Tag Archives: Onward State

Revisiting a Five-Part Penn State-Ohio State Series I Did Two Years Ago

(Photo credit Dave Cole/Onward State)

In what seems like a bit of an anticlimactic buildup compared to past seasons, Penn State plays Ohio State at Beaver Stadium this Saturday night.

It will mark the first 8 p.m. kick time in State College in nearly four years, and it will be my first time back in Happy Valley in more than six months.

My first few trips back as an alum felt a little weird, but I am looking forward to being reunited with some real life friends and turning Twitter friends into real friends, something that has sort of become a regular activity for me. To be honest, I have barely thought about the actual game.

Unlike the past two seasons, Ohio State does not enter undefeated, and Penn State does not head into the matchup with any momentum as the underdog. Most folks — myself included — are expecting a comfortable Buckeyes victory, but this matchup has featured its share of classics and will again someday, even if that is a few years away.

Back in 2012 when I covered the team for Onward State, I did a five-part series leading in to the Ohio State game that counted down the top five games in the rivalry from a Nittany Lions perspective.

The stories featured extensive game summaries and interviews with fans in attendance who were present for the trilling moments in both State College and Columbus. I thought it might be fun to look back on that series if a little college football history is your thing.

You can read all five parts linked below:

Counting Down the Most Memorable Penn State-Ohio State Games: 2001

Counting Down the Most Memorable PSU-OSU Games: 1997

Counting Down the Most Memorable Penn State-Ohio State Games: 1994

Counting Down the Most Memorable PSU-OSU Games: 2008

Counting Down the Most Memorable PSU-OSU Games: 2005

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Penn State Has Replaced Allen Robinson Quicker than Almost Everyone Expected

(Photo credit to Dave Cole/Onward State)

Perhaps one of the biggest — and most pleasant — surprises on Penn State’s young season is that the offense does not ‘miss’ Allen Robinson nearly as much as many folks anticipated.

That lede is not at all intended to be a knock on Robinson. He would be having another great year catching passes from Christian Hackenberg had he elected to stay for his senior season, but the Nittany Lions passing game is operating just fine with him in Jacksonville.

The two Nittany Lions responsible for this almost seamless transition are true sophomore Geno Lewis and redshirt freshman DaeSean Hamilton.

Lewis’ breakout goes back to the season finale against Wisconsin last year when he posted a career-high 91 yards and two touchdowns in an upset win. Lewis has been in full beast mode since then, recording no less than five receptions and 82 yards in every game since.

Hamilton was lesser known than Lewis a month ago, but that held true for all of about three minutes into the season opener when he burst onto the scene against Central Florida. Since then, Hamilton has posted at least 65 yards in all four games.

After Week 1, both receivers were in the Top 10 in the nation for receiving yardage. After Week 2, both of them remained in the Top 14, and following last Saturday, the duo was still right there after playing an instrumental part in Penn State’s comeback against Rutgers. We will provide a current update here when all of the statistics come in following tonight’s games.

As I have pointed out before in those posts, Penn State was the only FBS school with such a distinction, and Hamilton was one of only two players who did not see any snaps in 2013 to rank that high.

Before the season got underway, many believed that the majority of Penn State’s production would come from the tight ends even with Adam Breneman injured. Jesse James has been very good so far, but as of me typing this, 55 of Penn State’s 96 receptions have come via Hamilton and Lewis.

Chart breakdown below:

Opponent Hamilton/Lewis Total Receptions
Central Florida 19 32
Akron 13 22
Rutgers 14 25
Umass 9 17

What. A. Duo.

The way Lewis has progressed has impressed me even more than his raw numbers. He had his moments last season, but I thought he was a bit one-dimensional in terms of running go-routes. When he wasn’t on the receiving end of a perfect deep ball from Hackenberg, he had his share of quiet games including getting completely shut out against Central Florida, Kent State, Illinois, and Minnesota.

The Nittany Lions have not faced the toughest schedule so far, and Hamilton and Lewis will be tested in the coming weeks, but so far, things are going about as well as anyone could have imagined.

The Nittany Lions were able to get the running game going today in a rout against overmatched UMass, but were it not for Hamilton and Lewis, they might be 2-2 rather than 4-0 for the first time since 2008.

Thanks to the recruiting work put in by Bill O’Brien and James Franklin’s staff coaching them up, the Nittany Lions were much more prepared to replace their stud receiver than many folks realized.

Does Penn State miss Allen Robinson? Of course they do, but things are just fine without him right now.

Update: Working on the fly but two more thoughts for you in tweet form:

Lewis and Hamilton Post

Cliff Lee Got Hurt and Everything Sucks

Everyone who would potentially care about Cliff Lee getting hurt already knows that Cliff Lee got hurt last night. I realize that I’m not telling you anything groundbreaking here.

When I introduced this blog, I made it a point to say that despite my previous experience covering sports it wouldn’t be branded as up to the minute sports news.

One of the advantages to operating it how I currently am is that it affords me the luxury of time when I want to reflect on something or maybe go deeper on a topic rather than spitting out a short, immediate take.

I find that when teams go as south as the Phillies have gone, one begins to identify better with individual players on the club than the entity itself. The final result might not matter a whole lot in those situations, but the players you care about still do.

Sometimes things get so bad where a late July game turns into background music while multi-tasking, almost an afterthought until something awful catches your eyes and ears.

When a frustrated and distraught Lee pointed to his elbow and removed himself from a baseball game last night in the third inning, my first thought wasn’t ‘There goes Cliff Lee’s trade value and the Phillies’ August plans.’ Instead it was ‘There goes Cliff Lee, I wonder if I will ever see my favorite pitcher again.’

That approach might be considered overly sensitive by some. When I covered Penn State football, a few people who were known to dislike my coverage thought I was too soft. They wanted a whipping boy every time a game was lost, and while I’m all for holding people accountable and believe I did that, demanding weekly firings wasn’t my style.

On another level, watching the injury unfold made me think about Ryan Howard’s controversial “Want to trade places?” line from a week ago.

Upon first hearing this, most people would probably utter some variation of “HELL YEAH!” When I slow down and think more about it though, it’s a difficult question for only being four words long.

It’s complicated to ponder for me because I point back to what happened less than 24 hours ago. At age 35, Lee’s elbow may have stopped him from doing what he does best. Certainly they are well compensated, but returning to Howard’s question, I’m not sure how I feel about a primary career ending before age 40. Average Joe’s may never have that financial security but also don’t see some of their best attributes erode so quickly.

I don’t have the answers; I just find it interesting to discuss.

What I do know is that if last night was the end for Lee, he deserved better. It is becoming increasingly likely that one of the greatest playoff pitchers of this generation will never see another October.

I don’t want this to completely go the route of eulogizing Lee’s career. He insisted after the game that he simply re-injured the flexor pronator muscle that cost him two months of the season.

Ruben Amaro said earlier this afternoon that there is no evidence of ligament damage. On the opposite side of that good news, he mentioned that Lee would likely see Dr. James Andrews at some point. A visit to Andrews doesn’t mean a pitcher is on track for major surgery, but the name Amaro uttered might be the scariest three words when it comes to sports injuries.

Hopefully this is indeed just a strain and Lee, who averaged 6.5 WAR a season and a 2.89 ERA between 2008-2013, comes back next April good as new, but one has to be realistic.

Think back to Roy Halladay in 2012 and 2013. If one of the hardest working and best-conditioned pitchers the game has ever seen cannot overcome a shoulder injury, that doesn’t leave a ton of hope for others, Combine that example with the Tommy John epidemic sweeping baseball, and it becomes easy to understand the pessimism.

I have been told by people over the years who would know that Lee is kind of a dick to deal with. Every time I hear it, I proceed with a combination of ignorance is bliss and ‘Alright, maybe he is a dick, but he’s our dick’ mindset. Never in any sort of trouble, I had no reason not to love him.

Even though you learn quickly that athletes have plenty of flaws, actually hearing evidence of them and seeing one of your heroes reduced to a mortal can be tough to come to grips with.

Lee earned better, but unfortunately this movie has plenty of previous editions. For as much press and fanfare as Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter’s yearlong farewell tours have received the past two years, there are tons of players every year who aren’t afforded the opportunity to go out on their own due to injury or ineffectiveness, and in some cases both.

Baseball isn’t fair, and last night shortly before 8 p.m. eastern time was another sad reminder of that cold, hard truth.

Lee didn’t need or merit a Rivera or Jeter retirement party, but he deserved far more than walking off the mound yelling “Fuck” on a random Thursday night in Washington D.C with many Phillies fans not even watching.

The baseball gods show no mercy, and last night, they came for Lee’s elbow, zapping him of a once golden arm. What a cruel game sometimes, man.

I want to say this isn’t goodbye, Cliff. It’s see you later, hopefully with a few more memories and a well-deserved standing ovation next spring at Citizens Bank Park, but unfortunately I lost my innocence when it comes to knowing the career trajectory of a baseball player a long time ago.

Right now, it is hard to believe that aforementioned wish with much conviction.

How Do You Internet?

For better or for worse, one of the most effective ways to learn a lot about someone in a quick matter of time these days might be to pose the question shown above.

I remember at my first Onward State meeting Davis had everyone introduce themselves by answering a short list of questions. It went something like: Name, Year, Major, Hometown, Job Title within OS, and Favorite Website.

I typically hate these ice breaker type of exercises. No one takes them too seriously and most don’t even remember what people say, but the last category was intriguing to me. I had never been asked that one before.

Unfortunately, I think I responded with something lame, probably “Twitter.” I love Twitter, but we all love Twitter. We might not all love Facebook, but most of us have those two social media websites open whenever they’re at a computer for a sustained period of time.

We all keep tabs up for Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, some service that plays music, and whatever sites we play fantasy sports through. What else do you do?

In my mind, Twitter serves as a way for news and information to be delivered to us on a silver platter. If I see the New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, or some other outlet tweet a link to some feature I find interesting, click. While what I just mentioned is a somewhat regular exercise of mine, I don’t constantly reserve a precious tab for those sites.

There’s news like that where it’s brought to us, and then there’s news that we proactively seek. We make it a point to visit particular websites as part of our daily routine and spend some time once we get there, reading more than just one piece of content.

This past Thanksgiving, I was trying to explain my news consumption habits to my aunt who I see maybe once a year. “That’s lazy,” she said to me after I went over the basics. “I still read the newspaper.”

Now, my aunt is a pretty brilliant woman who works as an accountant in New York City, and the newspaper that she was specifically referring to is The Wall Street Journal so safe to say she’s getting some quality stuff. Her “that’s lazy” line, however, doesn’t hold much water.

At least not in my eyes when it comes to younger, more Internet savvy news consumers. If anything, I think it’s more efficient. I often feel like there’s too much information on the Internet. We need a way to filter it, otherwise you never get anything done and wander into a sea of mindless reading. No one wants that.

The screenshot above is what my tabs usually look like within five minutes of firing up the Internet. Gmail is the only thing not pictured. The tabs obviously increase from there, but it’s a good, not too messy nor overwhelming start.

Below is a list of the websites I most frequently visit — In other words, How I Internet:

Onward State — So this one is pretty obviously since I worked for the site for two years. Onward State gives you fresh Penn State news, features, and sports every day in an engaging student voice. One day they break the story about the next Penn State president and 72 hours later publish a hilarious video series. That’s how we roll.

Birds 24/7 — This blog is affiliated with Philadelphia Magazine and my personal favorite place to get my Eagles news. The reporters who cover the Eagles are all generally pretty good, but Sheil Kapadia and Tim McManus easily do the best job. They’re everything you want in a beat writer as a fan — Online savvy, not arrogant, respond to questions on Twitter. They have the perfect mix of news, features, statistical analysis, and All-22 film studies. They break news, but they’re not afraid to credit reports if someone gets it before them. College football All-22 breakdowns haven’t completely caught on yet as far as media goes, but I think it’s only a matter of time with sports becoming more visual.

I never found the time to attempt one when I covered Penn State, and it likely would have been a big work in progress, but Birds 24/7 is what I tried to model Onward State’s football coverage after during my time on the beat.

Quick aside: Last summer when I returned home, they posted that they were looking for an intern. I fired off a resume and cover letter as fast as I could. About an hour later, a Philly Mag editor responded to my email with something along the lines of You seem very qualified but unfortunately only current students are eligible for this, not recent graduates. I will keep your resume on file for the future. 

Damn. If I was a student at Drexel, Temple, St. Joe’s, etc, I would have been all over that.

Deadspin: What an amazing website. I love Deadspin. They do everything in terms of sports news from viral GIFs to compelling features, to holding mainstream experts and pundits accountable for their work. Deadspin is the site you wish you had thought of to create a decade ago but didn’t. I feel like a lot of places have tried to recreate the idea of Deadspin, but they can’t pull it off because there’s only one Deadspin.

FiveThirtyEight: I love Nate Silver’s site under ESPN ownership. Obviously I’m drawn to the sports articles,, specifically Neil Payne’s baseball content, but I try to read their politics and economics analysis too. If I’m being honest, the site occasionally makes me feel stupid. Some of the data and methods they used to collect it will go over my head, but that doesn’t stop me from trying to understand. If I was smart enough, I would try to produce similar stuff that they do on a regular basis.

Crossing Broad — Crossing Broad is branded as “Philly’s most irreverent sports blog.” Full disclosure: I was one of the blog’s early readers before it started to grow into what it is today. I once won NFL Draft tickets through a random contest on the site and have become Internet friends with Kyle Scott. He has his share of haters, but I’ve found that most people who dislike the site can’t really provide a concrete reason as to why. He definitely pushes some boundaries, and I don’t agree with all of his takes, but more often that not, he’s right. His trolling of Flyers beat writers is always on point.

FanGraphs — In this day and age, it’s tough to hold your own in a baseball conversation without acknowledging sabermetrics. I didn’t hop aboard the sabermetric train as early as some others and have some good friends who know more than I do, but it’s a vast, interesting world when you dive into it. Anyone who writes about baseball should know basic stuff such as WAR, FIP, and BABIP.

Arguments that center around traditional vs. advanced statistics in sports can be unbearable. Ultimately there’s room for both, and I think reporters have a point that they should use the access they’re afforded to ask questions as opposed to just relying on numbers. You’re not going to stick a chart of random data in a newspaper or the digital equivalent of one and call it a day, There’s still value in a traditional approach, but for too long, people heard the 4-syllable word “sabermetrics” and thought it was some scary term. Then, Moneyball came out and made some more people aware. You don’t have to hug and kiss the concept, but blatantly dismissing it at this point is a big mistake and just comes off as way out of touch.

A few more Penn State related sites:

Black Shoe Diaries — Black Shoe Diaries is Penn State’s SB Nation site. My two biggest haters write for the site in addition to a few good friends friends. There are times when I think some of BSD could do a better job embracing community management and less of a “you need me more than I need you, commenters suck and shouldn’t be allowed on the Internet” attitude.

Now, the past two and a half years have obviously been a volatile time for the Penn State fanbase and some opinions can be — for lack of a better adjective — crazy. I just think when SB Nation blogs as a whole are branded right on the front page as “a [insert team here] community,” they could be a little more patient. My slight bias aside though, it’s a good site for news on Penn State sports.

The Daily Collegian — So Onward State technically competes against the Collegian for news and readership, but we have vastly different approaches when it comes to social media and delivering content. This USA Today feature expands on this more. All that aside, I’m good friends with a number of people who either have written for the Collegian in the past or currently write for the paper. My friends do good work, and I make sure to check it out.

The School Philly — I probably read The School Philly more for their Philadelphia sports opinions than Penn State stuff. Some Onward State writers and a few of their writers have gotten into it in the past, and I don’t agree with all of their views on student life at Penn State, but I’ve become friends with their creator, Andrew Porter, who does good work. Some of their content isn’t always my cup of tea, but they definitely have a solid Penn State following.

Honorable Mention: BuzzFeed, Huffington Post

Vox is a site that I would like to get into, but I haven’t explored it a ton yet since the launch, so I can’t comment too much there.

If you didn’t know me and just looked at this list sans descriptions, you could make the inference that I’m a big Eagles fan who went to Penn State and enjoys football, baseball, and data journalism. That doesn’t cover all of my interests, but it hits on most of them, especially the primary ones.

With that, I give you the floor. How do you Internet? What would your screenshot of tabs look like and does it accurately portray you as a person? Let me know in the comments!

How Did We Get Here?

I typically dislike the use of a question mark in headlines but felt it was appropriate for these first few pieces of content, so please bear with me.

As I mentioned in my initial post, I used to write every day and then went more than half a year writing next to nothing until now. That probably comes off as a bit odd.

How does someone who wrote full-time suddenly come to a complete and prolonged halt? I’ll attempt to explain below.

In order to understand much of the past eight months, you need to understand much of the previous 23, so let’s take a trip down memory lane.

The majority of my final two years of college were devoted to working for Onward State, the final year and a half spent covering Penn State football.

Onward State is a wonderful student media outlet to work for. If any young Penn Staters happen to be reading this or some high school seniors matriculating to Happy Valley in the fall with an interest in writing, editing, photography, or social media, I highly recommend checking it out. Like most work places though, it is important to have some friends because everyone doesn’t love everyone and sing Kumbaya while holding hands (although we do typically sing “Hey Jude” on press row THON weekend)

Thankfully, I had that support system. I would wager the majority of people who have worked for the site at some point did too because most of the staff is extremely friendly and nice, but if you don’t have that group of people to make you feel like you belong, I imagine it can be rather lonely at times.

I made my best friends through Onward State, but as I got more into it, I also made two of my biggest enemies.

Before morphing into the most followed college media outlet in the world, the blog built its reputation and formed its initial niche readership through snark and generating conversation with engaging posts. The former isn’t always my style.

I like to think that I can be funny and show a sense of humor when I write (perhaps best illustrated here), but controversy just for the sake of controversy was never my thing. That bothered my haters. They thought I had no guts, when really, I just liked writing about sports. If something controversial comes your way, then report it, but creating controversy for no reason was pointless in my opinion.

This all really came to a head when I began covering the football program in the spring of 2012. If it was up to my haters, I never would have written for Onward State in the first place nor would I have been promoted to a bigger role after one semester.

There’s one thing though that my haters knew in the back of their heads but would never admit to you: I was good.

Oh yeah. I was more or less teaching myself how to cover a college football team and needed to get better and more consistent, but they knew I was good and that freaked them out

Before I could go about destroying my haters though, I had to overcome a little natural shyness and a lack of confidence. I still vividly remember my body shaking as I sent a few tweet updates during the Blue-White game that spring.

I spent the first five minutes in the media room after the game looking every which way, trying to work up the courage to talk to someone. That’s one part of journalism that never came easy to me. Once I had information, I felt like I could write a great story, but asking someone to talk to me never felt completely natural.

I realized though that I had to do something or I wasn’t going to have any quotes for postgame stories. Way in the front left corner of the room, Ted Roof’s full head of gray hair stuck out and I saw only a few reporters were around him. I can’t even exactly remember what I said, but I asked him some question and in my head immediately grimaced.

What the hell kind of question was that, Drew? Why would you go with that of all things? 

As that thought raced through my head, Roof answered and gave me some good quotes about the spring and working with Larry Johnson Sr. and Ron Vanderlinden for the first time.

Okay, phew. That was good. Let’s go talk to John Urschel now. He’ll have something intriguing to say. 

As that spring turned to summer and the season approached, I constantly thought about shutting up my haters. They were no longer with Onward State or in State College, but they wanted me to fail. They wanted to eliminate me, and I wasn’t about to let them.

Naturally I did what anyone in a similar situation does when they desire to prove detractors wrong. I worked — hard. I remember exiting the Beaver Stadium press box and walking home through a somber State College after Penn State dropped its season opener to Ohio. I opened the door to my apartment, grabbed a beer from the fridge, slumped into a chair, and nearly fell asleep within a few minutes. It couldn’t have been much past 7 p.m, still bright outside on September 1st.

“So Drew, this is what you’re gonna do every Saturday? Just work yourself to exhaustion,” quipped one of my roommates.” “I…I guess so,” shooting a half smile back. “it’s fun.”

I designed my class schedule in a way that I could attend every weekly press conference, open practice, and other media availability event without having to miss class. Sure, Saturday is the money day in college football, but this wasn’t a one or two day a week gig. You have to do the dirty work to be prepared for gameday.

As September turned to October, I reached a point where I may have started taking it too seriously for my own good. I had gotten back from Champaign, Illinois with Ryan Beckler and Kevin Horne Sunday night around 10 p.m. They were my two best friends at OS and traveled to every away game, cheering on Penn State from the stands and helping out with some crowd pictures on social media while I did my thing in the press box.

That night I was asking for it. I had put off a lengthy assignment that was due Monday morning in one of my classes. I knew I could get it done. I usually worked well under pressure, but there was an unforeseen problem here: I felt really sick.

No sleep, a long car ride, and a couple nights out at Champaign bars had gotten to me. I got done about 10 percent of my assignment and decided to rest my head for a few minutes, but it’s never just a few minutes when you hit that point.

I don’t intend for any of this to come across as bragging or self-serving. I most certainly wasn’t the busiest person on campus — far from it — but working on a huge assignment in the wee hours of the night when you don’t feel good really sucks and I don’t wish it upon any of you.

I sprung up a few hours later in a panic. Good news: It’s 4 a.m. I still have some time. Bad news: It’s 4 a.m. and I should not be awake right given how sick I feel. I kept myself up, gained a second wind at some point, and eventually finished the project (which I think I got a B+ on so not bad), but I needed sleep and the week which included two exams, my birthday, and the coverage buildup to a homecoming game against undefeated Northwestern was in full swing.

No rest for the weary, but I knew there was some light at the end of the tunnel in the form of a bye week. Just get through Saturday, I thought to myself. A scene early Saturday morning served as a microcosm for where my head was at.

It was 3 a.m. and I was laying on the couch with my laptop finishing up a game preview that always ran first thing that morning. A blanket was draped over my body and a box of tissues was an arm’s length away as I flipped through a game notes packet between typing.

One of my roommates and his girlfriend opened the door to the apartment and walked in. “Drew, why aren’t you sleeping, man? It’s so late and you gotta be up early.”

“Because my haters ain’t sleeping,” I shot back in a half-delusional manner.

I had lost it, but I didn’t care. I knew I would wake up without any issue in four hours. Despite how little I had slept during the week, it was impossible to be tired early on a Saturday. I knew what was ahead of me. I got to do a full day’s worth of work for an organization I loved while simultaneously saying “Hey Devon. Hey Dan. I’m better than you. Deal with it.”

Dom Brown Blog Post

I don’t get mad easily at all, but if you asked me to point out a character flaw in myself, I would say that I’m not a grudge-dropper. In a perfect world that wouldn’t be the case, but I didn’t let this one go. My haters couldn’t stand to constantly see my byline on the site, and it fueled me.

That Sunday night scene of me unintentionally falling asleep and popping up a few hours later repeated itself one too many times over the next month and a half, but I pushed it aside.

I’ll sleep in December, I reassured myself. I was doing everything that a full-time beat writer did. My features and analysis were well-researched. I didn’t break a whole lot of news, but I was generally quick with updates and we did get a big one in late November the day before the season finale.

The season ended. I was sleeping a bit more, but had something else to deal with the second week of December. My then girlfriend of almost four years broke up with me.

Seeing how long this post already is, I don’t want to go off on a huge tangent, but to sum things up, I saw it coming and if I’m being honest, the relationship probably should have ended a year or so earlier than it did. She went to Pitt and was really committed to her studies. Aside from breaks or summers, we hardly saw each other.

We had survived three and a half years in a long distance relationship, but part of the reason it lasted that long is because both of us were afraid to end it at times — scared of the unknown. That fall put the nail in the coffin. We stopped making time for each other. Phone calls went from daily to maybe weekly. Text messages went from nonstop to only a few each day. She was doing her own thing, and I was doing mine. The spark was gone and couldn’t be rekindled this time.

I don’t blame her at all for officially ending it. She deserved better. I just wish she could have understood that I was doing something I really loved at the time. How many 22-year old college seniors get to cover football games in Beaver Stadium and travel all over Big Ten country? If she had a similar opportunity for whatever she wanted to do, I would have expected her to pounce on it without thinking twice. So it goes sometimes.

Anyway, the few days after were rough, but my friends got me through it, so let’s fast forward ahead a few months.

The first day back from spring break was Penn State’s Pro Day, and the beginning of spring practice was only a week away. I couldn’t wait. Most of my classes were out of the way, so I was only taking 12 credits last spring meaning I’d have way more time to devote to coverage.

I had also begun to think a bit more long-term and wondered if maybe there was an opportunity for me to stay in the area and do this for real after graduation. This feeling intensified as March turned to April.

I was on a roll churning out quality news and features every day. Similar to last fall though, I had created some unrealistic expectations for myself. I would come back to my apartment at 2 a.m. after a couple Cafe teas with friends and instead of going straight to sleep I would start charting some statistic like how many of Allen Robinson’s receptions resulted in first downs and stuff like that.

I was obsessed with run-pass ratios, breaking down Bill O’Brien’s tendencies when he went for it on fourth down, anything I could think of. Absolutely no way my haters would think to do a story on something like that or be willing to put that much time into it, and if they tried some cheap knock off of my content a day or two later, I would laugh.

There was a stretch where ESPN’s Big Ten Blog included us in their lunch links roundup three times over a 5-day span. Then, one day they didn’t, and I was actually angry at myself.

Maybe a 1000-word post on how Michael Zordich’s graduation impacts the fullback position just wasn’t that interesting. Dammit though, that story was good, I thought.

Even after the Blue-White game, I tried to hang on for as long as I could. While most of my friends were either studying for finals or celebrating their final few days as college students at bars, I was waiting to see if any team was going to pick Michael Mauti in the draft so I could write about it.

I was burnt out, but at the same time I couldn’t let go. I loved it too much. After graduation, I stayed in State College doing some freelance work. My apartment lease ran through early August, and between the freelance stuff and graduation gifts, I had some money, so I was in no hurry to leave.

A month later, I was offered a full-time job with a small online news outlet in State College. I accepted it without any hesitation, but this is where things started taking a turn for the worse.

As an aside, the next day I was contacted about a job I had applied for in Miami and offered a phone interview. I politely emailed the HR person back telling her that I had just accepted another offer. I didn’t want to take up her time but was open to keeping lines of communication open for the future. She wished me well and moved on.

Who knows what would have happened? It would be completely presumptuous of me to say that I would have been offered that job had I went ahead with the interview, but to this day, I still want that email back.

You will hopefully understand why in a few minutes.

I was doing a good amount of general assignment reporting with the loose agreement that I’d cover some football stuff in the fall but felt really out of my element covering stories that were completely foreign to me while working long and unpredictable hours.

Obviously the latter is a natural part of journalism, and no one comes out of school with their dream media job. My bigger concern though was that I felt as if I didn’t fit into the company culture.

Many of my — what I believed to be — forward-thinking digital media ideas were shot down. They were in love with man-on-the-street interviews, and my creative control was really limited.

Why walk around State College asking a few random people what they think of Bill O’Brien’s amended contract when we can put out a question on Twitter, get a higher number of responses in a much more efficient manner that would likely form a more representative opinion, and then Storify some replies? While waiting for mentions to come in, we could maximize resources and be working on filing other stories that would have been put off during the time spent gathering man-on-the-street answers. 

That was my general thought process and for a “new” media site, I thought it was reasonable, but it’s a real difficult sell when someone has bought the same way for 30 years and past credentials trump a good idea.

Similar ideas like that got rejected and I get yelled at more by my boss/editor for running into a dead end or two on stories when essential sources didn’t get back to me right away, Only three weeks into the job, I began to wonder if I had settled and sold myself short.

A week later, things went from bad to worse on the Fourth of July. I had worked from 8 a.m. until about 8 p.m. and thought I was just about done for the day. Wrong. Very wrong. A massive fire broke out in a State College apartment building. I drove 10 minutes, parked my car in some random lot praying I wouldn’t get towed, and ran past police officers and traffic until I saw the flames up-close in person.

The sight of this freaked me out. Plenty of good reporters can stomach covering tragic events like this without much of a problem, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but approaching people and asking them to talk to me while they watched their homes and possessions go up in smoke shook me up.

I did it because the alternative was getting my head ripped off by my boss but felt heartless the entire time. A night later, I actually found a pretty heartwarming story, but most of my work wasn’t good enough for my boss despite the fact that we had easily the best and fastest live updates of any outlet there.

That next week was rough. If I thought I was burnt out in the fall and spring, there was no doubt about it this time. Getting yelled at every other day had done its damage. I cried myself to sleep one night. Most other nights I couldn’t sleep. My happiness was gone along with my confidence that I had built up from covering a competitive beat for over a year. I wanted to leave, but I had a full-time job, and another one was no guarantee in this economy.

I confided in a few friends and told them that while the thought had crossed my mind, I didn’t think I would pull the trigger yet without something else lined up. Media jobs are hard to come by, and I didn’t want to come off as some entitled prick. I wasn’t trying to run the place or anything; I just wanted a little more respect that I thought I deserved.

Things changed that Friday morning after a meeting. Our differences in philosophy were too far apart. Staying much longer was only going to make me more upset and threaten my health more. I indicated that I was going to have to think about my future there, but in my head I already knew the answer.

That weekend coincided with Arts Fest in State College. I had to work most of Saturday, but when I saw my friends, they could tell I wasn’t quite right.

“I don’t like to see you sad,” was a text message I received that day. “Been sad a bit too often lately,” was the best thing I could come up with as a response.

Sunday I requested a meeting with the company president. Monday I went in and resigned, gave my two weeks notice after only five weeks on the job. Our conversation was peaceful. Whether I was working or not, I was going to be in Chicago for a wedding in late July. The stars had aligned in a way that Big Ten Football Media Days, held annually in the Windy City, were scheduled to take place the same week as the wedding.

I promised them they would have a ton of good content if they let me do my thing, and I delivered on my guarantee with nine stories and a live blog over a two-day span.

It was easily the coolest event I had ever covered, but as I filed my final story (some piece about whether Adrian Amos or Stephen Obeng-Agyapong might see snaps at linebacker in the fall) sadness crept in.

The next minute was spent rummaging through my notes seeing if there was any other angle I could reasonably turn into a story. I didn’t want it to end, but anything else would have really been forcing the issue at that point.

I caught a cab back to my hotel and drove 75 minutes to a different hotel where the wedding would take place the next night. Aside from collecting my final paycheck, I never had to see my editor again or return to that office, but the thing that I had devoted the most amount of energy to over the past year was gone.

After the wedding and return trip, I spent about another week in State College hanging out and then returned home to Philadelphia.

My confidence from the past two months was still pretty shaken. I applied to some jobs in Philadelphia, New York, Florida, California, and other places, but there were some days where I got pretty discouraged.

Watching Penn State football last fall was weird at first. For better or for worse, covering sports changes the way you view things. Instead of “WOO! Allen Robinson touchdown!!!!” it becomes “Alright, how many touchdowns is that for him on the season. How many yards? Gotta tweet that Update the live blog. Dammit, why won’t you refresh and update?!! Okay got it, phew.”

Bill O’Brien turned out to be exactly what that program needed at the time and a lot of fun to cover, but unlike 95 percent of the fanbase, I didn’t view him as a demigod who was saving the program one win and verbal commit at a time. To me, he was just some social media hating, football loving good man who I sat 10 feet away from every Tuesday afternoon as he answered questions from reporters. Occasionally if he disliked a certain question, he would let the person who asked know about it, myself included. (Maybe I’ll do a post on this down the road for anyone who hasn’t heard the story)

Back on topic though, last fall was weird. I was still sort of in reporter mode, so during games I tweeted any stats I could think of. Some people on Twitter thought I was still covering the team at first and not just watching games from my living room couch.

I don’t think I really cared either way about the final result of games until Bill Belton received a handoff from Christian Hackenberg, darted left off tackle and raised his arms above his head a few yards deep in the end zone against Michigan.

Being back in Beaver Stadium against Illinois a few weeks later and sitting in the stands rather than the press box for the first time in nearly two years was odd for a few minutes, but my love was slowly coming back.

Aside from that and the Eagles though, I didn’t get excited about much in the fall. There were days where I was still pretty down from the summer and just couldn’t completely snap out of a funk.

My 9th grade class had voted me “Most Likely to Succeed.” If they saw me over these past seven months, they’d find their choice pretty hilarious.

Ninth Grade

During some bad days, I contemplated getting out of the media altogether, but then I think back to my peak time at Onward State where some wide-eyed college senior with a full course load was getting linked by ESPN three times a week and getting retweeted left and right on Saturdays while keeping thousands of people informed.

I want that feeling and sense of fulfillment again. Last summer my boss made me feel like a real worthless person, but deep down, I know that’s not true. I still have a lot to learn and there’s always room to get better, but I have ideas about digital and social media. I’m waiting for the right person and company to listen and give me a chance.

I’m 23 years old. I love Chip Kelly, Dunkin’ Donuts french vanilla iced coffee, Pete Carroll, no-huddle offenses, wheel routes, well-run Twitter accounts, Wings Over Happy Valley, Chipotle, Otto’s Apricot Wheat Beer, Domonic Brown, Cliff Lee, and Claude Giroux (mostly in that order)

I hate close-minded people, the Dallas Cowboys, punting on 4th and 1 no matter what the line of scrimmage is, and burning timeouts in the first or third quarter of a football game.

The rest of it I’m still trying to figure out and find my place in this peculiar world.

As long as I have this blog running, I hope you will join me in the process.

And You Are?

Greetings, folks.

If you made it beyond the headline and that two-word lede, 1) Are you insane? 2) Welcome to my new blog.

I plan to write a longer post that resembles a bio and provides a current update on my life, but to get the basic details out of the way, my name is Drew Balis. I am a 23-year old guy from suburban Philadelphia attempting to turn my passion for sports and social media into a career after graduating from Penn State last spring.

The majority of people I come across have called me a “nice person” or some variation of that. I don’t think that is particularly special as there are plenty of nice people throughout the world, but it can serve as a small confidence boost when you want it to.

I decided to start this blog because there was a two-year span where I more or less wrote every day, most notably for Onward State covering Penn State football.

The last eight months though have been quite different. The only writing I have done has been in a 140-character format, and I have that itch again.

Despite my aforementioned background, this blog will not be all about sports. I feel more comfortable writing about sports than most other topics, but I am not a one trick pony. (If you want some proof, here) After covering players, coaches, and teams on a regular basis, I’m looking forward to touching on some personal thoughts and opinions here.

I plan for one of my initial posts to be an aggregate list of my favorite websites that will also focus on news consumption and asking people how they Internet. On that list will definitely be some sports outlets that already have the digital market rather cornered. I may pop off after some select Phillies game or share some viral GIF that I come across, but my goal is not to reproduce their content.

At times I may appear a tad cynical and then come across as optimistic one post later. We’ll see where things go.

Before we get any further, I should probably explain the — tentative — name of this thing. My friends at Onward State call me “Balls.” The site’s founder, Davis Shaver (brilliant guy by the way) once told me that he actually thought my last name was indeed Balls during my first few months on staff. The soccer league that printed my name wrong on a championship trophy when I was in 9th grade was also under the same impression. #MakesYouThink

Anyway, my friend Grant suggested “Balls of Wisdom” and it was far better than “Da Crew’s Views” or any of my ideas.

If you think I sound a bit wishy-washy so far, that’s understandable. I don’t currently have a clear vision here, and projects without one normally are not too successful. If this is getting nowhere after a week or two maybe I’ll shut it down, but I’m confident it won’t get to that point.

Community management is very important to me. You shouldn’t have to pander to readers — especially not on a personal blog — but I can’t stand writers who act like you need them more than they need you. That’s not my style. It’s never been my style. It never will be my style, and that’s why I’m inviting you to share any feedback — positive or negative — that you want to provide.

There is no point in bringing potential readers to a mostly empty site, so my plan is to have a few different pieces of content up over the next day or two before I promote this on any type of social media. If you happen to find this beforehand, feel free to share your thoughts below (name suggestions, any topic you want me to touch on, etc.) I like to think of myself as a bit of a grammar and copy editing nerd, but of course I’m human, so if you spot a mistake don’t be shy about pointing it out.

In addition to the comments section, I’m on Twitter @drewBbalis where you can find me rambling about Philadelphia and Penn State sports, making occasional dumb jokes, and just in general interacting with my Internet friends.

I’ll have more for you soon.

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