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Reflections of a Football Writer During Freshman Move-In Day

It was bound to happen sometime.  I got the message from a friend of mine, whom I met with a whole bunch of other guys at Lehigh heading up to Rathbone dining hall so very long ago.

He had just dropped his own son off at college.

He remembered heading up to Rathbone with all those guys and gals that first weekend in South Bethlehem, brought together almost at random, the only thing really linking everyone together being they got in to Lehigh.  We didn't know it then, but it was the first step of an exciting adventure that, for all of us, anyway, would be rewarding and wonderful.

I didn't initially get into this writing thing to talk about how great it was to be a student at Lehigh, oddly enough, though for me it was, indeed, great.  I've gotten here over time, after writing about an awful lot of football games, writing about the Patriot League, writing about Football Championship Subdivision, or FCS, and about "what I damn please ( a term coined by my grandmother concerning my grandfather, incidentally).

Like my time at Lehigh, my writing life started small, and unexpectedly has become an exciting adventure that has continued to be rewarding and wonderful.  Even if, sometimes, I hate my own writing and wish it were better, or I wish I could attend just one more practice before I make a preview, or I wish I could get one more interview of Bucknell's head football coach at Media Day.

This weekend I submitted what was, I felt, the 27th version of my book proof to be published and sent to me.  Like the other 26, I felt like this one is going to be the one to put up on Amazon and hopefully in your local neighborhood bookstore.  But this time I this this is really it.

I'm sure move-in day is something that parents see coming from a few years away, but this weekend it really was it.  Years of college visits, applications, scholarships, fingernail-biting and everything else is over.  You did it; your son or daughter is on their way, offered one of the best springboards from which they can jump towards the rest of their lives.

This week my friend had all his early college experiences rush back towards him like the tide.  Most people, I think, don't think about these types of things as much as I do.  Like a guy whose house is on the shore, I see and hear the tide every day.

What I don't always do is sit back and think about how I got here.

One of the things I ask myself is, if someone came up to you and said they wanted to write about their favorite college team, what advice would you give them?

I would think back to how I got started in all of this.

You might think, if you go back in The Brown and White digital archives, you might see tons of paeans to the Lehigh Football gods with me or my pen name in there.  But you won't.

You may speculate that I did time in, say, The LA Times traveling to Kosovo to cover the U.S. led bombing campaign against the Serbians - starting a swashbuckling career as a foreign correspondent, after finally getting away from near-death experiences to write about what I love, Lehigh football.  But you'd be wrong.

I came to this writing thing with little in the way of journalistic tools.

Heavily influenced by this
What little I would be able to piece together was the (mostly erroneous) conclusion that great sports journalism essentially was the domain of Sports Illustrated and perhaps the college football preview magazines that I would religiously read.

I would also call upon the books I voraciously read as a kid, Zander Hollander's compilation of great football stories.  (It would be years later when I would finally, dimly, figure out that Hollander simply got the accounts of very good sportswriters and put them in his book.)

Living overseas without an internet to consult, these stories became a big part of my identity.  Stories about QB Johnny Unitas or reading some article about QB Jim McMahon that made me hate him were what I connected to emotionally.

Much later, when I looked around at the internet and didn't see nearly enough Lehigh content present there, I decided that I would make my own content.

That's how the precursor to this blog came about sixteen years ago, and how everything really got started.

I rapidly learned you didn't need to be Grantland Rice to get into the game of writing about sports.  All you pretty much needed was a point of view and a passion for writing about it.  Trying to mimic the best sportswriters of our time - and figuring out exactly who they were, and why some are great and others suck - was simply a bonus I tried to bring to the table.

It probably also helped that I really don't do a very good job of taking advice from anybody.  I alone went through the agonizing process of trying what works, making mistakes, sometimes really bad ones, and trying to get better from my writings.

I think it also helps that I'm pretty vicious when I go over my own writing.  You'd think, with the frequency of errors in my text, grammatical, content-related or otherwise, that I'd get better at getting the facts all straight and getting the grammar right, but you'd be wrong.  Every time I make a post and I see the error post-posting, a fire burns inside me while I quickly try to edit it behind the scenes so nobody notices.

From talking about Lehigh, I tried to bring my writing national.  While I'd say my primary focus is Lehigh football, Lehigh sports and the Patriot League, Lehigh - you may have heard - competes in Football Championship Subdivision, or FCS.  They share something in common with North Dakota State, so when decisions are being made in college sports that affect FCS, it's something I think people should care about.  I care about it.

I also set up Lehigh's fan community, called the Lehigh Sports Forum.  Originally there was a free forum set up by Rich Heelan, but the limitations of that free forum were becoming well known and needed an upgrade.  I used my knowledge to make it happen, and now it's a part of the fabric of Lehigh fans everywhere.

Hey - don't I know you?
I've written national columns previewing and summarizing FCS games.  I've seen Chip Kelly's UNH teams in person and I've seen Marquez Colston, Terrance West, Ben Ijalana, and more future NFL players in person than you might imagine.  Here I try to still do some of that type of national previewing, but through a Lehigh lens, trying to show what I care about at the FCS level so that perhaps you might check it out, too.

I never really knew what the FCS was until I came to Lehigh as a freshman lo those many years ago.  Back then I had passion for football, but it wasn't easy to find out what happened.  Watching the ESPN crawl for the results of Lehigh's football game passed for sports information in those days, along with all my pals.  Now, some of them have started dropping their kids off at college.

From there came my book about the early Rivalry, which, as previously mentioned, should be out very soon.  From that experience I learned that writing blog postings and tweets are one thing, but making all those disparate stories flow as a real book is a challenge.  (Not to mention the same burning anger I have towards blog grammatical errors and imperfections become even more pronounced when making a book.)

But back to the original question.  If someone right out of school - not a professional journalist - who was a fan of, say, Delaware State, wanted to set up a fan community, preview games, talk about full cost of attendance, or whatever they damn well please, what would I say?

I'd probably say, yes, it can be done.  It is what I've done.

But if you're going to do it, it's a big commitment.  It takes a lot of lunch breaks and late nights.  It requires a very understanding spouse, one that won't mind you yammering about your latest "great" piece of writing or your latest aggravating idiot post mistake.  It requires you to keep the spambots away, injuring trolls. and trying to stay creative to keep things fresh.  It requires you to be pulled in many different directions, meaning frequently you don't do anything as perfectly as you could, or want.

And yet it's something I love to do.  I love writing about something that made my college life great, something I really discovered in earnest as a freshman at Lehigh and never really left me.  I always want Lehigh football players and Lehigh athletes to know that there are people out there that really are paying attention and obsess over the details the same way some sports fans obsess about OF Mike Trout's batting average.

I've learned not to wonder about why people read your stuff, just realize that they do, and you have a responsibility to make it the best it can be.

You need to talk about the highs when they come, and the lows when they happen.  If you're disappointed, tell them.  If you're sky-high with happiness, tell them how, and why, it happened.  Independence is so critical - we live in a world when media is getting bought by the deep-pocketed, especially in sports media.

That's why I do this.  I can be a unique independent voice of Lehigh athletics, the Patriot League and FCS, reportable to nobody but myself, and you.  It is something precious that more people should do, I think, but it takes work and a lot of sleepless nights, so I don't begrudge them for not doing it.

I'll keep trying to do my best.  Hope y'all like it.  Today is the first step in another exciting adventure at Lehigh.  It's an exciting first step for me, too.


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