(Credit: ESPN)

The importance of a sideline reporter was on full display in the postgame aftermath of Arizona’s Alamo Bowl win over Oklahoma on Thursday night.

Following the Wildcats’ 38-24 drubbing of the Sooners, ESPN’s Cole Cubelic rose to the occasion as Martell Irby joined him. The fifth-year senior earned a scholarship prior to the season and ended his college career with seven tackles, an interception and a forced fumble in the Wildcats’ first bowl since 2015.

But to understand Irby’s journey and how he reached Thursday’s high mark, you must understand his story.

After four seasons at UCLA, Irby retired from football after suffering injuries that stemmed from a 2022 auto accident. He walked on to the Arizona football team, earned himself a scholarship, and was named a team captain.

And based on his story, as told by Cubelic, it’s not hard to understand why he’s earned the respect of his teammates and has emerged as a leader in the locker room.

“Couple years ago, you were living in a Kia, working at a gym so you had a place to shower,” said Cubelic. “You moved to Tuscon, didn’t have a scholarship, didn’t even have a spot; you bet on yourself. And here you are, double-digit win season, Alamo Bowl champions.”

Cubelic highlights Irby’s journey from hardship to success through self-belief and hard work. Unfortunately, some people viewed it as a chance for ESPN to showcase his period of homelessness. In the past, the network had been accused of excessive coverage of players’ traumatic experiences, especially during the 2020 NFL Draft. However, it was an excellent example of Cubelic’s thorough research and allowing Irby’s story to speak for itself.

During the postgame interview, Cubelic highlighted Irby’s inspiring journey of resilience and triumph. Irby expressed an emotional response, acknowledging his hardships in the process.

“Glory be to God,” said Irby. “I can’t thank Arizona enough. I can’t thank my brothers enough. I just want to enjoy this moment with my teammates, with my family and just embrace it, man. I couldn’t have scripted this any better. (I’m) just gonna take it for what it is and embrace it. I worry about tomorrow, tomorrow, man. I’m just thankful. I couldn’t have pictured this.”

During a conversation with Cubelic, it was revealed that Irby had distanced himself from his loved ones and friends as he wanted to find his own way. Cubelic asked him about the level of involvement he needed in a team to achieve success, and Irby expressed his gratitude for being a part of a meaningful endeavor.

“Now, looking back, I see that I needed that more than ever,” he said. “You know, just being part of the grind, being a part of something bigger than myself. I can’t thank these people enough. And I can’t wait for this confetti to fall, for us to just go crazy and enjoy the fruits of our labor.”

Irby’s raw emotions at the Alamo Bowl weren’t simply captured by a camera; they were ignited by Cubelic’s interview. Beyond delivering facts, a great sideline reporter like Cubelic possesses the empathy and intuition to draw out genuine vulnerability and joy, turning Thursday’s postgame interview into a deeply human moment.

About Sam Neumann

Since the beginning of 2023, Sam has been a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. A 2021 graduate of Temple University, Sam is a Charlotte native, who currently calls Greenville, South Carolina his home. He also has a love/hate relationship with the New York Mets and Jets.