Michael Truilo's journey to professional broadcasting

by Matthew Slinn

originally published in the Sports Broadcast Journal

The word ‘faith’ means different things to different people.

Faith could be one’s name. It might take the form of a spiritual conviction. On rare occasions, it may conjure memories of a fiendishly catchy 1987 George Michael hit.

In the case of Michael Truilo, a college sports broadcaster whose voice traverses the radio waves of Daytona Beach, faith is an old friend, offering guidance and encouragement during life-altering moments.

It has shaped the 28-year-old’s opening forays into the world of sport, giving him the confidence to marry his passion with his career and shed the shackles of an unwanted life in music.

Perhaps the most poignant touch of faith came as Truilo sat alone in his car seven years ago, wrestling with a sinking feeling of defeat after choosing to change his university major from Opera Performance to Audio Technology, while staring at two more claustrophobic years in music school.

“It felt like an acceptance of failure,” Truilo admits. “My mother was a professional opera singer and stage actress. My grandfather was a professional orchestra conductor and violin player. My brother is a professional saxophone player. It was expected of me to go into music and be successful. When I realized that, not only was I not going to be successful, but that I didn’t think it was right to continue that path, it felt like failure.

“I felt trapped. I still had to do everything under the umbrella of the music school, with singing lessons, choir practice and shows. I felt misplaced. I knew I didn’t want a career in this field but changing my major [again] would have meant another five years at school. I couldn’t help constantly question, ‘Why am I here? Why am I doing this?’.”

Then came the first of many “leaps of faith” (as Truilo would describe it), which turned him towards a path in sport and away from years caught in musical purgatory.

Truilo logged on to YouTube and, like thousands of others since 2017, stumbled across a broadcast of the Simulation Football League, an E-Sports community that replicates American Football. 

Impressed by the quality of the production and driven by innate ambition, he reached out with an e-mail, subsequently forming a relationship that still holds strong today.

He recounts: “I found the SFL on YouTube, and they stated that they were looking for broadcasters, so I took my chance. I had no thoughts that it would go anywhere, but I had time, so I gave it a shot. That was the first ‘leap of faith’. I e-mailed Cameron Irvine [Commissioner of the SFL] and registered my interest.”Michael Truilo calls a game live from the HyperX Arena stage in Las Vegas in 2022

Now a play-by-play announcer for Florida-based Bethune-Cookman university (an NCAA Division One college), Truilo’s first few steps towards broadcasting paint an endearingly amateur picture, and he can’t help but chuckle remembering those early days.

“During the first broadcast, I didn’t understand what the league was,” he laughs. “I even searched online how to broadcast a sports game. The one bit of advice I took from it was to mute an old game and commentate over it. It helped a lot before the actual first broadcast.

“I had a really ‘janky’ setup. I was in my mother’s office. I didn’t have a headset or even a desktop mic. The audio must have been terrible. I remember getting far too excited at the most basic of plays. Looking back, I do wonder, ‘why did I even attempt this?!’”.

Truilo’s excitement and endeavor impressed Irvine, who quickly introduced the play calling rookie to the league’s broadcasting team and opened the doors to a new community – a family in which he belonged.

“The SFL was my oasis. Prepping for and calling the games, the community…it was the bright spot that got me through college.

“If I ever left the SFL, the thing I would miss the most wouldn’t be calling games, but the camaraderie of the people. It’s the community aspect of the league that’s the most important thing.”

As keenly as Truilo values the friendships forged within the SFL, his E-Sports family respect him more, culminating in a SFL Hall of Fame 2023 induction, the highest honor a member can achieve.

Truilo confesses to feeling somewhat unworthy of the accolade but recognizes the constant commitment he has taken to ensure the SFL product is as professional as possible.

“It hit me about a month afterwards,” he explains, “that these people I’ve grown close to over the past half-decade saw fit to honor me in that manner. As someone with ADHD and anxiety, when you’re honored in that manner, it almost doesn’t feel like you deserve it, but if you pull back and look at it from 1000ft, thinking about the hours you’ve put into the league, it makes sense.”

After years of working for a local theatre as a sound technician and restricting his passion for sports broadcasting to an online hobby, Truilo took a second ‘leap of faith’ following a conversation with Rich Pratchard, an influential SFL member and long-time high school sports broadcaster.

“We were sitting in a corner table at an SFL convention,” he remembers, a fond glint in his eye, “and it was the first time I met Rich in person, and we got onto how he got his start in broadcasting, doing high school sports in Arkansas. His story resonated with me when the pandemic hit. I was working as a sound technician at the time and theatre shows just stopped – but there was football.

“I thought back to my conversation with Rich and his advice about continually going to his local radio station requesting to broadcast games, and how they eventually put him on. I didn’t have a local radio station, but I had the internet. I made an internet radio station and started broadcasting games, which started me on the path to where I am now.”  

Truilo’s humility when describing his way into sports broadcasting doesn’t do justice to the lessons learned during hours spent cold-calling 37 local schools in the hope that they had a spot for him, until eventually, one said yes.

Some would suggest it takes bravery to throw yourself unannounced into the world of media, where who you know often trumps what you know, but Truilo sees it as part of the process.

“When you look back, at the time it seemed logical, which is the attitude I’ve taken through the past few years. Why not take the tangentially related opportunity of meeting my current boss and exchanging business cards? Why wouldn’t I keep in touch with potential employers for a couple of years in the hope they might need you one day? Only one person needs to say yes and you’re in.”

Now he is in, currently on the eve of completing his debut year calling games for BCU, Truilo realises the influence of a childhood spent backstage at theatres, watching his mother entertain thousands with her voice.

“The job feels like a culmination of my entire life experience,” he states, casting his mind back behind the show curtain, “My childhood was the theatre. So, I’ve been given my ability to ad-lib during broadcasts from my mother. My dad gave me my love of sports. We’d always have baseball on TV or football on the radio. He’d take me to games and that’s when I fell in love with sports, so being a broadcaster feels like the perfect marriage of those two experiences. I’ve described my job as a three-hour long improv session.”

And here we stumble across what Truilo views as potentially his greatest asset; the ability to take skills synonymous with a career he didn’t want and use them as a point of difference in the career he craves.Michael Truilo (left) and his broadcasting partner at Bethune-Cookman University 

The connection between the pressures of stage and booth becomes undeniable as he excitedly describes the feel of a live broadcast.

“I feel such a rush,” he says quickly, decibels rising slightly, “It feels like being on a rollercoaster. You’re riding it and you just mentally have to keep up. Things inevitably go wrong, but that’s where those hours of preparation come in.”

Enthusiasm behind the eyes, Truilo is soon thinking about his next chapter, one that could potentially see him departing the sun-kissed shores of Daytona Beach.

“I remain ambitious. First, I want to make this a full-time gig. I’m close, but not quite there yet. Secondly, I want to move up the ranks. I’m extremely proud to be the voice of a division one athletic program, but it’s a small school with a limited budget for extra day-to-day coverage, so I’m always looking at message boards.”

To turn that dream into a reality, the young broadcaster knows he’ll need to take another leap.

This time, instead of reaching out from his car, shrouded in a cloud of failure, he can reach out from the blue skies of his broadcast booth.

George Michael’s three minutes of faith never sounded so good.

For information on how you can join the SFL's broadcast team, click here.