Junior Mary Kate Drews, a sports photographer at Hillsdale College, officially photographed her first NFL game in November of 2018 and has continued shooting various games and events for them ever since.
Although Drews has had a camera in her hands since freshman year of high school, she never imagined it would take her this far.
“My dad bought a camera one day because my siblings and I all played sports,” Drews said. “He bought it to follow us around through our JV and varsity sports. He was always encouraging me to try it too.”
Once she graduated from high school, Drews attended Belmont University and worked with their men’s basketball team. She later transferred to Hillsdale and photographed nearly every sport, specifically putting her skills to work for every team’s media day except, ironically, for football.
“I wanted to do a summer internship outside of Hillsdale,” Drews said. “I was born and raised here and it can be a little boring, as you can imagine. I wanted to get out, so I ended up cold calling every sports team in the Midwest.”
Rather than searching for a job, Drews was on the hunt for an interview that would create connections for work experiences after the summer.
“I got in touch with the Chicago Bears photographer that had just been hired,” Drews said. “He was a young guy and really willing to help me. He walked me through his steps of getting a photojournalism degree and working with the Kansas City Chiefs for his internship before moving to Chicago.”
Less than two months after Drews’s phone call with the Bears’ photographer, she was contacted and asked to help shoot the Lions v. Bears Thanksgiving football game.
“November rolls around and I get a phone call from him. He said, ‘Hey, you live near Detroit, right?’ and I was like ‘Yeah of course!’ even though I was actually two hours out,” Drews said. He asked if I was available and without checking my calendar I was like, ‘Oh absolutely, I’ll be there.’”
Drews was a secondary shooter for the Thanksgiving game as well as a photo runner, which consisted of running cards back and forth to the media room, selecting photos to download, and sending them off to Chicago. After Drews’s first real experience on the professional sidelines, she got invited to multiple galas, conventions, and training seasons throughout the rest of the school year and into summer.
“It was a great experience,” Drews said. “I didn’t really think anything would come of it, but I told him I was really interested in working in this field, and went about it in my head as professionally as I possibly could without being too excited.”
While advancing her career outside of the college, Drews also works on and off the field with Hillsdale, revealing the genuine relationship that the athletic faculty works to cultivate between coach and player.
“The coaches here definitely invest in their athletes in a way that not a whole lot of people are willing to,” Drews said.
Assistant football coach Nick Galvan offered some insight into Drews’s work with the team.
“Mary Kate has made a huge impact on the football program and athletic department,” Galvan said, “not only with her ability to capture great moments with her photography, but also her ability to create cutting edge material for social media. From early on we told Mary Kate that we were going to let her be creative and come up with content and ideas.”
Galvan stressed the department’s gratitude for Drews’s work as well as their hopes that she stays with them throughout her college career.
“Throughout the season we were able to put a lot of trust in her with everything that she did,” Galvan said. “We are going to have some big shoes to fill when she is gone.”
Amidst Drews’s busy life between the NFL and collegiate sports, she has been able to find a joy in photography that she didn’t expect when she first started out.
“I genuinely enjoy sports photography for the reason that it’s capturing moments that are kind of difficult to capture,” Drews said. “I think there’s some pride that comes with being able to capture the photos, but also seeing the reactions of people when they see the photos.”
Although Drews works non-stop to take photos and provide content for different platforms and departments, she said the hard work is all worth it in the end.
“When I send my photos to NFL players, they get so excited and really cherish those moments because they are putting their whole lives into it, and they get to relive all of that passion in a picture.”