Doomsday is approaching. The existence of SEC Country is sadly about to go “poof!” into the abyss of the internet. It’s unfortunate because all of us at SEC Country have created some terrific stories over the years.
Doing online reporting is not what I wanted to do when I graduated from the University of Florida in 2014. I was a sports anchor for the on-campus television station for two years and had my sights on doing television after college. If you want to check out my college reel, here it is. I had two offers to be a local television sports anchor, in Michigan and Oklahoma. It was at that time where I learned that I could probably make more money working full-time at McDonald’s, so I scratched that plan and waited.
I soon got a message on LinkedIn from a recruiter at Cox Media Group saying that the company was creating a college football website in the coming months called FanBuzz (now defunct, so maybe I’m bad luck). After talking with the boss, James de Gale, the job was not what I wanted to do. It was mainly going to be aggregation, which I hate. The job was in Atlanta, though, so I didn’t have to worry about either dying of hypothermia in Michigan or of a Category-5 tornado in Oklahoma. I took the job mainly because it was in Atlanta and I knew if I worked hard there would be other opportunities for me in the city.
Fast forward several months. James, my boss at FanBuzz, told me CMG was creating a new sports website, SEC Country, and I would have the opportunity to report. I had very little experience doing digital reporting. I covered men’s tennis at Florida for the student newspaper, but I stopped because I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do.
But CMG took a chance on me.
Before SEC Country launched, I covered Georgia Tech recruiting for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I honestly didn’t know much of anything about recruiting. I didn’t know about official visits. I didn’t know about top 5s or top 10s or how many times recruits changed their minds. I didn’t know about de-committing. It was all foreign to me.
But, I was given a chance.
I covered the Yellow Jackets for just a few weeks before I was thrown into the fire covering Georgia recruiting alongside Jeff Sentell, who has become the big brother I never had.
I’ll never forget Dawg Night 2015. That was the first recruiting camp I worked. Georgia had so many stars at that camp and it was our responsibility to pretty much crank out as many stories as possible. We worked for more than 17 hours that day and it didn’t seem like enough.
Rashan Gary, the nation’s No. 1 recruit who ended up signing with Michigan, was on campus. We were not allowed to talk to recruits while on campus, but I sneakily asked Gary for his number while the staff wasn’t looking. I texted Gary that night to ask about his visit. The first text, which he sent hours after my original message, was blank. We got so excited when Gary responded because we weren’t expecting him to, and all we got was a blank text. We were so delirious, but it was hilarious at the time.
Gary then responded that his visit was a ’10.‘ That story got a ridiculous amount of page views.
I then started covering Alabama in November 2015. Covering Alabama has been an amazing experience. I got paid to go to two national championship games. I never thought that would happen to me.
I grew up in the Bronx where college football is not popular. My parents didn’t go to college, neither did my grandparents, so I didn’t have a team to care about. I didn’t watch my first college football game until I was in high school. Covering college football is not what I dreamed about when I was growing up in the Bronx.
So when the national anthem started before Alabama-Clemson Part II, I started to tear up. I pulled a Knowshon Moreno. I just couldn’t believe where I was. All of the hard work I had put into my entire life led me to cover a national championship game before I was 25 years old. It was incredible. Obviously, the result for Alabama ended up not being incredible.
This job took me to places I never thought I would go. Growing up, my family didn’t have the most money in the world, and not much has changed. When we moved to Florida, the only vacation we would take would be to New York City to visit our family. We would drive from Jacksonville to NYC because we couldn’t afford plane tickets.
But this job took me to Hawaii, where I got to snorkel and go on a submarine. I got to go to Portland and climb a waterfall. I went to San Francisco and saw the Golden Gate Bridge.
I got to do things I couldn’t have imagined when I was younger. I got to dream big. I got to learn about so many different people from all walks of life. I got to see how other people deal with their struggles and how they move on. I learned how people rebound after heartbreaking losses.
This job taught me about life. It brought me so many friendships that I’ll cherish forever. The site may no longer exist in a few days, but it can’t erase the memories I have.
And I can’t forget the readers.
I still think it’s the coolest thing how people trust me to provide information, to entertain, to perhaps provide an escape from what they might be going through. It’s cool as hell that you guys read my work. You guys ask me questions. You guys thank me for just doing my job. I can’t say how much that all meant to me.
And, of course, thank you for trusting me when I said that Najee Harris wasn’t going to Michigan.
With all that being said, here are my favorite stories:
Feature writing is what I love. For the most part, recruiting writers just provide the basics when it comes to the players they cover. I would go insane if I was just providing recruiting updates, so I told stories.
Reichard’s positivity was infectious when I talked to him.
Learning about Jake and how he doesn’t let Down syndrome affect him inspired me so much that after talking with his family, I marked in my calendar to volunteer for Night to Shine, which is a prom for people with special needs. I never seen so many happy people before in one building and I can’t wait to continue volunteering for the event.
Najee Harris is one of the most special kids I’ve come in contact with. Learning what he’s been through and the sacrifices he’s made was inspiring. Najee didn’t let the negativity win. Instead, he thanked those who were always there for him.
Elliot Baker was set to become a firefighter after graduating from high school until a coach from the junior college directly across the street from school spotted him.
JJ Peterson has had a difficult life, but Rush Propst is one of the few people who has never let him down.
The first time I talked to Tua Tagovailoa, I could tell he was different. He wasn’t like any other recruit I had talked to. This was the first of many stories I wrote on Tagovailoa.
We all know by now that Paul Tyson is Bear’s great-grandson. Paul and his father reflected and told some great stories of being connected to Alabama.
Ben Davis was one of my favorite players to talk to in the 2016 class. I was at his commitment ceremony and talked to him and his father, Wayne, who is the leading tackler in Alabama history.
This was the first feature story I ever wrote, so this one will always be special to me.
Jaheim Oatis was offered by Alabama in the eighth grade, but that’s not what makes him special.