The road wasn’t always laid out in a straight line for Dani Klupenger, but she sure navigated it extremely well. Klupenger is a reporter for the Los Angeles Rams and has covered everything Rams-related including breaking news, game recaps and community service initiatives to the NFL Draft, training camp, free agency and Rams’ cheer auditions. She joined the Rams after spending nearly two years as a reporter and producer for the University of Tennessee department of athletics and worked as a sideline reporter for the SEC Network. You can spot Klupenger on the sidelines of every home game as in the in-stadium host and you can catch her one-on-one interviews with players regularly on therams.com. And yes, she took time from her very busy schedule to sit down and talk all things sports in her Y1 on 1:
You have been around them your whole life, so what have sports taught you most?
First and foremost sports have taught me discipline and hard work. Both of those qualities have helped me in every aspect of my life. I always hold myself to a higher standard and try to exceed expectations in everything that I do. When those extra suicides were lingering over your head in practice, you did everything you could to avoid them. Attention to detail and focus becomes a priority and that translates to success. With sports you are always striving to be better, wanting to grow at your craft. I take this mentality with me to work every day. Sure, just like in sports there are off days, but your self-discipline always puts you back on track.
Sports also taught me sacrifice. As I grew up there were many birthday parties, weddings, family reunions, etc. that I missed for tournaments, games or practices. But sacrificing those experiences to be with my teammates working towards a common goal, made victory and success that much sweeter. It was that ability to sacrifice that I believe helped me land my first job, but I will get into that later.
You had quite the accomplished college basketball career at Stony Brook University. I'm sure there are many, but can you share a few of your most memorable moments?
One of my most memorable moments at Stony Brook actually took place off of the court. My senior year I won homecoming queen. I was completely shocked and so unbelievably honored. I always tried to stay involved with athletics but also made sure that I was involved in the school. It was one of my first non-athletic honors and to this day still gives me goosebumps.
Another memorable moment was my senior night. There were a lot of ups and downs for me in college. Three head coaches in four years plus a lot of losses was a tough road. But there were five of us that made it from freshman year to that senior night. It was a special night, an emotional night. My entire family was in the crowd and I had a big game nailing six 3’s and helped us beat Maine 56-53. It was a really great day.
Do you have any mentors who impacted you in sports and on the media side?
Absolutely. Growing up, one of my mentors for sports was my AAU basketball coach, Michael Abraham. I played for Team Concept and was on the first travel team (it has since grown into the premiere AAU program in Oregon). He faced a tremendous amount of adversity in his career (google it if you’re curious) but he was never shy to talk about it. He used his experiences as lessons for us. He taught me fundamentals, discipline, and the mentality it would take to make it D1. I wasn’t the most athletic kid on the block and definitely not the fastest, but I could shoot the lights out and I was smart. He helped me reach my dream of playing D1 basketball.
On the media side, Tom Chen and Jason Yellin. Tom Chen was the Director of Media Relations at SBU and gave me my start in media. I came to him as a junior in college and asked him if I could start a weekly sports web-show for our athletics website for my senior year. My school had a tremendous Journalism program. I learned SO much: editing, writing for broadcast, shooting different cameras, etc. But there weren’t a lot of options to report on sports. I did a lot of hard news pieces but I knew I wanted to pursue sports. He took a chance on me. I shot, edited and hosted a show called “Get Your Red On Minute” which featured all SBU sports, highlights and short features on the athletes. Talk about taking a chance on someone. I was a double major and a starter on the basketball team, aka I was SUPER busy. But he sat me down and told me “Dani if you want to do this, I need it to be consistent, every single week. Can you really make that happen?” I told him, “watch me.” Sure, I missed out on parties because I would be editing late at night to get the show out, but the “Get Your Red On Minute” is what led me to my first full time job. Cue Jason Yellin.
Jason Yellin was an alum of Stony Brook and the Assistant Director of Media Relations for the University of Tennessee. I had never met him. He saw GYROM and called and offered me a job following graduation at the University of Tennessee. It was the year that the SEC Network was about to be unveiled. I became a host and reporter at UT and a features/sideline reporter for the SEC Network (Tennessee’s content). I can’t put into words what Jason Yellin has done for me. He taught me the ins and the outs of this business. He introduced me to everyone and anyone. To this day he STILL helps me out and every time I have a question I contact him. I am beyond thankful for him and his guidance.
You grew up on the west coast in Oregon, went to college on the east coast at Stony Brook and spent two years at the University of Tennessee as a reporter and producer. Quite the journey! Can you tell us a bit about it?
Haha, see above.
Now you are covering the Los Angeles Rams who recently moved from St. Louis. How has that transition been for everyone?
The transition has been seamless. Our operations team was so organized and on top of things during this move. I’ve lived in a hotel since I got here (coaches, players, broadcasting and PR all work and live out of this hotel) and will move down to Irvine with the team for training camp. I won’t settle into my permanent residence until September. It is a little weird living out of a suitcase while most of my clothes and belongings are in storage, but I am so thankful that the Rams have provided us housing while we transition from Oxnard to Irvine to Thousand Oaks/Agoura Hills (and saved me a boat load in rent! LA housing is no joke!).
Specializing is such a hot topic in youth sports. Would you advise youth athletes to play multiple sports or focus on one?
PLAY THEM ALL! I have witnessed so many old teammates and friends burn out from the sport that could have taken them to full ride scholarships just because they burned out so quickly from one sport. Up until high school I played soccer, softball and basketball. I was on traveling teams for both softball and basketball. Sure, I was on 2 or 3 AAU basketball teams compared to just one ASA softball team, but there was still a balance. Softball was a nice break. It wasn’t until high school that I dropped all of the other sports and just focused on basketball.
Obviously concussions are the biggest concern, short and long term, for football players. If you had a son, would you want him to play?
I toy with this question a lot. I’ve decided I’ll have a girl so I don’t have to worry about it.
What advice do you have for youth athletes? What pitfalls should they look out for and be aware of?
My biggest advice is to enjoy every single moment you have with your teammates. My AAU coach used to tell me all the time “Dani, you will never have as much fun on a team than you do when you play in middle school and high school.” He was right. That’s not to say I didn’t love my college experience. It’s just different. There’s more pressure, there’s more competition and politics within the team and the system. Just enjoy this time because it will serve as some of the best memories of your life.
My second piece of advice – go thank your parents. And never stop thanking them. I know it is hard to believe that they ever had a life before you came into theirs, but they did. Youth sports is a huge commitment for parents. Coordinating schedules, paying those hefty tournament fees are just some of the challenges they face for you. Not to mention, your parents are on YOUR roller coaster of emotions. I bet you’d be surprised how much you influence the mood they are in. You ride the bench the whole game and are really upset? I guarantee you, your parents are even more upset seeing the hurt in your eyes. You have a ball hog on your team that won’t pass you the ball? Trust me, your parents are censoring the language they want to scream from the stands. They feel your wins and losses just as much as you do. Thank them. You wouldn’t be where you are without them.
You've sat down and interviewed some big time athletes and coaches. Are there any that stood out to you? And any you hope to meet with?
I’ve been so fortunate to chat with so many cool people. I was pretty pumped when I got to interview Herschel Walker, Tamika Catchings, Candace Parker, Kurt Warner, and Kevin Hart to name a few. I was a huge Wes Welker fan before he landed on our team last year so when I got the chance to interview him I was pretty stoked. I’ve been lucky to work for two great football coaches in Butch Jones (Univ. of Tennessee) and Jeff Fisher (Rams), both of whom I always enjoy interviewing.
I think it would be really cool to interview Serena Williams, Clyde Drexler, Tom Brady, Steph Curry, Geno Auriemma. That’s such a hard question! I could go on listing people for days!
Is there anything on your journey that you would have changed or done differently?
I wouldn’t change anything. I truly believe everything has happened for a reason. I am so lucky to be able to do what I love every single day. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing. Tears, frustrations, mistakes all happened to lead me to right where I am today.
Outside of sports what are some of your other interests?
I have a shopping addiction. It’s really bad. I’m a huge bargain hunter, it’s almost like a sport to me. Competing to find the best price for a quality item. I blame my mom.
I also love the water and the beach. Boating, waterskiing, tubing, paddle boarding, you name it. I love working out and finding new workout classes to try. And I love food so I enjoy finding new restaurants and dive bars to try.
Follow Dani Klupenger on Twitter @daniklup
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