PANTHER OF THE WEEK: Heart condition led Andrews to a different calling
By Scott Akanewich
Jace Andrews sits atop the grandstand at Panther Stadium on a bright, sunny September afternoon and looks out over the playing fields of Liberty Hill High School, while athletes in various sports far below go through their respective practice paces. He can’t help but feel a bit of sadness.
After all, that was supposed to be him.
Andrews was born with a heart condition that has prevented him from playing contact sports.
Even now when he’s seated in the press box at Panther Stadium high above the field where he once thought he would be on Friday nights, he sometimes thinks about what might have been, he said.
“During warm-ups before a football game, I’ll look down and say to myself ‘It would be cool to do that,’” he said. “But then after about 10 minutes, I’ll snap out of it and realize what I do is pretty cool.”
These days, the Liberty Hill senior describes the actions of his classmates on the gridiron for a listening internet radio audience, as opposed to being down there with them, as he had always envisioned.
“At this point, it’s my superpower,” said Andrews.
After playing baseball as a youth, Andrews was forced to give up even that once he reached high school, so he needed to find another outlet for his sports energy, he said.
“When I was a freshman, I just went up to (former Liberty Hill head football Coach Jerry) Vance and asked him what I could do,” said Andrews. “So, he gave me a list of about 15 things and one of them was to tweet for Fox Sports Southwest on the sidelines during games.”
Soon after, he got his chance behind a microphone calling Panther football games during his sophomore year and shortly thereafter discovered a new calling.
“I love doing play-by-play because it makes me feel like I’m a part of the game,” said Andrews. “I love everything about it.
“Every now and again, I think it would be cool to just watch a game from the student section and cheer,” he said. “But, I know I would be chomping at the bit to do something.”
Which is another reason he tries to keep himself as busy as possible.
“If you love what you do, you never work a day in your entire life,” he said. “So, that’s why I work day and night.”
However, before reaching the point where he is now, he did get to throw one very big pitch.
As part of the Make-a-Wish Foundation’s ongoing efforts to provide seriously ill children a chance to experience something dreams are made of, Andrews was invited to Fenway Park in Boston to visit with Red Sox players and throw out the first pitch at a game on May 20, 2014, and was later featured on ESPN’s SportsCenter.
As for what was going through his mind at the time, it certainly wasn’t a chronic health condition, he said.
“When you’re in the middle of it all, you’re not really thinking about anything else,” said Andrews. “But, the realization hits afterward that you’ll never be able to play sports your entire life.”
Like older brother Justin, who Jace spent a moment he will never forget with after his final high-school football game, he said.
“I remember he was crying on the field and I thought to myself it’s something I would never be able to experience,” said Andrews. “But, then I thought it’s okay because these guys work their hearts out to do this, so I need to find something else which will make me feel that way.”
Which was why his entire experience in Boston caused him to have an epiphany, he said.
“After that, it made me really want to be involved in sports somehow,” said Andrews.
Initially, he wasn’t sure exactly what, though.
“At first, I thought I’d be in sports management of some kind, but then I realized that wasn’t me,” he said. “I needed to do something where I was getting to watch the game.”
Broadcasting seemed a natural fit and soon Andrews found himself working five days a week in his new chosen profession, working junior high, JV and varsity football in Liberty Hill, as well as being a statistician at Baylor University football games on Saturdays.
Speaking of which, attending Baylor was something he always thought he would do, following in the footsteps of many a family member who had been Bears – until he was given some sage advice from someone who knew, said Andrews.
“(Baylor football announcer) John Morris suggested I talk to (Oklahoma State announcer) Dave Hunzicker and after that, I knew it was where I was meant to go,” he said. “It’s the only place where they’ll teach you how to do play-by-play.”
But, before heading off to Stillwater next fall, Andrews has plenty of business to take care of here in Liberty Hill, a place he has grown very fond of since he and his family moved from Montgomery in time for his freshman year.
Even if it took a while for the place to grow on him, he said.
“When we first moved here, I wasn’t too excited,” said Andrews. “But, I’ve grown to love the people here and I definitely like a smaller community. Liberty Hill has been the most meaningful place of my life.”
As for his new lot in life, Andrews is wise beyond his years when he sums it all up.
“Sometimes things don’t work out the way you think they’re supposed to,” he said. “But, then everything comes together in a way you can’t deny, like I was meant to do this. Everything happens for a reason.”