By Earl Vaughan Jr.
Just two years into his role as one of the contributors to The Huddle on the ACC Network, former Jack Britt High School and Clemson University football star Eric Mac Lain is having to deal with a host of on-air changes.
As with millions of others, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way Mac Lain and his fellow commentators on the weekly college football studio broadcast do their jobs, but Mac Lain isn’t letting it limit his role. In fact, he’s found ways to expand his work at ESPN.
Last year this time, Mac Lain was flying each weekend from his home in Charlotte to the ESPN studios in Bristol, Connecticut, where The Huddle was put together during the football season.
But by mid-summer of this year, when the effects of the pandemic had become clear to everyone, it became apparent that Mac Lain wouldn’t be doing the show the same way as last season.
He praised both ESPN and the ACC Network for not overreacting and laying a solid foundation for how the program would work in the world of COVID-19.
“I tried to stay as optimistic as I could throughout this entire process and understand things would change for the better,’’ Mac Lain said. Still, when the Big Ten announced it was suspending the football season, Mac Lain had concerns. That soon changed when the ACC announced it was moving forward with plans to play.
When the haze finally cleared, Mac Lain got the word that he and his fellow members of The Huddle cast would be broadcasting from their homes each week.
“It’s been a brand new learning curve and a much different environment,’’ he said. Production meetings that used to be in person were held via Zoom. He and his wife set up a studio in an office space in their home in Charlotte. Mac Lain pointed the camera on his iPad to a corner where viewers could see him with his Clemson football jersey and other memorabilia from his career in the background.
His fellow analysts, former Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel and former Georgia and Miami head coach Mark Richt were also in their homes, which led to an instant problem. On the Bristol set of The Huddle, the three could easily interact with each other. The physical separation caused by the pandemic posed a problem.
Mac Lain praised the show’s producers for encouraging them to act just like they did in person, with banter and jokes and by sharing comments back and forth off camera via text message.
“We’re having fun and enjoying what we do,’’ Mac Lain said. “It’s just not in Bristol.’’
While the pandemic has robbed some people of opportunities to work, it actually opened the door to Mac Lain to try more.
After college football’s fall schedule was scrambled by the virus, ESPN was without a color commentator for a Campbell at Wake Forest game on a Friday night.
ESPN officials reached out to Mac Lain, and he immediately accepted. It meant he had to travel from Charlotte to Winston-Salem for the game, then return late that night to his home, get a brief amount of sleep, then return Saturday for his duties commenting on that day’s ACC games with his Huddle teammates.
Mac Lain had called a Utah high school game in August, working remotely from the ESPN Charlotte studio without having to actually be onsite. He enjoyed it so much he was thrilled to get a chance to do a college game.
But it also meant a lot of extra work. Good announcers don’t just show up for a game and thumb through notes provided by the schools’ sports information directors.
“You take a deeper dive and go into what they are going to try to do in various situations,’’ Mac Lain said. “The amount of time I put into this job is probably a little crazy. I want to be the best.’’
That meant phone calls with the coordinators and head coaches of the competing teams. Normally, a broadcast crew would show up in advance of the game and spend time at practice, but with the COVID restrictions, Mac Lain did the best he could getting background.
Even at the game site, he was limited to the press box and not even allowed to go on the field pre-game. But he wasn’t complaining.
“It was fun how I tried to pull all my strength and experience together to give everybody the best show,’’ he said.
Mac Lain doesn’t know for sure if there is future gig as a color commentator on his schedule. “As a business plan there is nothing set,’’ he said. “As the opportunities come I’ll be more than ready to show off my skill set.’’
He’s also branched out into the realm of podcasting, joining with another Clemson product, former Tiger women’s basketball standout Kelly Gramlich, for regular chats that will cover the full range of ACC sports.
While Mac Lain is keeping his options at ESPN and the ACC Network open, his commitment to working on The Huddle each week will remain a priority.
“I love being with those guys,’’ he said.
Friday, October 9th.
-Fayetteville Christian at Arendell Parrott @ 7p
-North Raleigh Christian at Trinity Christian @ 6p
Thursday, Oct. 15
-Wake Christian at Trinity Christian @ 6p