McKay Pett couldn’t believe his luck. He stood 50 feet below his video drone, flying the thing high for a wide shot of the bird logo on SUU’s football field. As he steadied the drone a bird soared overhead, casting its shadow across the field. It was the shot of a lifetime.
“People still ask me, ’How on Earth did you do that?’” Pett laughs. “It looked super cool, but it was total luck.”
⚡️Destiny Still Arrives⚡️ pic.twitter.com/0ouUFyqJCc
— SUU Football 🏈 (@SUUFB) August 29, 2018
While Southern Utah University may be best known for its close proximity to the outdoors, the school highly prioritizes hands-on learning. The school’s size and emphasis on getting students firsthand experience makes it a solid jumping-off point in the pursuit of finding a career.
Pett, a senior communication major at SUU and video intern for the athletic department, is a shining example of the benefit of hands-on learning.
“The whole reason I went to SUU was so I could finish my degree and really get my feet wet in the creative field,” Pett said.
His passion for video began at 17 years old when he made a highlight video for the University of Utah’s football team. He posted it on Twitter without any expectations but was surprised when Morgan Scalley, then the defensive backs coach at the University of Utah, sent him a message applauding his work.
That was all the validation the Murray, Utah native needed. He dove in, slowly assembling the equipment and skills he’d need to become a videographer. Pett cranked out highlight video after highlight video, and eventually the U of U took notice.
Utah’s athletic department gave him a chance to work on their social media team. Pett thought it was a dream come true. It wasn’t.
“I came from the University of Utah, where I’d always wanted to go growing up, but it just wasn’t the right fit for me. It was so big, so spread out.”
Creative differences and a decision to serve an LDS mission led Pett to leave the school. He went on his mission in Montana and returned looking for a new chance to get the camera rolling.
Best unis in the state.
— McKay Pett (@MPett3) September 19, 2019
KSL’s Jeremiah Jensen had seen Pett’s work at Utah and reached out to him on Twitter. Jensen wanted Pett to produce video content for KSL’s sports segments, and he jumped at the chance.
The news desk pushed Pett to produce and edit videos quickly, but he wanted a chance to work on more creative projects than simple news packages.
He researched his options and visited SUU. The smaller campus and less crowded media team meant he’d have more space to create. It felt right.
“Then I came to SUU, and working on a smaller scale, I saw that I could build relationships with teachers, people in the athletic department, the coaches. It’s made the job so much easier, and so much fun.”
Pett started working on intro videos, recaps, hype videos and other projects for the football and men’s basketball teams. He looked forward to the challenge of making a small school larger than life through clever camera work and editing tricks he learned from watching YouTube videos.
Since Pett arrived on campus two years ago, SUU football’s twitter account has doubled in followers. His videos consistently spark more interactions than some schools in power five conferences.
“Obviously SUU is not on the biggest stage or in the biggest market, but when I got here my goal was to make our videos the best in the country. I wanted to be up there with Clemson, LSU, Ohio State. I set really really high goals, and it’s been a challenge for me.”
Pls hurry @SUUFB
— McKay Pett (@MPett3) January 21, 2019
As Pett approaches his final weeks before graduation, phone calls from athletic departments from around the country have poured in. Fresno State, Penn State and Georgia Tech are among the schools who have discussed the chance to take his creative abilities even further.
Pett credits the connections he’s made at SUU for opening the door to more opportunities. He’s still considering staying in Cedar City to pursue a full-time video position for the Thunderbirds because of the freedom in creation they’ve provided.
“I picture SUU as a sandbox where you can just come in and start building… There wasn’t something premade I had to conform to. I just came in and was able to start trying new stuff right away.”
While Pett’s success is owed largely to the work he does outside of the classroom, SUU provided the environment he needed to take the raw passion that inspired him to start making videos at 17 and cultivate it into something more.
Not only has he turned video production into a viable career, but he’s also turned into something entirely his own. He has a knack for being in the right place at the right time, as evidenced by the legendary shot of the bird’s shadow gliding across the football field.
The journey may have been indirect, but Pett found SUU to be the right place at his right time.
This story has been updated for clarity.
Story by: Connor Sanders
Photo by: Christopher Diamond