Mike Craft is no stranger to the power of resilience. Craft came to the University of Richmond with aspirations to not only pursue a degree in journalism, but to also continue to play the sport that he loved at a high level.
Craft’s first season as an offensive lineman on the Spiders’ football team would not be the start he had hoped for. The 1982 season would be one of disappointment for the Spiders, finishing at 0-10 under third-year head coach Dal Shealy. By the end of the season, the program was considered the worst team in college football.
However, Craft and the Spiders didn’t let the nay-sayers or their record discourage them. The team closed the book on the 1982 season and Richmond went back to the drawing board.
The Spiders bounced back and went on to win three games the following season, with more work that had to be done in the offseason. The resilience of the players and coaches was made apparent in Craft’s final two years with the program. The 1984 season was highlighted by UR advancing to the NCAA I-AA Quarterfinals, and finished with a final rankling of 12th in the country. Despite falling in the National Quarterfinals in ’84, the Spiders saw that their will to fight and belief had brought them to new heights, but they weren’t completely satisfied.
Craft’s senior season opened at Virginia Tech. In the previous three seasons, Richmond lost each meeting to the Hokies. The 1985 season would be written differently in the record books. The Spiders went up to Blacksburg and defeated Virginia Tech, 24-14. The win not only landed the program at the #1 spot in the country for five-consecutive weeks, but it also sparked a seven-game winning streak for the Spiders. Richmond finished the season ranked 18th in the country with an 8-3 record.
“The main reason we did that was because of that belief level we had as a team, and it snowballed from there,” said Craft. “Even though we didn’t win the National Championship, I look back on that as a very special time, and it taught me about the power of the team. If the team is tight and you work together, and believe in each other, it is limitless to what you can do together.”
Off the football field, Craft studied journalism. The University of Richmond was the perfect fit academically for the offensive lineman, who chose UR not only for the smaller class sizes, but also for the internship opportunities in a growing media market.
“I had this fear of going to a big university and kind of getting lost in the shuffle,” said Craft. “It [the University of Richmond] was everything I wanted once I got there. With the class sizes I was able to get to know my professors in the journalism department, and I think that had a lot to do with my growth there. It was the perfect dynamic for me.”
With an injury in his senior season, Craft knew his playing days were winding down. With his decision to attend the University of Richmond, he already had a solid foundation for what he believed he wanted to do upon graduation, and he was able to complete internships in order to make a smooth transition to a life after the football chapter in his book had closed.
After graduating from the University in 1986, Craft went right to work for WWBT, the NBC affiliate in Richmond.
“A testament to that is, I graduated on a Sunday and I started work on Wednesday. I’ve been in journalism and broadcasting ever since 1986, and it was a seamless transition,” he said.
After a stint with WWBT, Craft took his talents south to Charlotte, North Carolina. He started working as an associate producer at WBTV, the CBS affiliate, with a familiar face, Greg Brannon, whom he had also worked with in Richmond.
In 1995, the landscape of sports in Charlotte changed having a lasting impact on Craft’s career The National Football League granted Jerry Richardson, a former wide receiver for the Baltimore Colts, his bid for an NFL expansion team in the Carolinas. Enter the Carolina Panthers.
As the NFL expanded its footprint to Charlotte, the sports broadcasting industry expanded as well. Brannon, who is now Television and Digital Media Executive Producer, was tabbed to start the Carolina Panthers Television Network. Craft joined in on the adventure. During his more than 15 years with the organization, Craft and his co-workers have been resilient to the ever-changing landscape of sports media.
Craft has seen the broadcasting field evolve since he joined the organization in 2000, including adapting to new technology, new platforms, and a new way of thinking. When the Panthers went to Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2003, the broadcasting operation was much smaller; the department only produced a weekly television show. Now as the Panthers prepare for Super Bowl 50, the Broadcasting & New Media department has grown exponentially. As the Senior Producer for Digital Media for the Carolina Panthers, Craft not only serves as a producer, but also as a reporter and analyst, giving fans an inside look at what the Panthers do from day-to-day. On a larger scale, the department is producing daily content for Panthers.com, a daily television show on Time Warner Cable Sports Channel, and pre-game and game day shows and all in-game content for Panther Vision.