From a young age, Louisiana sports reporter Carley McCord pushed the limits of what she could accomplish. At the age of 14, she won second place in a national power-lifting competition, bench-pressing 180 pounds while weighing only 97 herself.
“I’m not a very big person, but big things come in small packages,” she said in a 2014 radio interview.
McCord, 30, was among those killed in a Lafayette plane crash Saturday. She was on the way to Atlanta for the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Saturday morning, the family announced.
McCord's husband, Steven Ensminger Jr. was not on the plane, and confirmed to The Associated Press that his wife was a passenger on the small plane departing Lafayette. Ensminger's father is the offensive coordinator for LSU, which played Oklahoma in a college football playoff game. Steve Ensminger coached in the game.
LSU head coach Ed Orgeron told ESPN's Holly Rowe before the game, "Our thoughts and prayers out to him. Steve and his wife, his family are so distraught." Rowe said during the broadcast that Orgeron told Ensminger about McCord's death before the kickoff.
McCord graduated from St. Michael's in Baton Rouge and held degrees from Northwestern State in Natchitoches and LSU. Most recently, she was a digital media reporter for the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and the in-game host for the New Orleans Saints of the NFL and the New Orleans Pelicans of the NBA.
"Not only was Carley an excellent representative of the Saints and Pelicans organizations, she was also a highly-respected member of the media covering sports, including the Saints and Pelicans with utmost professionalism for WDSU and CST," said a joint statement from the Saints and Pelicans. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to Carley's family with this tragic loss.
Gayle Benson, the owner of the Saints and Pelicans, also released a statement to the Advocate.
"We are saddened to hear about the sudden loss of Carley McCord," Benson wrote. "She was always full of life and made everyone around her smile. Her energy was contagious and she will be missed by both our Saints and Pelicans family."
Alvin Gentry, coach of the Pelicans, said McCord was “a vibrant personality.”
“Just a really, really tough loss to take,” Gentry said. “She was such an intricate part of everything that went on around here.”
McCord competed in the Miss Louisiana pageant five times, never winning but earning first runner-up two times in a row. McCord told Jim Engster, host of a talk show on WWNO/WRKF, in 2014 that she was not a pageant child, but instead began to participate while at Northwestern State.
Raised in a musical family, she said in the interview she was able to sing for the competition because she was trained, eventually getting swept up in her love of the pageant.
“I learned so many wonderful skills, and it truly is a huge part of my backbone,” McCord said. “I credit it so much when it comes to job interviews and to media interviews.”
As LSU was going through pregame warm-ups for its Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl matchup against Oklahoma, several players made a point to embrace Ste…
She won titles as Miss Baton Rouge, Miss Shreveport and Miss Lafayette throughout her pageant career, but it was the night before her final Miss Louisiana pageant where her life changed forever.
While working for Tiger TV at LSU, she met the then-general manager of the Cleveland Browns, who was impressed enough with her work that he messaged her the night before the pageant to offer her a job covering the Browns in Ohio.
“I went to bed that night thinking: if I win Miss Louisiana, I’ll have a dream job,” she said in the radio interview. “And if I don’t win Miss Louisiana, I’ll have a dream job.”
McCord didn’t win, and 11 days later, she was in Cleveland. Later, she worked for CBS radio in Cleveland. She even rejected an offer to appear as a contestant on ABC’s show "The Bachelor." She received the final invitation a week before she left for Cleveland, she said in the interview.
“I wanted my dream job more,” McCord said. “I’m a very career-oriented and independent young woman and I strive for that first.”
She also did freelance sports reporting for a variety of networks, including Cox Sports Television, ESPN3 and WDSU New Orleans.
“We are devastated by the loss of such an amazing talent and valued member of our WDSU family,” WDSU President and General Manager Joel Vilmenay said. “Carley’s passion for sports journalism and her deep knowledge of Louisiana sports, from high school to the professional ranks, made her an exceptional journalist.
"As we reflect on her impressive body of work, we offer our deepest condolences to her family.”
Two years after landing her first job in Cleveland, the Louisiana native returned home as a radio host for 100.7 The Tiger and 104.5 ESPN Baton Rouge.
"Cannot begin to tell you how saddened the Guaranty Media family is to hear of the passing of our former employee Carley McCord," Guaranty Media president Flynn Foster posted to Twitter. "We are blessed to have many connections to the Ensminger family at Guaranty. She will be missed. Our prayers are with Steve Jr and all of the family."
Born July 24, 1989, McCord graduated from St. Michael in 2007. She was Miss Louisiana runner-up in 2011 and 2012. McCord married Steven Ensminger Jr., the son of LSU's offensive coordinator, on January 26, 2018.
St. Michael's principal, Ellen Lee, said the school community was devastated by the news.
"She was a wonderful student and a tremendously supportive alumna. She visited with our students regularly and provided valuable career counseling," Lee said. "She was, and will always be, a cherished role model.
Advocate staff writers Brooks Kubena and Katelyn Umholtz contributed to this report.