When Molly McGrath came from the Bay Area to the Bay State seven years ago to attend Boston College, she found inspiration the same way so many New Englanders have over the past decade: by getting caught up in one of our sports franchises’ run to a championship.
“I always knew this was what I wanted to do,’’ said McGrath, a San Francisco native, 2011 BC graduate, and, since April, the co-host of Fox Sports 1’s daily primer, “America’s Pregame.” “But I didn’t quite know how to go about it.
“When I moved to Boston, the Red Sox had just won the World Series in 2007. And I went out and celebrated a little when they won the championship, and I thought, ‘Wow, people here in Boston are crazy. I need to be a part of something like this.’
“I need to be a part of something that makes people this passionate, this wild, this emotional. So Boston itself instilled in me, ‘OK, there is no option, this is what I need to do.’ ”
McGrath, who began making her name in Boston as the Celtics’ in-arena and web reporter for a couple of seasons, made the return trip to the other coast a year ago. She was among several initial hires by Los Angeles-based Fox Sports 1, which debuted a year ago this Sunday.
At the fledgling network, she has done exactly what she’s needed to do to turn her promise into prominence. Hired as an update anchor, she more than held her own when given a chance as a sideline reporter during a half-dozen NFL games on Fox. She will fill the same role on college football telecasts this season.
The network was pleased enough with her progress that in April, it paired her with Mike Hill on “America’s Pregame,’’ arguably Fox Sports 1’s most consistently enjoyable show.
“I think Fox saw something in me that I didn’t know existed yet,’’ said McGrath. “And they brought it out of me. And from there I got more comfortable and was able to grow.
“At this point last year, my one goal was to be comfortable. To be comfortable on camera, to be comfortable talking about the things that I love to talk about.
“It wasn’t there yet. I had never hosted or anchored a show at all. I could have done better. I recognized my mistakes. But it didn’t go terribly. It gave me the faith, like, ‘Hey, this is something I can do if I keep improving.’
“It gave me that comfort level to the point that I can be on an hourlong show every day, and if something goes wrong, I’m not going to panic, I’m just kind of going to take it in stride.”
McGrath has help along the way, of course. Everyone does. Her anchor pairing with Hill, who spent nine years at ESPN, is a bit serendipitous. He was helpful when she was a production assistant at ESPN after graduating from BC, and now that they’re peers, she still leans on him for advice.
“I used to print scripts for him, Teleprompted for him,’’ she said. “He was so kind to me, always had some wisdom to offer. He still does, whether he’s reminding me that I relied too much on the Teleprompter in a situation or that I need to be more conversational at other times.
“To come full circle and work on a show with him today is surreal.”
But make no mistake, McGrath made her own breaks, too. At BC, where she was a cheerleading captain, she pitched then-athletic director Gene DeFilippo to let her interview athletes and coaches for the BCEagles.com website. He signed off, but it was all her idea.
“Looking back, I kind of laugh at being so bold to go to the athletic director and say, ‘Hey, make me a sports reporter, let’s make up a show,’ ” she said.
“But it’s the kind of thing where I said, ‘Why not?’ The worst thing he could say is no. That’s kind of how I’ve approached this entire journey. I’ve worked my tail off, and I have not been afraid to ask for opportunities.’’
The BC interviews gave her a reel — “it was flimsy, but enough,” she said — to get the Celtics job as the web reporter and, eventually, the in-arena host, which she acknowledged was intimidating at times.
“The lights turn down, a spotlight hits you, and the entire arena is staring at you — and they can find you and come over and yell because of the spotlight,’’ she said.
When Fox Sports decided to pursue her, it didn’t require a spotlight. The network actually expressed interest through social media — and McGrath nearly didn’t get the message.
“Fox saw some YouTube clips of my work, but didn’t know how to contact me,’’ said McGrath. “So I got a Facebook message from an executive VP saying, ‘Hey, we have a potential opportunity for you at Fox Sports if you’re interested. Please give me a call.’
“Well, I don’t really check my Facebook messages, so two weeks later I see this message and I think that it’s a joke, that someone’s messing with me, because it was all too good to be true.
“You know, a year later, so much has happened. And it still feels that way.”