A graduate who found an unusual path to NFL

Andrea Barrios was awed by the professional football stadium in Los Angeles before being part of the broadcast team.

She couldn’t fathom it just six months ago. Andrea Barrios, an April Grand Canyon University digital film graduate, was an assistant director of an NFL broadcast.

And she didn’t know football.

Barrios' first game at Las Vegas was nerve-racking.

“My heart was pounding,” she said of her first game on Aug. 13 for the Las Vegas Raiders. “They said be ready for the next goal kick, or field kick, whatever they call it, and we’ll be back in a minute 30.”

Luckily, Barrios wasn’t on air to discuss field goals. Her job was to translate directions in Spanish to announcers on broadcast outlets in Mexico.

“I don’t watch sports. It’s one thing to be able to translate these words in Spanish, I didn’t know these terms in English,” she said.

Barrios is the first to admit that her opportunity in the NFL was a huge upset, to use a sports term. But she landed the position with the help of a GCU mentor, “God, luck, nice people” and this:

“The lesson I learned through this is it’s all about meeting the next person and asking questions. Every single time I met a new person and asked a question it led to my next opportunity.”

OPPORTUNITY NO. 1

Last January, she stepped outside her major to take a communications course, Michelle Fortin’s broadcasting class, which included recording a mock newscast.

“She was the executive producer, and her background in film was an asset in lighting, sound and editing,” said Barry Buetel, Executive Director of Broadcast in the Lopes Broadcast Lab. “I could see she was gaining more interest and asking more questions.”

Barrios landed a job as a student worker in the lab, where she helped other students on film editing. Buetel became a mentor, and she asked to shadow him at a GCU men’s basketball game.

Barry Buetel (left) talks with a student in the broadcast lab.

“The energy was amazing. I couldn’t believe it was people’s job to be at this game,” Barrios said. “It was just so exciting for me; it felt like I had to know more about this.”

She met one of her former GCU instructors, Denise Hawken, among other production crew members at the game who said she could shadow their work in an Arizona Diamondbacks series.

OPPORTUNITY NO. 2

Out in the production truck, workers showed her around and prepped for the professional baseball game.

“Again, I couldn’t believe this is their job,” Barrios said. “People singing ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame.’”

She didn’t waste time to connect. She ate lunch with women on the crew and told them she would love to pursue this line of work but saw no job listings online. One woman said that’s because they rarely exist, the jobs are usually funneled through the union — and she happened to be part of the union.

Not much later, a union official asked her if she knew Spanish. Growing up, Barrios resisted the language since her parents from Guatemala spoke it at home, but she eventually learned it more to communicate with her grandparents.

So, yes.

“I have this awesome opportunity,” he told her. “We need a translator for our Mexican channels.”

Barrios was stunned.

“This just keeps happening,” she said.

OPPORTUNITY NO. 3

She expected a job laying cables. But this job would be Spanish assistant director of broadcasts for three Raiders preseason games.

“I couldn’t believe it. I was so scared,” she said. “This is way out of my league.”

She made flashcards of football and broadcast terms in English and Spanish: Going to break/vamos a un corte commercial; turnover/balon perdido; kickoff/la patada ...

But as the minutes ticked down to la patada, “I was freaking out. My heart was pounding.”

Barrios' workstation translating the Raiders game.

It went so fast, she said, signaling breaks, notifying producers in Mexico about upcoming sponsors or telling them the seconds to return on air. It was over and her adrenaline was raging for two hours after.

There were mistakes. She heard from one outlet in Mexico that they missed a kickoff. But overall it went well, a representative from the Raiders told her later.

She shared with others on the crew just who had given her feedback: A man named Jonathon Martinez.

“The people I worked with were like, ‘What the heck? You’re texting him?’ He’s a vice president of the Raiders.”

Things keep happening.

OPPORTUNITY NO. 4?

In the second game in Los Angeles, Barrios improved. The vice president even contacted her again to say so, she said.

“Everybody was so encouraging. Everybody saw my nerves but said, ‘you can do it’ and ‘you belong here.’ They took the time to teach me, correct me and encourage me.”

Before Barrios’ final preseason game in Dallas on Saturday, she decided this kind of job would be great to continue after her three-game stint with the Raiders ends.

“I know I got lucky. But I’m trying to meet as many people as I can. It seems they are all willing to show me what the next opportunity will be,” she said.

She just landed a gig as a microphone operator for an Arizona State football game. Luck, it appears, is what Barrios has made.

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected]

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