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Media Pretender: My Year in the Press Box

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With the season over, I wanted to take a step back and give readers a little glimpse into the press box. I’ve always watched guys like Michael Wilbon and the goons on Around the Horn and thought, “How sweet would it be to cover sports for a living, attending free events  and being paid to watch games?” While that wasn’t exactly the case, I did get a little taste of that dream, spending Saturday’s this fall in the box at Beaver Stadium.

First, I want to thank Jeff Nelson, the “Assistant Athletic Director/Communications” for Penn State and specifically football. He’s the one who in charge and makes the final call when it comes to access.  Jeff runs the show behind the show on Saturdays. I’ve seen him at the stadium in a suit at 9 a.m. and looking the exact same, suit unwrinkled, 12 hours later. The guy is a machine. He also found a seat for yours truly in the press box…so he obviously isn’t perfect! Anyways, I owe him a huge debt of gratitude.

My first “media” experience was at the Spring Game when I was granted access to watch the scrimmage from the booth. I had to watch the game on DVR because I was so nervous that day that I barely remembered anything from the game. I spent the day looking around thinking “That’s BOB FLOUNDERS!” “Corey Giger is RIGHT THERE!” Going into that day, these guys were like celebrities to me. I was doing my best to follow the pros and fit in while not being an obnoxious fan in the presence of them. I sat in the post-game press conference in awe of what was going on around me. Bill O’Brien sat 30 feet away from me, addressing questions from the same guys who I have been reading for years. Following that, they bring out individual players in different corners of the room. I wandered around, listening to questions before finally getting up the courage to ask Shawney Kersey about changing in and out of routes at the line of scrimmage. That was it. That was my lone speaking part at the Spring game.

Following that was the Coaches Caravan. When I applied for media access, I felt like my chances were 50/50. I suspected that most of the central PA media would skip the trip to Cleveland, so there’d be room. I also talked Jared Slanina of Black Shoe Diaries into applying, partially because I wanted somebody else to be scared as hell with me. As it turned out, Jared and I were both granted media access. We were the only ones. We made the trip together and were sitting in the media room together realizing that nobody else was coming. Jeff Nelson came in and said that O’Brien would be there in a few minutes. Jared and I met coach OB and kept him busy asking questions for 17 minutes like a couple of vets. I’m pretty sure Bill was a little annoyed by the end but we kept the questions football-related and we both knew that this was an opportunity we would likely never get again. Once we were done, I picked up my recorder, shook Bill O’Brien’s hand and sat back down, not sure what had just happened.

In the summer, I decided to take a shot at season credentials. I had been granted access to the spring game and the Coaches Caravan and hadn’t done anything yet to embarrass myself. Why not give it a shot! I waited until a week before the season to hear that I had been granted credentials. By the time I got the email, I was already making plans for gameday with some friends, assuming I had been passed on. Behind the scenes, I imagine Jeff and his crew hoping that they’d get requests from someone slightly more high profile than a blogger in Ohio. Thankfully, the main stream media had already spent the last 9 months chewing up and spitting out Penn State so there was an open seat with my name on it.

With a little better feel for the process, I got into the box for the week 1 game against Ohio. I found my seat between Kevin McGuire of Nittany Lions Den, Examiner and ,like six other sites and Drew Balis of Onward State. I originally met Drew after the spring game when I gave him a ride from the stadium to his apartment. He later introduced me to Cafe and we kept in touch through the summer. This was my first meeting with Kevin, but we had become “twitter-familiar.”

Couple notes on my press box partners: Thank you guys for putting up with me all Fall: I can’t imagine spending Fall Saturdays with two better guys. Nobody works harder than Kevin McGuire. While I’m sitting there, randomly taking notes from the game, Kevin is writing articles for his various commitments with additional windows open on his computer watching Division 2 playoff games. He is constantly on the hustle and I wish him the best. He’s a quality guy and a really good writer. I feel like it’s only a matter of time before he is staring at a tremendous opportunity and he deserves it. Also, I’m pretty sure he’s the only person who knows where the fire escape from the press box is located. Sure beats the hell out of that long elevator wait! Thanks, Kevin.

I was always fascinated with Drew and the others at Onward State. These are college kids running a legit operation from the inside out. While several members of the media covered the last year of Penn State from an outside perspective, Drew and the OS guys were given the unique opportunity of covering the school they attend and the football team they have cheered for from a purely professional standpoint. There is no other student newspaper in the country who has ever been put in such a difficult position, what with the scandal and all. Still, Drew showed up every week to every media-accessible event and stood shoulder to shoulder with the big boys who cover Penn State athletics and watching him work the room, you’d never know he was anything other than a seasoned member of the media. The OS guys are going to leave college with field experience that very few people in the real world have. Whoever lands Drew on their staff post-PSU will be getting an experienced pro, fresh out of college. For selfish reasons, I hope he’s able to stay in the central PA market. He’s good at it.

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