I’m Matt Villareal, born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and here is my story of how I became the Creative Director of Basketball Recruiting for Gonzaga University.
Growing up, I loved playing sports, talking about sports, watching sports movies, and going to every New Mexico Lobos sporting event possible. My cousins and I would get to every Lobo football game 6 hours before kickoff to tailgate and horse around. It was THE BEST way to spend a fall Saturday.
During my senior year of high school, my mom, who was a high school guidance counselor, found the Sports Media program at Oklahoma State University. The program was enough to convince me to move to a state I’d never been to before and to become a Cowboy.
I didn’t get any technical (photo/video) experience in high school because I was too busy playing sports, so I felt I was behind and had to catch up to my talented classmates I met at OSU. My freshman and sophomore years (not really knowing what I was doing) I bounced around between jobs, getting experience in different avenues of the sports media field. I was a writer for the school newspaper, a production assistant for a couple different companies, among other opportunities. I went through (at least) 4 different jobs by the time I was a junior, just trying to find what I was most passionate about.
My junior year I applied for a position in the OSU Athletics Communications office, and by the grace of God was able to get it. I had some camera experience from my previous on-campus jobs, so I looked for those types of opportunities at my new job. With full-time employees handling the big sports (football, basketball), I pursued opportunities with the equestrian, tennis, and baseball teams. Through these opportunities, I gained a greater affinity for creative work, especially in the video and photo realms. Objectively, my skillset was low at the time, but I was seeing growth from project to project, and I finished my junior year with the realization that creative work was where I wanted my career to go.
In late July before my senior year, I got a call from my boss at the time. “Do you want to go to Europe with our men’s basketball team?” I was shell-shocked! The full-time creative for the basketball team had just resigned, and I was the only person around that had the availability and relative skill set to be the videographer for the basketball team’s European tour. I went and it was a life-changing trip, both personally and professionally.
Another incredible opportunity I was afforded my senior year was to be a videographer for the 2019 College Football National Championship Game for the CFP social team. A former coworker at OSU went on to work for the College Football Playoff office, and she hooked me and some friends up with this gig. I captured Clemson dominating Alabama in the National Championship game and got unreal photo/video shots for my portfolio.
It was these two opportunities, and more importantly, the relationships I gained through them, that afforded me my position as Creative Director of Recruiting for Gonzaga Basketball.
I got to Gonzaga (right after graduating from OSU in 2019) having mostly photo/video experience, but a lot of my job had graphic design elements to it. I spent a ton of time on YouTube researching design basics and leaned on my mentors to get me through my first year. My first season ended with the COVID pandemic. My second year took place in empty arenas and ended in the National Championship game. Through 2 seasons, I felt I never had a full experience of what a normal college season was.
Finally, the 21–22 season started on time and ended on time, which I consider being my first full, normal, basketball season since I started three years ago.
Through these 3 seasons, my technical skillset has improved beyond levels I ever thought possible. I’m as confident as I’ve ever been in videography, graphic design, and photography, but I also know that I still have plenty of areas to grow in. I’ve also learned valuable lessons of relationship-building, loyalty, and self-care.
I’m so blessed to be in this position; I do my best to not take it for granted and give my best effort every day. If my story can teach one lesson, it’s to find what you’re most passionate about in life and to strive after that with everything! You’ll be astonished at the opportunities you’ll get if you follow your dreams and build relationships along the way.
You can check out Matt’s content and profiles below.