The Play-by-Play

By Kevin Tankersley

Pete Sousa goes from the morning news to on the road with new ESPN contract

Pete Sousa is all over the place.

Turn on the morning news, and he’s co-anchoring with Ke’Sha Lopez at KWTX-Channel 10. Watching college football or basketball on ESPN, or local high school football on The CW? There’s Pete, handling play-by-play duties.

Looking for a new podcast? Here’s one. It’s Pete, talking about sports. Oh, here’s Pete’s other podcast, where he talks about addiction and sobriety.

The dude is everywhere. But that’s what he does.

“When I’m not working, I’m doing other work,” he said. “I think that might be a flaw of mine. I like to keep my days busy.”

Sousa has been at KWTX since 2015 where he reports feature stories and co-anchors News Ten This Morning with Lopez.

“I wake up every morning at 3 a.m., and by 4:30, we’re on the air,” Sousa said. “Ke’Sha Lopez and I bring the news to Central Texas.”

Sousa came to Waco from Monroe, Louisiana, where he worked for KNOE, the ABC affiliate there. He grew up outside Philadelphia, near Villanova University, where his mom worked. He was recruited to play football at Richmond University in Richmond, Virginia, but a heart issue kept him from ever playing a game for the Spiders.

During a routine physical prior to a high school all-star game in Philadelphia, a doctor insisted that Sousa see a cardiologist before being cleared to play, “which was a godsend,” he said.

Sousa was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which causes the muscles of the heart to thicken enough to restrict blood flow. (He was fitted with a defibrillator nearly two years ago.) Sousa stayed at Richmond, studying journalism and communications, and had the safety net of the athletic department, even though he wasn’t playing.

“With football, they do a great job,” he said. “These coaches keep you in line. You don’t go to class, you’re in trouble, especially at a small school like Richmond.”

Sousa graduated in 1999 and moved to New York. He worked for a sports agent and then a football scouting firm that was eventually bought by ESPN. He wasn’t around for that buyout, however.

“I was long gone because I’d partied my way back home,” he said. “A big part of my story is that’s when I started to really ramp up on drugs and alcohol. I got pretty carried away pretty quickly, though. I started to drink, started to do cocaine. I was gone. I was off to the races. That whole opportunity dissolved at the hands of that, and I ended up moving back to Philadelphia.”

He lived in Philadelphia for a year trying to get sober, “and I never really could,” he said. He quit drinking for about a year, and ended up working for USA Basketball in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The experience he gained there led to public relations jobs with the Philadelphia 76ers then the Charlotte Hornets in the NBA, “but that’s kind of when the wheels started to come off for me,” Sousa said.

Sousa wasn’t the first in his family to struggle with addiction.

“There’s alcoholism in my family. It’s all on my dad’s side,” he said. “My mom had told me, ‘Hey, this stuff’s kind of a runaway train in that side of the family. I can tell already, you’ve got it. You need to be careful.’ And of course, I wasn’t. I was having too much fun.”

By the time he was in his early 30s, Sousa was desperate. He knew he needed to stop.

“I met a guy in a 12-step meeting, and we went to dinner,” he said. “I was trying to get sober. And he just said, ‘You need to go to rehab,’ because that was part of his story. It was the smallest window that opened for me, the last one. I just kind of like rolled through on the other side.”

Sousa completed rehab, moved into a halfway house and got a job at KFC, which he realized was a far cry from working in professional sports.

“I was fortunate enough to work in the NBA,” he said. “So, this was like humble city. But I needed it. I learned during that experience literally how to be a grown-up, how to be a man, whatever your definition of that is, but I learned responsibility.”

At counseling sessions during his rehab experience, Sousa realized that he wanted to get back into sports, but this time as a broadcaster. He had been out of the game for nearly two years at this point and was honest with those he was approaching about a job.

“I was open with my recovery,” he said. “It wasn’t tough for me to call up employers and say, ‘Hey, I’m sober now.’”

Sousa landed a play-by-play job with the NBA Development League and then ended up back in Charlotte, working on radio broadcasts of Hornets’ games.

“And then someone had the bright idea that I should get into TV news,” he said, and that’s when he moved to Monroe. He was there for nearly two years and joined KWTX in March 2017.

In the midst of COVID, the University Interscholastic League, which oversees athletic and artistic competition for public high schools in Texas, decided to allow football games to be televised. Josh Young, the general manager at KWTX, tapped Sousa to handle play-by-play for games broadcast on their channel.

“Through my work in PR, I had worked for broadcasters, doing stats spotting for them,” Sousa said. “I kind of knew how to prepare and I knew the game. I knew sports.”

The first game Sousa called was in August of 2020, “and it was like 150 degrees, and it was awesome,” he said.

He called five games that year, including the longtime rivalry game between Connally and neighboring La Vega, which was played during a driving rainstorm. Sousa relished the experience of being back in sports.

“It was so cool, and I was just grateful for the opportunity,” he said. “I loved it. I was super prepared. I worked my ass off.”

That high school work led to some freelance jobs working with crews broadcasting Baylor football on a national level, and that’s where Sousa was spotted by John Morris, Baylor’s assistant athletic director for broadcasting and the Voice of the Bears for the past 29 years.

“There was a football game at McLane Stadium a few years ago and I looked over in the TV booth — it’s right next to our home radio booth — and there was Pete in there working with the TV crew,” Morris said. “It made me think he must have an interest in sports and play-by-play which I had not known about.”

That next February, Morris, who was sports director at KWTX for 15 years prior to joining Baylor, hired Sousa to broadcast a few Baylor softball games, which led to some work doing women’s basketball as well.

“Pete was willing and able and very good at the job,” Morris said. “He has an easy-going, conversational style that is very soothing to the viewer. He is also very conscientious and well-prepared for every broadcast he does.”

Sousa called enough college games that he was able to put together a demo tape.

“I started to talk to people like, ‘Hey, this is what I’ve always wanted to do. But what do you think? Is this any good?’ Some people were like, ‘Yeah, it’s good. You can definitely do this,’” he said.

That tape ended up being seen by the right people, “and I started to get opportunities,” Sousa said. He was hired on a game-to-game basis and worked some Big 12 football and basketball games, and recently signed a one-year contract with ESPN. Traveling across the country in the middle of the week to call a basketball game obviously means that Sousa will miss some morning shows on KWTX, but he and the station have worked that out.

“I went to them and said, ‘I want to stay here. I love Waco, truly, but I’m getting opportunities to do basketball games here. And I don’t know if I can do both, but my whole life, I’ve wanted to do play-by-play on this kind of stage,’” he said.

One of Sousa’s first games this season will be shown on ESPN2 on Dec. 5, when Seton Hall plays at Baylor in one of the team’s last games at the Ferrell Center prior to moving into the new Foster Pavilion in downtown Waco.

Sousa’s work in the sports realm also includes “The Pete Sousa Podcast”, which he began in August 2022. Guests on that podcast have included former Baylor and Houston Oiler quarterback Cody Carlson; best-selling author Jeff Pearlman; and others involved in college and professional sports. Rogue Media, which has offices on the 21st floor of the Alico Building in downtown Waco, produces the podcast. It’s also the producer of Sousa’s other podcast, “The Payoff with Pete Sousa”, where he and guests talk about addiction and sobriety.

“We talk about what it was like, what happened and what it’s like now,” he said.

Sousa was nervous starting a podcast dealing with such personal issues, and he turned to his brother Kevin for advice.

“He was a real thoughtful guy. He was sober. He was a therapist in California,” Sousa said of his brother, who died on May 23, two years after being diagnosed with Stage 3 melanoma. “I was like, ‘Dude, I don’t know if I can do this. There are some traditions around sobriety. And I don’t want to break any of that. I’m a people pleaser. I don’t want to upset anybody.’ He was like, ‘Just do it. Get it out there. You have a bit of a platform now.’”

“The Payoff’s” first episode, on Feb. 4, 2021, was a 57-minute conversation with Wes Cunningham. They talk about Cunningham’s music career after he graduated from Baylor as he signed record deals, lived in Nashville and Los Angeles, toured as an opening act for Chris Isaak and recorded with an orchestra in London. They also talk about their addictions and sobriety.

“I met Wes through recovery,” Sousa said, and they soon became good friends. “He was a guy who had something that I wanted. He’s got a big smile and a great aura. He’s the dude that I think is super cool.”

Cunningham is equally complimentary of Sousa.

“Pete is the best guy,” Cunningham said. “He disguises himself as a normal dude with normal problems and responsibilities. But the truth is, he is what Fred Rogers called, ‘one of the helpers.’ A truly big-hearted servant who seeks to improve the lives of those around him. You can’t walk away from a conversation with Pete without feeling better about yourself and about life. He’s real. I’m a fan.”

There are now 138 episodes of “The Payoff with Pete Sousa”, and other guests have included former NFL, NBA and Major League athletes, as well as folks who are identified only by their first names.

“I get positive feedback from people, like, ‘Hey, I heard this and it spoke to me,’” Sousa said. “And that’s great. This is something that really fulfills me.”

Sousa hopes the podcast serves as a remembrance of his brother.

“It’s partially his legacy through me,” he said. “I’m 46. I don’t have kids. I don’t know if I will. But if I don’t, those podcasts will live forever.”

Sousa is also thankful for the work of Cory Dickman and Mike Hamilton at Rogue Media.

“They’re all about Waco, and it’s really, really cool to be connected with them,” he said.

And Sousa is passionate about his adopted hometown.

“I love Waco because it’s home. And I love Waco because it put its arms around me when I first got here and I didn’t know anybody,” he said. “When you go into a new news station, sometimes it can take a minute, or they can smell your BS coming from a mile away. I think I was authentic, and Waco people are authentic. I think they appreciated that, and I appreciate them.”

Sousa said that his KWTX co-workers — including meteorologist and former anchor Taina Maya, who now works in communications and marketing for Killeen ISD — “had my back.”

“They kind of put their stamp of approval on me,” he said. “They’re heavyweights in this area, and that went a long way.”