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Sam Ponder thanks College GameDay before moving to ESPN’s NFL family

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today, ESPN announced new NFL host roles for Suzy Kolber, Samantha Ponder and Trey Wingo. The trio of commentators will now anchor ESPN’s NFL studio coverage as Chris Berman transitions into his new role in 2017. Ponder will be moving from College GameDay and ABC’s Saturday Night Football game to the studio as the new host of Sunday NFL Countdown. Before taking on this brand new role, now covering NFL, she wrote this thank you note to her college football colleagues and to the many people she met and worked with the past five years.

When Samantha Ponder was asked what her reaction was when she was approached about the job, here’s what she said: “My first reaction in all honesty was ‘WHAT?’ Chris Berman is synonymous with NFL coverage. To me, that’s why it’s so important to not look at this as replacing Chris Berman, because that is an absolutely impossible task. Whenever I see my name next to his, it makes me a little uncomfortable. This is a guy who started on this show the year I was born. It’s a little bit of a daunting task to think of all that he has created. Yet, that’s what’s exciting about this opportunity – to build on what he created because it’s incredible. So, when this was all brought to my attention, I was shocked to say the least.” Read the full Q&A with Ponder on ESPN MediaZone.

On the surface, going from contributor/sideline reporter to host in sports television is a no-brainer. For me, it wasn’t.

It’s not that the offer to host Sunday NFL Countdown wasn’t an incredible opportunity with more responsibility and space to grow. It’s that it requires me to leave the best job I’ve ever had and the best group of people I’ve ever worked with.

Since I started in this industry in 2004, I always promised myself that I would make it about the people. The people I worked with, the people I covered and the people watching at home. College Gameday is special for a lot of reasons, but none more so than the group of people who make it run. It’s not just the special chemistry of the guys you watch on camera. That part is easy to see.

It’s producers like Drew, Jimmy and Nick who lovingly give us a hard time as we selfishly stroll onto set two minutes before air. It’s the high five and “good job Sammy” that Tommy gives me after almost every segment (even when he didn’t hear it).

It’s the 10 times per hour that Bobby the bus driver asks me if I need another snack and the fly fishing equipment he sends me home with for my husband. It’s Trish telling me I look like a hot-mess without actually saying it. It’s a whole team of camera people who work the longest hours in the worst elements and complain the least.

It’s the audio team who know I’m really weird about being touched on the face and magically mic me up without touching me. Seriously, Madio . . . how? It’s a hug and a “Hey will you watch my daughter Scout, like, now?” that Barbara always obliges. It’s a security team as protective as my own brothers.

It’s talking politics with Paul, family with Mike and Kinely letting this annoying girl half his size have the plane seat with more legroom. It’s “GQ Danny” answering all my questions that don’t remotely pertain to his job with a smile. It’s Chris, who everyone else calls “The Bear,” who was so kind and sweet to me that I refused to call him “The Bear.”

It’s Keri, who I secretly called “Xena Warrior Princess,” and her team for always having my back. It’s Dawn for answering every unnecessary phone call and email. It’s Pat and Lindsey and everyone on the Operations team playing the role of my work parents, the ones I shouldn’t have needed but couldn’t have lived without.

To my big brothers – Kirk, Chris, Rece, Desmond, Gene, Tom, George and yes, even you, David… I can never repay you for your kindness and willingness to accept me into your family from day one.

I know many women in this industry have to deal with men who are belittling, unsupportive or even inappropriate. Not a single moment or day went by when one of you made me feel anything but equal. You all are the absolute best at what you do and more importantly, you are good men. Thank you for embracing me and loving on Scout. She has the coolest uncles ever. I love you all more than you know.

Coach Corso – the man, the myth, the legend. The most important man in our group and yet the man who never let me enter or leave a room without a greeting and a “How’s Bowden [daughter Scout’s first name]?” Don’t tell [my husband] Christian, but you’re my favorite Nole.

Lee – thanks for taking a chance on the naïve girl throwing spirals on Longhorn Network. Your unnecessary and relentless support when I quickly went from a single girl available to take new assignments at a moment’s notice to a married mom traveling with an infant helped me keep my dreams alive. You challenged me to be better and constantly reminded me to have fun and get over myself. That was annoying, but I’m forever grateful.

To the players, coaches, sports information directors, athletic directors, equipment managers and athletic trainers who were generous with their time and always showed me the utmost respect, you made me fall even more in love with the game that has defined much of my life.

To the hundreds of girls on college campuses I met along the way who shared their stories and aspirations to work in football and do what I was doing, you have inspired me and reminded me of the kind of woman I want to be.

And lastly, to my college football family – you are my people. It was the signs (O.K., some of them), the cheers, the songs we sang, and even the arguments we engaged in on Gameday that made me happy to get up at 3 a.m. to hang with you. From Clemson to Fargo to Eugene and everywhere in between, because of you, a college football town will always feel like home.

Thank you.

EDITOR’S NOTE: In the essay above, Samantha Ponder references College GameDay colleagues past and present including: Drew Gallagher, coordinating producer; Jim “Jimmy G” Gaiero, producer; Nick Sciallo, producer; Tommy Marshall, crew member; Bobby Stephens, bus driver; Trish Ferguson, makeup artist; Mike Madio, audio crew member; Scout Ponder, Sam’s daughter; Barbara Blake, ESPN Communications; Paul Daly, security; Mike O’Leary, security; Kinely Williams, security; Danny “GQ Danny” Reifert, remote senior operations assistant; Chris “The Bear” Fallica, research producer; Keri “Xena Warrior Princess” Potts, ESPN Communications; Dawn Wind, assistant; Patrick Abrahams, remote project manager; Lindsey Lloyd, production manager; Kirk Herbstreit, Chris Fowler, Rece Davis, Desmond Howard, Gene Wojciechowski, Tom Rinaldi, George Whitfield, David Pollack, Lee Corso, CGD commentators and contributors; Christian Ponder, Sam’s husband; Lee Fitting, senior coordinating producer

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