Spotlight Interview: Michael Hoag

Michael Hoag: Madden NFL Producer, EA (Electronic Arts)

Orlando, Florida

WFU Class of 2011

Major: Communications

Double Minor: Journalism & Entrepreneurship

Michael Hoag’s job is the best of both worlds (in our humble opinion) - his Producer role at EA merges sports and video games. That’s mainly with the Madden NFL franchise, to be exact! Continue to learn how Hoag went from no experience in his field, to an impact player at EA.

Michael Hoag’s job is the best of both worlds (in our humble opinion) - his Producer role at EA merges sports and video games. That’s mainly with the Madden NFL franchise, to be exact! Continue to learn how Hoag went from no experience in his field, to an impact player at EA.

DeacLink: Since you’ve graduated, how has your career unfolded? Please walk me through your path from graduation day to your current job?

Michael Hoag: My path to my current role was quite unusual. I started out trying to play in the NFL, had a few opportunities to show my stuff for NFL teams, but unfortunately it just didn’t work out. From there, my network at Wake Forest really kicked in. Stan Cotten and Dave Goren were kind enough to offer me a part-time gig calling Wake Football games on IMG Radio. I jumped right into the mix and thought, “Hey, I’m on my way to a career in sports broadcasting. This is cool.”

Turns out my Wake network had other plans. While making ends meet waiting tables back home in Knoxville, TN, I received an email from the student athlete services department making me aware of an EA Sports NCAA Fellowship opportunity. It was a fully paid opportunity to go make video games for the NCAA Football franchise. I knew nothing about video games, but I definitely played them...so I applied. Interestingly enough, my time as a sideline reporter piqued their interest and they selected me for the fellowship program. I was off to Orlando.

Fast forward six years and a whole lot of self teaching, learning, and help along the way, you will find me still making video games. I’m a producer on our Madden NFL franchise and I’m incredibly blessed to work for such an incredibly company that took a chance on a 23-year-old kid with no video game background.

DL: What led you to pursue a Masters at UT, and how did you select that program in particular?

MH: After three and a half years as a video game designer on the Madden Franchise I started to get the itch for a some career change. I wasn’t ready to leave video games or the tech sector, but I wanted to get a little closer to the business side of our product. Understanding more about what goes into making a game and driving revenue.

Some internet searching (and ignoring advice to get a traditional MBA) lead me to the Masters of Science in Technology Commercialization (MSTC) program at UT, Austin. This program was the perfect fit for me. Plenty of business coursework (accounting, finance, marketing) mixed with a healthy dose of entrepreneurship and startup training. While I’m not working in a startup, the program offered great insight into building a business from the ground up and identifying successful habits and practices to not only build a business, but sustain and grow one.

DL: How did you balance working and going back to school?

MH: Lack of sleep. Luckily, I had a great support staff cheering me on. My wife (also a Deac) was my number one supporter and my management and work fully supported the initiative. I traveled to Austin once/month and attended virtually for the other class sessions. Many late nights and early mornings, but it was totally worth it!

DL: Your role sits at the intersection of entertainment and technology, and sounds like many people’s dream job. What advice do you have for readers interested in pursuing a similar path, or for breaking into the industry more broadly?

MH: Pursue avenues that allow you to be close to your field of interest. For me, I was lucky to get into video games, and the industry has a firm hold on the advancement of technology. So I get to experience cutting edge technology, but I am constantly exploring what other companies are doing (inside the games industry & outside of it). Keeping an ear to the ground with the latest in your passion sector is critical to getting an opportunity and making a lasting impression on the people you meet. You never know when the next opportunity might come knocking.

The last bit of advice is this; Don’t be afraid that you’re unqualified because you didn’t get a degree in a certain field. If you’re passionate about something and are willing to learn you can do just about anything. It’s all about getting an opportunity to jump in. I think you’ll find that your lack of traditional knowledge can be a burst of outside the box thinking that people need in their organization.

DL: How did you find and apply to the various positions you’ve held (online, networking, WFU resources, other)?

MH: As mentioned above, I was alerted to the position from Student Athlete Services. The relationship I build with the folks in that department became the link to finding my job. Relationships can be so critical to finding success in the business world.

DL: What do you think Wake could have done better to prepare you for life after graduation?

MH: For me, the biggest opportunity that I missed out on was having an internship. Football prevented me from doing that at the same scale as my classmates, and sometimes I wonder if that was a detriment, but I’ll never know. The University did a really nice job of preparing me for life after sports in my opinion.

DL: What's the best kernel of advice you can think to pass on to current students and recent alums?

MH: Create meaningful relationships and work to maintain them. I’ve been blessed to meet many great folks along my path through Wake Forest and while it might have seemed insignificant at the time, making the effort to spend time with folks and treat them with respect has certainly helped me.

It starts there, but keeping in touch and returning the favor where applicable is something that is invaluable in business and in life.

DL:RP Series: Marc Blucas

The DL:RP Series continues with another inspiring alumni account, written by WFU Magazine’s Carol L. Hanner.

Marc Blucas (WFU ‘94) came to WFU on a baskteball scholarship, earned a business degree, then banked left for Hollywood. Slam dunk.

Image source: Buffy Angel Show Online

Image source: Buffy Angel Show Online

‘I have to know if I can make it’ - Marc Blucas ('94) took the long shot from sports to Hollywood, and he nailed it

by Carol L. Hanner, posted 3/19/19

On paper, Marc Blucas says, he never should have made it to where he is now.

Blucas (’94) was a small-town boy from Butler, Pennsylvania, who played basketball on scholarship for Wake Forest, graduated with a business degree and played abroad, but he soon set his course toward law school. He also had a partnership with NASCAR great Dale Earnhardt Sr. to start a company advising professional athletes on contracts, endorsements and financial planning, with the help of Bern Beatty (P ’88), now a professor emeritus of business.

Then Blucas got a phone call from John Justus, who was the University’s sports information director. A filmmaker needed a basketball player for “Eddie,” a 1996 movie that was shooting in Charlotte with Whoopie Goldberg (and a cameo by a guy named Donald Trump). “I went down and auditioned for this movie, and I got it. And then the cliché happened. I caught the bug.”

Image from WFU Magazine original post

Image from WFU Magazine original post

Blucas gave up law school, even though he had never acted. He gave up flying to races in Earnhardt’s private jet to work with him on the business plan. He gave up the world of sports that had been his passion since childhood. “On paper, I’m the dumbest person on the planet,” Blucas says, laughing. “I had everything you could want at that time coming out of college teed up for me, and I chose something where I had no experience, no relationships, where I knew no one.”

But it worked. He has a successful acting career. He plays the romantic interest of star Robin Tunney in a TV legal drama called “The Fix,” which premieres tonight on ABC. When we talked, he was in Connecticut, working until 4 a.m. every night in the bitter February cold for a Christmas special for Hallmark Movies, where he has had multiple starring roles. He has acted in numerous movies alongside such stars as Mel Gibson and Katie Holmes and in many TV shows, including “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” where he played Riley Finn.

Marc Blucas with Sarah Michelle Gellar in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"  - Source, WFU Magazine original post

Marc Blucas with Sarah Michelle Gellar in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" - Source, WFU Magazine original post

Blucas lived for about 14 years in Los Angeles but moved seven years ago to a 15-acre farm in rural Pennsylvania, where he lives with his wife, Ryan Haddon Blucas. She is a former producer who recently turned years of volunteer counseling into a practice as a hypnotherapist and life coach. They live with their two daughters, 4 and 7, and Ryan’s two teens from an earlier marriage. Blucas gets his workouts through chores and renovating their 300-year-old farmhouse, which he much prefers to slaving in the gym in L.A.

He says he loved Los Angeles after the first difficult year. “From 25 to 35, it was a great place to be. I was single. It’s the heartbeat of the industry I was in, and I needed to learn it and make the relationships.”

But after five years, an exit strategy already was bubbling in the back of his mind. “It’s Groundhog Day in L.A. … It’s 70 and perfect all the time. But you can’t really mark time. There’s no cycle of life and death. The leaves don’t fall off the trees. After a while, you blink, and five years go by, and you don’t even know it because the trees don’t grow.”

Tax credits and technology dramatically changed the industry, he says. “It used to be just Harrison Ford could leave town and live somewhere else.” But Blucas says in his last six years in Los Angeles, he filmed there only one day because his locations were spread out across the globe, from Atlanta to Capetown, South Africa.

He met Ryan in L.A., and she, too, was ready to move to the East Coast to be near family. Today, they have a rule — no more than two weeks apart, even if it means Blucas flies home for just a day. “My family’s always going to be more important to me than my career, and right now my kids are at an age where they want to be around me.” He even negotiated to appear in fewer episodes of “The Fix” to ensure that he had time off to go home.

Blucas knows his pursuit of acting seemed crazy when he started. He had tried for small theater roles at Wake Forest, but the sports arena always trumped the stage. “We’re playing Duke, and I’m ‘Hey, (theater) guys, I can’t make it. I got to go get my (butt) kicked by Grant Hill tonight.’”

Acting psyched him up in the same way basketball did. “It’s just an energy and the excitement of having the pressure to perform certain things,” he says. Live sports events change spectators’ emotions, and so does storytelling. “You want to enter a theater and leave it changed, somehow.”

Both were big challenges. Acting is “one of the hardest businesses in the world to break into,” Blucas says. “It was almost the same decision that I had coming to college. … I wasn’t the Rodney Rogers (’94) and Randolph Childress (’95, P ’20) where you know you’re going to be a star. My choice to come to Wake Forest was, ‘Look, I know I’m going there to be a role player at best, but I have to know if I can make it.’”

Marc Blucas with Katie Holmes in "First Daughter," a 2004 movie.  - Source, WFU Magazine original post

Marc Blucas with Katie Holmes in "First Daughter," a 2004 movie. - Source, WFU Magazine original post

He pushed through the steep learning curve in acting. “I went from being sports and math and science to suddenly literature and stories and characters, and I wanted to succeed.” He treated his acting coaches like his basketball coaches, urging them to tell him if he didn’t have “the quality, whatever IT is.”

He got a call from a casting director who flew him from his hometown to Los Angeles for his first big audition, for “Jerry Maguire,” the 1996 film starring Tom Cruise. Blucas didn’t get that part, but he got enough encouragement to keep his focus, dedication and work ethic revved up.

If acting ever becomes tiresome, he’ll stop. He approaches it just as he did basketball workouts. “If I didn’t like getting up at 5 in the morning for two-a-days and going through all that stuff for practice, I would have quit it. It still has to be fun.”

He has other skills he can employ. He says Wake Forest prepared him through its commitment to a liberal arts education, exposure to diversity and a concern for “turning out good human beings.”

“I always felt that sense of community at Wake. I had a very specific platform for that on the basketball side, and I had another one in the fraternity world (Sigma Phi Epsilon) because I wanted to make sure I had a ‘normal’ college experience other than just locker room friends.”

He loved the small classes and professors who were never condescending to him. He learned “the best way to solve a problem or to have success is through communication and surrounding yourself with the right people, and all those things I feel like were so cemented at Wake for me.”

He hopes his kids will find the same inspiration. “Wake athletics does a really cute thing, and when a former player has a kid … you get a national letter of intent,” Blucas says. “They think it’s a joke, but I’m holding them to it.”