Emily Starkey shares her journey from high school photographer to K-State Football creative

Emily Starkey, K-State Athletics Coordinator of Football Creative, poses for a photo with her camera in hand. (Photo Courtesy of Emily Starkey)

Kansas State football’s social media presence has taken off in the last two years. While part of that coincides with the hiring of head coach Chris Klieman in 2018, another part is the person behind the team’s creative media, Emily Starkey.

Starkey, a 2019 K-State graduate with a degree in journalism and mass communications, is the coordinator of football creative for K-State Athletics. While social media plays a major role in her job, photography helped her break into the field.

“When I was in high school I didn’t know what I wanted to do, all I knew was I liked taking pictures of football,” Starkey said.

A graduate of Wamego High School, Starkey was the editor-in-chief and main photographer for the yearbook. Taking photos throughout high school, Starkey said that there is one particular photo that stands out.

“I had a classmate who was one of my dearest friends. His dad passed away on the day of a football game,” Starkey said. “I knew he had written on his wrist tape, ‘Rest In Peace KH’ which was his dad’s initials. So my goal was to get a photo of that, and I got an amazing photo.”

That one photo introduced Starkey to her love for sports photography and led to an internship with the Smoke Signal, Wamego’s newspaper, while she was still in high school. After her internship, Starkey still didn’t know what she wanted to do or where she wanted to go for college.

“I thought I was going to KU to be a nurse which is crazy because that kind of stuff freaks me out,” Starkey said.

A day in government class changed her mind from nursing at KU to photography at K-State.

“We were looking up stuff on Barack Obama and I was looking at the photos of him and thought they were so cool. Eventually, I looked at the byline and it said Pete Souza, so I clicked on the link, which took me to his bio and it said Kansas State University,” Starkey said. “At that point, I decided I was going to go to K-State and become the next Pete Souza.”

Taking photos of the Wildcat football team was her first goal when she decided to attend K-State. Before stepping foot on campus, Starkey started working for the Kansas State Collegian as a photographer.

“I worked so much that summer that they let me start shooting football as a freshman,” Starkey said. “After my first semester, I was named photo editor.”

From the Collegian, Starkey got an internship with GoPowercat.com, the 24/7 Sports affiliate for K-State Athletics. That experience eventually turned into an internship with K-State Athletics during her senior year of college.

“I was the creative intern, so I was not just taking photos,” Starkey said. “I was doing some graphics, video and social media.”

As an intern for K-State, Starkey learned about the creative media position in sports from Spencer LaHaye, the recruiting graphic designer for K-State at the time.

“Once I figured out that was a career, I decided I wanted to do it. Who wouldn’t want to make cool stuff for social media and take photos of the team?” Starkey said.

Her time as an intern at K-State included working heavily with the football and men’s basketball teams. During her time, Starkey was part of the 2019 men’s basketball Big 12 Championship and even helped market the hiring of Chris Klieman.

“I cannot say enough good things about my internship,” Starkey said. “It was the best year, and I don’t think there’s a better internship out there.”

After her internship with K-State athletics, she transitioned into the role she has now with the Wildcats — as the coordinator of football creative.

“My favorite part of the job is building brands,” Starkey said. “I love building relationships with the staff and the student-athletes and being able to promote them and tell their story.”

Her energy is something that her co-workers notice about her.

“She is a ball of energy,” director of social media and digital engagement Jay Moline said. “I almost don’t have to worry about football social media because of her. We have our best person in charge of our highest revenue sport.”

Her job puts her in charge of the social media platforms for the football team, as well as taking photos for the team. The social media accounts not only help build the K-State brand for the fans but potential recruits as well.

“She does a great job and is on top of things that are trendy in a timely manner,” K-State football scouting analyst Chuck Lillie said. “She makes sure K-State is a valuable social media page for fans and recruits.”

As of April 8, the K-State football Twitter account has over 100,000 followers.

“She does a phenomenal job of capturing stories and lives of people involved with K-State football,” Lillie said. “She is very highly skilled at storytelling.”

One example of the creativity that Starkey brings to the table for K-State Athletics is the 2021 schedule release video on the K-State Football social media accounts. In the video, football players played the game “Heads Up” to guess the teams they would be playing on certain weeks of the season.

“Heads Up was really fun to do and the guys had a lot of fun with it too,” Starkey said. “I was really worried about how it would go over but seeing all the positive affirmation was good.”

The other main platform for the K-State football team is the TikTok account.

“At first I didn’t understand TikTok but flash forward to now and it is my favorite platform,” Starkey said. “I think it’s the number one platform for growth of a brand. Because of our TikTok following, we have gained more followers on Twitter and Instagram.”

K-State football’s TikTok is currently third in likes and fifth in followers out of every FBS school. Sitting just behind Ohio State, Tennessee, Georgia and Clemson in terms of followers, Starkey is doing everything she can to try and pass those schools.

“I am game-planning for how to pass Ohio State in TikTok followers like the coaches prepare to beat teams,” Starkey said. “I have their follower count written in my office.”

Doing what Starkey has done with K-State football’s social media brand is no easy feat. Even with the stress that may come from a position like hers, Starkey couldn’t be happier with the job that she has.

“I love my job,” Starkey said. “I’m not sure many people can say that they love their job right out of college.”