Forgive me ‘Pac but it seems like the perfect headline for a story about college and my craft. About the same time that 2Pac’s All Eyez On Me came out, I went to Virginia Tech to start my freshman year with hopes of being an author.
A little ways into my campaign I found out through the school’s newspaper (Collegiate Times, memories) that they were looking for a sports writer/intern and they needed them ASAP for a special story. Me being a typical Southern male and Virginia Tech student I was crazy about the football team and played basketball any time I could.
What you have to keep in mind here is that VT at this time was about 24,000 and the town I was coming from was only about 8,000 so I was experiencing a bit of fish out of water syndrome. I was doing ok, making it to most (music appreciation on Tuesdays I could NOT get up for) classes on time and I was doing my best to adjust to a roommate and a dorm that is notoriously wild. Hokies know Pritchard Hall, if you don’t know Pritchard ask a Hokie. In fact my year was the year of the fire alarm, it got to be so bad that it was almost once a day. I believe one night I even slept through one as scary as that sounds. Then there’s the food and while they say the food has gotten better, back then there were places you only went if you had spare time afterward. I’m sure most colleges have places like that.
I went to the CT and I asked them if they were still offering the intern/writer position and indeed they were. They asked if I was a writer which I could check that off and they got to the sports part. What did I know about sports and football in particular? Really? Oh I’ve only been coming to Lane for years. I saw Tech play in two Gator Bowls and I know they just won the Sugar Bowl and I was hoping for more.
I guess I BS’ed my way through whatever because they gave me the surprise gig, which surprised me. I was told to go up to the football practice field no show them my CT press badge, stand on the sideline, watch practice and then interview Coach Frank Beamer. Ok. So I’m not even sure what happened after that. I don’t remember leaving there. I just remember I somehow found my way to practice and I remember Coach’s whistle. Here I was an 18 year old kid way out of his depth and I’m supposed to write a piece about one of the best teams in college football? Excuse me? My first semester in college? Huh? I’m way lost this isn’t happening to me.
I found my way to this open space and this guy comes along on crutches. He said his name was Tee (Tee Butler from New Jersey) he had a knee injury and he was a freshman too. He had gotten hurt during the first couple of days of spring drills and was recovering from surgery. I think he was looking for someone to talk to and someone to pick on because he could tell I was in over my head. But he made me laugh and he was really great. I don’t know if I ever got to thank him but he made me feel much more at ease on the sidelines, because for a young kid to see something like that up,close is like Rudy seeing Notre Dame practice up close.
When the time came to interview Frank Beamer I’m certain I asked stupid questions. No doubt he knew I was nervous and lost as well, especially when you consider the national media that bugs him all the time. I will tell you I’ve read his book and he talks about taking time for people and treating people fairly and nice. This man took time out of his schedule after practice for me and was polite and answered every one of my questions, I have nothing but the greatest respect for him. He probably doesn’t remember it but his was the first interview I ever had…I suppose I’ll never be able to top that. Or at least I haven’t yet. This was before the Mike Vick years and the ACC so we talked about the Big East and the Sugar Bowl. It was fun but way too short.
My interview and story were put in the CT, bottom half of the sports section on the front page. I have a copy in my closet. I pull it out every now and then to remind myself that I’ve been that close to one of the greatest college football coaches of all time and I’ve interviewed the man. To think what I could have done if I didn’t quit after that, I just felt overwhelmed. It’s a shame really, but I couldn’t help it, I was star struck, I needed more experience with someone guiding me and they weren’t going to do it. So I knew my work was going to suffer. Tough decision. I guess my ambitions never changed, I always wanted to be the best and be in the presence of the best.