From being called “Beef Jerky” in high school to working on a goat farm in Montana to arriving at NAU in fall 2016, senior Matthew Jarecki has worked his way to national recognition. After being named a 2018 Sportscasters Talent Agency of America (STAA) All-American, Jarecki has gained four new accolades in the 2019 National Broadcast Education Association (BEA) Festival of Media Arts Competition.
In mid-February, Jarecki received first place in the Student Sports Competition under the Television Sports Talent (anchor/host) category as well as received the Award of Excellence for Radio Sports Story/Feature/News Story. Jarecki also received two awards in the Student Audio Competition as he placed third for both the Air Personality and Special Program categories.
Although the young sportscaster has received his well-deserved praise, the journey getting here wasn’t one many would suspect. After dropping out of Montana State after his freshman year in 2013, Jarecki struggled with substance abuse and found himself back home in New Hampshire working on a goat farm.
“I lost my goat farm job, which is incredibly hard to do, but I did,” Jarecki said. “I was not doing well and my parents basically said, ‘We’re not going to help you, but we’ll send you to rehab.’”
After spending a year in a program offered by Back to Basics in Flagstaff, Jarecki was ready to go back to school.
“I can’t go to school for something that bores me. I cannot get invested in anything I’m not interested in,” Jarecki said. “I knew I had to do something related to sports, and sports radio was really what I wanted to do — that’s why I got into the communications building at NAU.”
Jarecki enrolled during the 2016-2017 school year as a sophomore, however, it wasn’t until a year later, in fall 2017, that he became a member of the sports department within the NAU Media Innovation Center.
Since fall 2017, Jarecki has turned his podcast, what was once done in the library, into a live Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. radio talk show on KJACK Radio. He has written the Weekly Take for The Lumberjack in the sports section and has been on-air talent for both NAZToday and NAU-TV.
His live talk show and podcast, The Jerk, is what he identifies as the first stepping stone for a future career in sports journalism.
“Radio is the foundation of it all. As good as I was on TV, it was all just a byproduct of radio,” Jarecki said. “The Jerk kind of just came out of my last name. I guess I can be kind of a jerk sometimes, but that wasn’t really what it was about. People used to call me ‘Beef Jerky’ in high school because of my last name, so The Jerk stuck.”
Back when The Jerk was strictly a podcast produced out of the library, Jarecki would often spend roughly two hours on the show. Now that he goes live for two hours, five days a week, his workflow has changed quite a bit.
“If I’m not up by 4:30, then my chances of having a really good show goes down,” Jarecki said.
The Monday through Friday workflow goes like this: Prep is done between 4:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. The show airs from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Directly following the conclusion of his show, Jarecki heads to the library to put the show together then cut it up for online content.
Of the four recent awards listed earlier, three of them were an outcome of what he produced on The Jerk.
When Jarecki joined the sports media department in 2017, Senior Lecturer and Sports Media Adviser Rory Faust quickly became a mentor for the new sportscaster.
Faust has become a confidant for Jarecki as he often gives advice and critique when it comes to Jarecki’s reporting and on-air talent. Faust said there have been multiple occasions in the past where he has gotten a phone call or text from Jarecki seeking out advice. One specific instance Faust can recall is during the recruiting period for the NAU football coaching staff. Jarecki would often ask for pointers on how and if he should break news on Twitter, when it’s necessary to collect another interview before breaking a story or simply how to approach a story. Faust remembers when the switch flipped for Jarecki and when he started understanding the addiction sports journalism can be.
“If you’ve heard Matt on the radio, a lot of times he’ll kind of poke fun at journalists and joke about ‘angsty journalists.’ I was joking around with him and said, ‘You know Matt, you’re becoming an angsty journalist’ and he’s like ‘Oh I know, it’s kind of like an addiction. I’m getting into this.’”
Other mentors that have influenced the work Jarecki has done include Mitch Strohman, General Manager of NAU-TV and Voice of the Lumberjacks, as well as NAU-TV Manager Cynthia Catizone.
It was also in fall 2017 when Jarecki approached both Strohman and Catizone about being a part of the NAU-TV sports crew as talent. To be considered “talent,” one has to perform live sideline reporting, color commentary or play-by-play commentary during a televised sports broadcast. Once Jarecki joined the team, he had to do what all new recruits do — he had to work his way up.
“Here it is, 2019, and Matt is graduating,” Catizone said. “He’s done everything from wrapping cable on the crew, went to A2, went to sidelines, went to color and went to play by play.”
This climb spanned over a few short months as Jarecki was live on television as talent by the end of the 2017-2018 NAU basketball season. It was during this time that his relationship with Strohman developed as Strohman taught Jarecki what is and is not essential when it comes to on-air reporting.
“Matt has not been just an absolute delight to work with, but as a sports reporter, a sports broadcaster and a member of the NAU-TV team, he’s been a good friend,” Strohman said. “Someone that I admire for his work ethic, his willingness to go the extra mile to prepare for his job and the dedication that he has to his craft.
Strohman has also noticed that when working with Jarecki, one thing that has become incredibly obvious is Jarecki’s attention to detail. He said Jarecki never hesitates to ask questions and is always observing what others in the industry are doing around him. Strohman believes that half of the battle when it comes to breaking into this industry is observing and learning from others.
Catizone also believes that learning and observing plays a large role in the success of a sportscaster but also that it truly takes a certain kind of person to excel in this profession.
“It takes the person to make it happen. I can give you all the tools, but you have to make it happen. Matt does that,” Catizone said.
Making it happen is just what Jarecki has done. In a short span of a year he has become the definition of a well-rounded journalist. But it doesn’t end there. Jarecki will walk across the stage come May to receive his degree in communication with a minor in journalism as well as leave NAU with four BEA recognitions and the prestigious honor of being named an STAA All-American.
“My time in this business is limited. I’m far closer to the end of my career than the beginning or even the middle,” Strohman said. “We have to pass the torch and Matthew is one of those people that I look at. Not only does he want to grab the torch, he wants to grab the torch and run with it.”