Sometimes simple moments in life take you by surprise. For Dani Klupenger, the 24-year-old who started as the in-house reporter for the St. Louis Rams in April, an NFL practice field spurred one of these moments.
“I was standing on the practice field, looking around, dressed down, and was like, why do I feel so comfortable? I’m at an NFL practice and I know everyone here. It was just a really cool, surreal moment.”
As someone who is at the beginner of career, Klupenger is a perfect fit for the team with the youngest average age in the NFL. She displays a blend of genuine enthusiasm and appreciation when she talks about her job. Add in her down-to-earth personality, and it’s really fun to listen to her share her experiences as she navigates her new role.
“I’m still so young in my career that everything is still exciting and everything is a first for me. I hope that feeling never goes away. Right now, I’m like a kid on Christmas,” she says.
Don’t let Klupenger’s age and cheerful smile fool you though – she’s worked hard to get where she is today.
An Oregon native, Klupenger attended Stony Brook University where she played basketball in addition to earning her degrees in Journalism and Business Management. After radio and TV internships in college, Klupenger spent two years working for the University of Tennessee’s Athletic Department doing just about everything that they could throw at her, from hosting and reporting to producing and editing multimedia for over 20 sports teams. During this time, she also worked as an analyst and reporter for the SEC network.
So, did she always know that she wanted to be in sports journalism? As it turns out, not really.
“I always liked to dress up and be girly, so I really thought E! news [and] the red carpet were where I was headed,” says Klupenger, whose background as an athlete changed the course of her career. “I have been around sports my whole life and I was very comfortable with my knowledge of most sports. I felt like it was a natural fit.”
From watching Klupenger’s interviews (check some out here), you can tell her comfort with and understanding of athletes has shaped who she is as a reporter. Her natural affinity for talking to people also plays a big part in how she handles her responsibilities.
“As far as being a reporter, I’m probably one of the most curious, if you want to call it nosey, people you might ever meet, but I think that that’s helped me. I love learning how people got from Point A to Point B in their life. I find myself doing it with my friends. I’m always the one asking all of the questions when we’re catching up. I love to talk to people. Being able to use sports as an outlet and a medium to get to know people and share their stories so the people can relate to them and sports icons aren’t so untouchable – that’s what I want to do.”
Making Rams players more relatable is something Klupenger does on a regular basis, as she gives Rams fans an insider’s look at their favorite players on the team’s broadcast and digital platforms. In addition to sideline reporting, she also hosts the weekly “Rams Nation” television show and will soon tackle hosting duties for the “What the Hekk” radio show with Rams Pro Bowl punter Ryan Hekk.
“Being a sideline reporter is what gets my adrenaline going and that’s what fills that void of being an athlete for so long. Finding the story, changing the story on the fly because something else happened – that stuff is awesome,” says Klupenger, who attended her first NFL game as a sideline reporter.
As fun as the sideline can be, her favorite medium of storytelling is the short feature. Some of her proudest career moments so far have come as a result of her features, which have been played on ESPN and the SEC network. Klupenger credits her collection of journalism and multimedia skills, including editing skills and behind-the-camera experience, with getting her where she is today.
After making the jump from college sports to professional football, Klupenger admits she had initial concerns with the transition and how the players would react to her.
“I’ve never worked in the NFL before and I was really nervous because I came from college, where they are roughly my age. Now I’m going to walk into the locker room full of grown men. Are they going to talk to me? Are they going to work with me? Are they going to want to give me any insight into their life?”
Luckily, the guys in the locker room have made the transition easy for Klupenger.
“They’ve been great. I brag about this locker room to pretty much anyone that will listen to me – they are awesome guys. I have yet to have anyone turn down an interview. Even when they are tired or don’t really feel like it, they still come around.”
The Snap: What’s your typical workday like?
Dani Klupenger: Typically my work day does start at 9. That’s the only thing that I can tell you that’s pretty much set usually. As far as how late I stay, that’s all over the board. We’ll do anything from writing scripts for any of our shows to web content to filming those shows and web content. I do one-on-ones after practice – it’s just a one-on-one interview with whatever player I decide that day that I want to talk to. […] I edit for the Rams, so that takes up a big chunk of my time too. If I’m going to do a feature – I just recently did one on Brian Quick and him coming back from an injury and I edited that whole thing – that takes up time too because it’s a very meticulous process. […] On top of that I MC / host any of the events for the organization, whether it’s a cheerleading event or the Rams front office doing something to interact with the community. It’s really cool to be their go-to person to show up at events and cover them. You never know what the day is going to throw at you, which makes it exciting.
The Snap: What’s your advice for people who want to get into sports broadcasting?
Dani Klupenger: My number one advice for people who ask me that is learn everything – learn how to write, learn how to shoot a camera, a bunch of different cameras, and learn how to edit. If you have people skills, the interviewing will take care of itself.
The Snap: Let’s talk football. Obviously the big stories for the Rams are a new quarterback and returning pieces of a great defense. Going into the regular season, what other stories should we be on the lookout for to come out of St. Louis?
Dani Klupenger: You nailed it with two of the biggest story lines, as far as our defensive line is considered and Nick Foles, but I’ll give you a little bit of offense and defense. On the offense, we’ve got a really, really talented wide receiver corps and running back corps. Obviously we don’t know if [RB] Todd Gurley is going to play in game one. He just started team activities, but is still non-contact, so I think it will be really interesting to see how the running backs group emerges as a position with Gurley and [Tre] Mason both being able to dominate in that role. Our wide receiver group looks really good. Brian Quick had what I’ll call a car wreck injury last year at Kansas City with his shoulder. He’s coming back. That’s a group that’s just really locked in and focused and I can tell that they’re ready to do really big things. Sometimes you can just tell in an athlete when they seem a little bit more driven.
I think another group that is really interesting is the defensive backs. We just lost E.J. Gaines, who started 15 games last season at corner. He had a foot injury and is out for the year. That was a really big loss for cornerbacks, defensive backs in general. I just did a big feature on them yesterday. I’ve never seen a group with so much – forgive me for lack of a better word – swagger. They do not back down to anybody. It’s fun to watch them in games. I honestly wasn’t really paying attention to DBs all that much because I was so close to our defensive line, which is what everybody was talking about. Lately I’ve been so intrigued by the DBs and the way they’ve come together, it’s like a, “You’re not gonna mess with our group” mentality. I think that they are going to surprise a lot of people.
Dani’s Instagram: https://instagram.com/daniklup
Dani’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/daniklup
Dani’s Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/daniklup
Pictures courtesy of Dani Klupenger.
– Michelle, who officially recommends following Dani on social media, even if you aren’t a Rams fan, because she’s awesome