Tony Castricone’s path to becoming the voice of the Washington Huskies started in the unlikeliest of places: An ice cream shop.
He was working at a Graeter’s Ice Cream store in suburban Columbus, Ohio, when he was at a crossroads. Would he go run track at a Division III college with the hopes of being a high school math teacher and a cross-country coach? Or would he attend Ohio University, one of the best broadcast journalism programs in the nation, to become a play-by-play announcer?
“For a week, I would just say ‘Hi. Welcome to Graeter’s. What can I get for you today?’ ” Castricone recalls. “I swear, twice-a-day for that whole week, someone would say, ‘Wow, you have a great voice. You should get into broadcasting.’
“I was just like, ‘Maybe I should, maybe I should.’ ”
Any Huskies fans listening to basketball games this season have already heard Castricone’s rich, baritone voice. More fans will get to know Castricone over the next year when he replaces longtime announcer Bob Rondeau for UW football games.
The man tasked with telling stories has a pretty interesting one himself. Castricone’s personal journey led him to driving through 36 states in 40 days – a trip paid for by his performing country music. He writes his own songs, has an interest in Christian theology and proposed to his wife in front of the White House.
Castricone’s professional trek is also of interest. He’s worked with big names like ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit and CBS’s Allie LaForce. He’s called Atlantic Coast Conference basketball games while doing studio work for Notre Dame and Ohio State football games.
Now he’s behind the microphone and serves in one of the most important roles within UW’s athletics setup.
“You get the Mount Rushmore of Washington athletics and its currently Chris Petersen, Mike Hopkins, Jen Cohen and the voice of the Huskies,” said Steve Gahler, who is the general manager of Washington IMG Sports Marketing.
“Those are the four positions and we needed someone who can fit in there. Hopkins loves him. Petersen loves him. Jen Cohen loves him too.”
Castricone’s rise was gradual. His first job came in October 2003 when he was still a college student at Ohio. He was sports director at a radio station in Athens, Ohio, where he did everything from call high school football games to playing Top 40 hits.
A year later, he was named the sports editor of the Athens Messenger and won an Associated Press sportswriting award for “Best Breaking Sports News” on the hiring of football coach Frank Solich.
By 2005, he was hired by WBNS in Columbus, which was the flagship station for Ohio State. Castricone was a reporter and fill-in host for talk shows where he worked alongside Herbstreit and Chris Spielman.
His goal was to do play-by-play but after receiving no job offers for that role, Castricone created his own website in 2009 to broadcast local high school football games.
That same year, he began calling Ohio women’s basketball games where his color commentator was LaForce.
“At that point I decided I wanted to get into play-by-play,” he said. “Then in April 2010 and after five years, (WBNS) laid me off. I was pretty shaken by the layoff and really wondered if I had a future in radio at all.
“I’d never lived outside of Ohio and I thought to myself, ‘Well, maybe it’s time to start something else.’ ”
Castricone used the summer for an epic two-month road trip to figure out his next step. He would sing and play guitar at open mic nights to pay for gas. There were days when he slept on the couch of a friend or a stranger between stops.
Singing and songwriting is something Castricone takes seriously. He’s written around 75 songs and at one time, was a card-carrying member of the Nashville Songwriters Association International.
During his trip, he was offered and accepted a part-time job from the ISP Sports Network in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. On his first day, ISP was acquired by IMG College but Castricone was retained.
While at IMG, he took a job doing play-by-play for Galax High in Virginia. Castricone also did work as the women’s basketball announcer for Radford University in Virginia.
“That eight months I was part-time at IMG, I was as broke as a joke. I remember going to a high school game exhausted. ... I was swiping my debit card and the 5-hour Energy (drink) bounced. I didn’t have enough money to buy a 5-hour Energy,” he said. “I was working three jobs ... I had three part-time jobs in two states. I drove 30,000 miles that winter and I was loving it.
“I didn’t even have enough money for a bed. I was sleeping on the floor of my apartment. I bought a $40 couch off Craigslist, but I was loving it because I was doing play-by-play.”
By April 2011, he was promoted by IMG to a full-time role as a network manager. He could finally buy a bed and was filling in on Division I play-by-play broadcasts.
He would have a six-year run as the pregame, halftime and postgame host for Notre Dame football on the school’s radio network.
Castricone, in September 2014, accepted the Clemson men’s basketball play-by-play job while still doing hosting work for Notre Dame football.
Even with his job, Castricone had interests outside of sports and singing. He took a Christian philosophy and theology online class in January. In that course, he talked to a fellow student on a message board about the content.
His classmate recommended he read a book by one of her favorite authors and she included her email. He read the book and it led to him asking if they could talk about it over phone.
This would become the first phone conversation between Castricone and his future wife, Selena. She admitted to having some reluctance but decided to give the phone call a shot.
“I knew in our first conversation that I was substantially more interested in getting to know who he was,” Selena said. “He was just so good conversationally and was emotionally intelligent. There was a (different) essence to the conversation.”
Selena lived in San Diego while Castricone lived in North Carolina. By the time it was clear there was a romantic interest, they decided to go on a date.
They did it through Facetime. He drank a glass of whiskey while she had a glass of wine.
“The giddy, excited feelings started happening from there,” she said. “I think I knew pretty quickly. This is the one.”
Soon, they started dating and used their iPhones to enhance their relationship. A three-hour time difference meant playing phone tag could be hard. So they decided to use the voice memo app to keep tabs on each other.
“It was a cute thing at first. But now we have 100 to 200 voice memos. They were increasing in length and depth,” Selena said. “It really tracked the progress of our relationship.”
They met in March when Tony flew to San Diego for a weekend.
Two months later, they were engaged. They went to Washington, D.C., to hear one of their favorite authors.
Selena said they talked about getting engaged but did not expect for Castricone to propose in front of the White House.
“He handed his phone to a tourist and asked he could take a picture of us. Actually, he had it on video,” she said. “He gets down on his knee and it’s being recorded. It was like this public proposal and people were clapping.”
With Selena being from California, the ideal situation was for Castricone to move out west. He applied for jobs in the Mountain West and the Pac-12.
Castricone said he was in the final three for the Nevada job but removed himself from the process because he had a feeling about the UW job. Gahler, after having a Skype session, flew Castricone to Seattle for a formal interview.
Gahler said UW was looking for someone who could do more than broadcast games. IMG wanted someone who had marketing and multimedia skills.
The next voice of the Huskies had to be versatile in order to serve the newest wave of fans.
“First and foremost, he had the chops,” Gahler said of Castricone. “He had the voice, the background and enough big-time stuff to know what he had.”
Gahler said Castricone’s personality won over several people including Cohen, Hopkins and Petersen.
“If you’ve listed to basketball games, he and (color commentator) Jason Hamilton have a great rapport,” Gahler said. “He has that. He has that ability to take it beyond just calling games.”
It’s why UW tapped Castricone to be Rondeau’s replacement.
Selena said she and her parents landed in the airport for their engagement party when Castricone told her the news.
“I think I screamed and started crying in the airport,” she said. “It was a scene. Not only am I getting to be with this person, we’re moving to Seattle and he lands his dream job. It was awesome.”
Castricone packed his entire life into a moving truck and drove 2,400 miles in six days to Temecula, Calif. He married Selena the next day and the couple then drove north on Interstate 5 to Seattle.
Getting the UW job was like cashing in on a dream for Castricone. He’d always wanted to be a full-time play-by-play announcer but was hoping to do it somewhere special.
He said UW was the perfect storm. It was a school with a basketball and football tradition. Seattle is a major market and there was a rabid fan base.
There was another thing, too. Rondeau. He listened to Rondeau for years and was always in awe of what he did on the airwaves.
“I’ve listened to Bob for the last seven years when I worked at IMG,” Castricone said. “He’s as good of a play-by-play guy as there is in the country.”
Castricone understands the gravity of what comes with replacing a legend like Rondeau.
He said he’s not thinking about what he needs to do three years or 30 years from now.
All he wants to do is live up to a high standard, give fans what they deserve and be a part of the community in the process.
“In some ways, it’s ‘How the hell did I get here?’ ” Castricone remarked. “But in other ways, you just follow the Yellow Brick Road.”
Ryan S. Clark: @ryan_s_clark