the field or court or whatever it was,” he said, adding that he doesn’t attempt to imitate them. “But definitely I’ve taken some stuff that they’ve done and how they call games and adapted that to what I try to do.”
The prospect of broadcasting games as a freshman led Gregory to choose UT Martin for his college experience starting in fall 2019. “The broadcasting program and, more specifically, the opportunity to call games as a student, and especially NCAA Division I sports (were the selling points),” he said. His first on-air experience came that fall at a Westview High School football game followed by his first Division I college game as the Skyhawks played Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
His WUTM 90.3 “The Hawk” student broadcasting debuts were anything but perfect as he pushed through a sinus infection during the Westview football game. Then for the SIU Carbondale game, a different challenge emerged – a case of nerves. His broadcast partner, fellow student John Thornton, advised him to calm down, “And once I got through the first couple minutes and first couple drives, I calmed down a whole lot more,” he remembered. “But I definitely was a very, very nervous broadcaster going into that first (college) game.”
Gregory’s broadcasting world expanded as a member of WUTM’s “The Bench” sports talk show team. The show primarily covers UT Martin sports but ventures into news and conversation about the sports world in general. He learned quickly that engaging sports talk is “not about just getting in front of the mic and talking.”
“It’s about the prep work that you have to do for an hour show,” he said. “You’ve got to spend definitely more than an hour prepping and make sure that it’s a good show. …There’s so much that goes on behind the scenes.” He also credited UT Martin alum John Hatler, Skyhawk football play-by-play announcer, for making him a better member of the talk show team.
“I remember my sophomore year, it was really tough for me because that was the first year of (being WUTM) sports director and getting stuff together,” Gregory said. “(I was) really stressed out and felt like I wasn’t being myself and talking enough on the show like a conversation.” As a show guest that year, Hatler helped Gregory relax and enjoy the conversations that make sports talk shows popular.
While “The Bench” allowed him to expand his talents, play-by-play remains Gregory’s primary focus, and his classes, teachers and on-air experiences strengthened important skills. “I think the biggest thing is improving my vocabulary and not saying the same thing over and over again,” he said. “… You need to have different ways of describing the moment, and that’s probably been one of the biggest things to overcome and get better at as a broadcaster.” Proper technique is also important, and he learned about speaking through his chest instead of through his throat from Dr. Richard Robinson, professor and WUTM adviser. Robinson’s guidance and consistent critiquing of Gregory’s work made the longtime faculty member both a coach and father figure to Gregory during his four years at Martin.
Robinson remembers seeing Gregory’s potential even before his college career began. Once Gregory committed to UT Martin, he submitted several clips of his high school games to Robinson for review to which the longtime faculty member responded with a comprehensive written critique. “His response was that he would try to correct all of his weak points before coming to our campus as a freshman,” Robinson said in an email. “His energy and desire to be the best that he could be told me that he would be coachable and that he would work hard to improve and be the best broadcaster that he could be.”
Gregory hasn’t missed an opportunity be get behind the mic. His play-by-play experiences have created several memorable moments, including last fall’s Oct. 22 trip to Neyland Stadium to broadcast the Skyhawks-Vols football game and the team later claiming a share of back-to-back OVC titles with a home win against Eastern Illinois at Hardy Graham Stadium. Then in March there was the 2023 Ohio Valley Conference Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championship in Evansville, Indiana, when the Skyhawk men came from 10 points behind in the closing minutes to defeat Southern Illinois University Evansville and advance the team to the tournament’s final four.
While Gregory has many UT Martin sports memories, one high school football game will forever rank among his favorite play-by-play accomplishments. In 2021, Gregory and fellow student broadcaster, Daariq Burton, called the Blue Cross Bowl TSSAA Class 2A Championship when Westview High School won its first state football championship against Hampton High School at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga. Beyond being part of a state football championship, this experience sealed a special relationship with the Martin area. “I think that that was a big part for me was to be able to represent this community and the city of Martin and Weakley County to go and call that game,” he said. “That is something that I’ll hold onto the rest of my life. It was one of the most special experiences ever.”
Gregory’s work hasn’t gone unnoticed. He has been a part of two “Best College Radio Station in the South” recognitions in 2022-23 by the Southeast Journalism Conference for WUTM 90.3 “The Hawk.” Gregory was also part of the ESPN+ crew that won the 2021-22 “OVC Call of the Year” award from the Ohio Valley Conference for his call on a homerun during a Skyhawk baseball game. He closed out his senior year by receiving the Outstanding Senior Award for broadcasting from the Department of Mass Media and Strategic Communication.
Thanks to hard work and perseverance, Gregory enters the competitive sports broadcasting profession with his bachelor’s degree plus seven valuable years of broadcasting experience. An entry-level position in radio that offers an opportunity to call games might be next. Farther down the road, he dreams of broadcasting major sports events, and he’ll pursue his dream “as long as God wants me to pursue it.”
His best advice to anyone aiming to achieve something special is to “say yes to anything,” something he learned at a seminar attended by Bob Kesling, Voice of the Tennessee Vols. In the seminar, Kesling talked about people who told him they aspired to one day have his position, but he found that most were unwilling to make sacrifices and do the small jobs that lead to bigger opportunities. Running cameras or carrying TV cable aren’t glamorous but could be tickets to later landing in the broadcast booth.
The details also matter, and Gregory learned through his years of broadcasting that one of the best ways to improve is simply listen to your own work. He’s relived many of his game broadcasts in his quest to master his craft, and May 6, he heard the best sound of all as his name was called from the commencement stage by longtime mentor and adviser Richard Robinson, one of the commencement readers. “Davis has learned a lot, and whoever hires him will be lucky to get a young, talented broadcaster who will do an exceptional job,” Robinson wrote. “He has great potential as a sports broadcast talent.”
So, if the television executives selecting the Rose Bowl game announcing team seek a fresh new voice to call the action, Davis Gregory just might be available on a future New Year’s Day. He will appreciate the moment and the many roads he’s traveled on the way to Pasadena for the opportunity to broadcast the “Granddaddy of Them All.”