The Voice of The Mountaineers: App State announcer got his start in Davie
Published 1:41 pm Tuesday, July 25, 2023
By Brian Pitts
A lot of football fans around here recognize the name Adam Witten, who been the voice of Appalachian State football for the past seven years.
A lot of people, though, may not remember that Witten’s career as a football play-by-play man started at War Eagle Stadium.
In 2007, Witten was working for ISP in Winston-Salem. (He still works for the same company, although the name has changed multiple times and now it’s Learfield.) He’d been in the sports broadcasting business since his freshman year at App in 2000, but he’d never been a play-by-play announcer for football. That changed when he hooked up with Davie’s AM radio station, 1520 WDSL.
“I moved to Winston-Salem in the summer of 2007, and I was just looking for any opportunity I could to get plugged in somewhere,” Witten said. “Through some connections, I found out there was an opportunity at WDSL to call games for Davie County High School. I jumped in as quickly as I could. When you ask people in Davie County, they say that is a great school, passionate fan base, the games mean a lot, amazing atmosphere. In terms of calling high school football, I felt I’d won the jackpot.
“It was a unique situation because the radio station was daytime only. We had a livestream going on on the website, but in terms of radio, I would have to create a recording of the broadcast. So I was broadcasting live to anyone listening on the internet, but also recording the entire thing so that I could upload it to a computer after the game so that it could be played back around noon the next day. I did not grow up in this state and I didn’t live in Winston until 2007, but I very quickly learned how big of a deal the War Eagles were when it came to football.”
Witten was the behind the mic for Davie football for three seasons, 2007-09.
“I saw some great games,” he said.
In 2008 he was in Greensboro for the greatest Davie comeback ever. The War Eagles trailed Page 34-8 at halftime; they outscored the Pirates 35-9 in the third and fourth quarters and prevailed 50-49 in overtime. On the final play from scrimmage, Zach Illing fired a 14-yard touchdown pass to Joe Watson. Michael Rowe’s point-after kick sealed it and pandemonium ensued on the visitors’ side.
Witten’s final Davie game was in Welcome in 2009, when Davie suffered an excruciating 31-30 loss to North Davidson. With Davie needing a win to reach the playoffs, coach Doug Illing made one of the gutsiest calls of all time. On fourth-and-6 from the Davie 21, the snap went to upback Alex Newman instead of his twin brother and punter Sean Newman. Alex raced around right end for 79 yards to give Davie a 30-16 lead with 8:32 to go. Amazingly, the Black Knights scored to cut Davie’s lead to 30-29 with 2:16 remaining. They faked the extra point, scored on a two-point play and dealt Davie its fourth loss by three points or less.
“If I remember correctly, the fake punt was like the third-craziest play that happened in that game,” Witten said with a laugh.
It was evident that Witten had a passion for getting better, and calling 33 Davie games was an important step in his career.
“I was working in college sports at the time,” he said. “I had responsibilities on Saturdays, which worked out well because I could do Davie games on Friday night and then I could work on Saturdays. Davie was my first experience doing football play-by-play. I had done some work as a student and a little bit as a professional out of school at App State, but that was doing basketball and baseball. I was part of the football broadcast, but I wasn’t doing play-by-play. I was a sideline reporter for a few years. I learned a lot (doing Davie games). I learned about the craft of how to do it. I had done mock broadcasts before. You show up at a stadium and you’ve got a recorder and you call the game. But it’s not the same as knowing you’re on the radio and people are actually listening. I learned about the craft of doing it, I learned about the operation side of it, what you have to do leading up to a game to prepare, working on your spotting boards, talking to coaches, going to practices, building that relationship with Doug Illing. We would record something before every game. Those were the things I realized were super important – the value of having those relationships, the things you could put into a broadcast to help build storylines and provide more than just time and score. Yeah, those things were a big deal.”
Witten grew up in Bradenton, Fl. As a high school student-athlete for the Southeast Seminoles, he was inspired by one of his teachers and began dreaming of a career in sports broadcasting.
“While I didn’t play football, I was certainly interested in the broadcast side of things,” he said. “Fortunately enough, one of my teachers in high school also happened to be the play-by-play announcer for my high school football team on radio. So I got the itch pretty early and I started working with him and learning how to do a football broadcast. He let me record some interviews for pregame shows and let me do some sideline reporting during the games.”
Witten played basketball and tennis for Southeast.
“I was a very small kid, so I had no shot of playing on the football team, or it would have been very, very risky to my physical health,” he said with a chuckle. “But I did play basketball because I knew how to shoot and I played tennis because I was quick and had pretty good coordination. Football was never going to be the thing for me, but I ended up being a pretty decent basketball and tennis player.”
After graduating from high school in 2000, Witten was drawn to Boone by the App student radio station’s national reputation.
“I went to App for a lot of reasons, one of which was the fact that right around the time that I was looking at colleges, (WASU, 90.5 FM) had just received a national award as the station of the year,” he said. “I wanted to get involved in their sports department and be involved in their broadcasts. They would broadcast their version of football games every Saturday. While I didn’t have any play-by-play opportunities, I did color and did some sideline reporting and I got involved in other sports. I just soaked up as much of the practice of play by play as I could in a short amount of time.”
Witten, who graduated from App in 2004, was a member of Mountaineers’ football, men’s and women’s basketball and baseball radio broadcast teams from 2000-06.
“After college, I spent a couple of years in Boone working in the athletics department,” he said. “I was doing a lot of play-by-play work, but not necessarily calling games for football. David Jackson was the voice of the Mountaineers, but I worked with him on the sidelines for football and I worked with him as an analyst for basketball. We shared play-by-play duties for baseball.”
After dedicating seven years to the black and gold, Witten landed a job at ISP in Winston in 2007. Nine years later, in April of 2016, Jackson stepped down as voice of the Mountaineers. He was the radio play-by-play voice for App football, men’s basketball and baseball from 2000-15.
Everyone has his day of heaven on earth, and Witten’s came in May of 2016. That’s when he landed his dream job.
“I went up to campus in early May,” he said. “I knew I was going to talk to people about the position. I was going to meet with our AD, other members of the athletic department and our football coach, who at the time was Scott Satterfield. I thought I was going up for an interview with all those people and give it my best shot and hope that things worked out – and I get the call a few days later that the job is mine. I remember talking to our football coach first. We knew each other because he was a coordinator when I was in school. I remember talking with our AD and others and they weren’t grilling me with interview-type questions. We were almost game-planning for the upcoming fall and it kind of hit me: ‘Oh, this isn’t an interview. This might be – hey, we want you for this job, let’s talk about how this is going to work.’ I had to ask the question at the end: ‘So is the job mine?’ I didn’t want to read it the wrong way and I certainly didn’t want to assume anything. They were like: ‘Yeah.’”
This was the moment Witten had been working toward. Before heading home, he pulled over in a grocery store parking lot. As he dialed wife Nicole’s number, he had the biggest smile on his face. It was the purest joy.
“I called my wife first and told her. We were overjoyed,” Witten said. “I remember sitting in the car after I talked to her and you do that silent fist pump and let your emotions out. That’s when it really hit me: ‘Oh my God, this is like a dream realized to get to this point.’”
Witten’s first game as App football’s play-by-play man was Sept. 1, 2016, a Thursday night game at Tennessee. The Volunteers were ranked ninth in the country, there were 100,074 fans in Neyland Stadium and the game was on ESPN. For a debut, it doesn’t get any better. The Mountaineers made an incredible showing – the 21-point underdogs led 13-3 at halftime – before getting their hearts broken at the end and losing 20-13 in overtime.
Witten vividly recalls the massive pregame butterflies.
“The whole day and everything leading up to it was one big ball of nerves,” he said. “After our late lunch, I told the crew: ‘You guys go on up to the booth and I’ll meet you up there.’ I just needed to walk around the stadium by myself, collect my thoughts and calm myself down because I was so amped up and nervous. I had to take at least an hour in between our lunch and getting up to the booth.
“What helped me was the entire on-air crew was brand new. We had a brand new analyst. We had a brand new sideline reporter. Of course, I made sure I was totally prepped and ready to do the game, but I think I had also spent so much time making sure our crew knew what to do that I didn’t necessarily focus as much on myself. I said: ‘Hey, I know what I’m doing. I feel like I’m prepared to do my job. My chart’s ready.’ I had my whole pregame show scripted out, so all I had to do was just read off the script. You go into all your training and your preparation to carry you along the way. I know that if I was to go back and listen to that first broadcast, almost seven years later, I would probably be pretty ashamed of how it sounded compared to now. Yeah, that was a nerve-wracking day for a lot of different reasons.”
Now Witten, 41, is approaching his eighth year in the App booth (he is a football-only announcer). Adam and Nicole, who met at App in the summer of 2005, have two boys and a girl. The boys, Eli and Mason, are 10 and 7, respectively. They both play flag football and soccer. Their daughter Mallory is 2.
“God bless my wife, they go to pretty much every home football game, as long as it’s on a Saturday,” he said. “That’s how much those games and that place means to us. It’s kind of the perfect situation. It gives me a chance to call games at App, which I love, but it gives me some good work/life balance.”
Although he’s 14 years removed from Davie football, although he has moved on to bigger and better things in Boone, Witten appreciates his play-by-play roots.
“I’ll forever have a spot in my heart for Davie County football because that was my first football gig and I loved every moment of it,” he said. “The games were a ton of fun. I met some really cool people. I loved that place and I will always pull for them.”