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Florida Football

The Inside Scoop: An in-depth, behind the scenes look at a beat reporter covering a game

January 1, 2019
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The sun had barely risen when I left my Grandma’s house early on December 26. The No. 10 Florida Gators had been in Atlanta preparing for the Peach Bowl since Sunday but I elected to wait until Wednesday before joining the fray. As with every job, there are a lot of sacrifices one has to make as a reporter, especially during football season. I miss Thanksgiving’s and birthdays and reunions. But I made a decision a long time ago that I’d never miss Christmas. So I had a quick breakfast with my dad on the 26th then hit the road. 

Caption: On the way to Atlanta

I knew Florida was having practice at Mercedes Benz Stadium that afternoon but was planning to go by the media hotel first and check in since we need our credential to go anywhere during the week. About two hours outside of the city I got a text message about practice. The SID that is the main liaison with the local media has a text group for all of us because it’s the easiest way to reach all of us with updates, changes, injury reports, etc. So he texted us and let us know that practice was being moved up about half an hour. I realized I’d have time to make it to the stadium just in time and luckily a reporter friend and the Peach Bowl reps were great to work with and had my credential waiting for me there. This is really a great example of how fluid we have to be with our days. During the season, especially on Mondays and Tuesday’s when we have media availability, coaches can change practice or different guys may have test to study for so the plan and schedule we’re given at the beginning of the week can change four times in the space of an afternoon. Since for most of us though this is our job, we aren’t bound by other schedules and can adapt as things change. 

So anyway, I arrived at the stadium with about five minutes to spare. Once there, I speak with the SID to see if there are any updates, injury reports, etc. This is also when we found out what we can and can’t shoot during the day and what we can and can’t report on that day. Generally the stuff we’re asked to avoid—and as was the case Wednesday—are goal line situations and personnel groupings. This is to help avoid opponents getting their hands on any game planning information. For example, the lateral pass to Lamical Perine on the goal line that scored a touchdown Saturday was something we saw Wednesday. This is also why at times I will try to relay information that may seem ambiguous as a reader but why I ask you trust my reporting. 

Caption: Practice in the stadium

While at practice I would watch during warmups to make sure everyone is there and participating. As they went into the goal line situations it was more just about watching for who performed well. Then they went into individual drills during which time I would take note of who was working with who, who was doing what. If you’re a member of our site, these are the notes you see a lot of times on the forums. 

After about 20 minutes, the rest of practice is closed and we head out. We return an hour and a half later for post practice media. During this time, there are about six of us local reporters there and we split our time between the five guys they bring, talking to them about practice that week, how Christmas was, what they’ve seen from studying Michigan tape and updates along those lines. Once we’re done, we head back to the hotel and we split up the transcriptions. This is something I’ve come to notice very few beats in the country do and Florida’s media contingent is the only one I’ve ever been apart of that does so. On that Wednesday, for example, there were five guys and some of us spent all of our time with one guy while some of us floated. If there were two of us with a guy who talked for seven minutes, we’d split the interview down the middle and each transcribe half. If we float, we transcribe what we have, splitting where possible if someone else was there and then we all share the quotes. This is because transcribing is the most time consuming part of writing. If someone talks for three minutes, a fast transcriber can do that in about nine minutes. It takes some people up to 15. When Dan Mullen speaks and takes 30 minutes, we split it up to 10 different ways. This saves everyone a lot of time. We have a general rule of thumb that if you talk with a guy one-on-one about something you’re doing a story for, then of course you don’t have to share those quotes. 

After the transcribing is done, I write some sort of quick hitter story with the most pertinent news or updates. That Wednesday I wrote a notebook on how the team was looking to finish their redemptive season and a news story on how Jachai Polite (at that time) was not giving a NFL decision. I try to also balance what I’m writing with what I know other sites are writing as well so we’re not all flooding the internet with the same old stuff. 

That evening I and Jacquie Franciulli of Rivals attended the last team week event at the College Football Hall of Fame. We arrived half an hour before the team which is typical of the hurry up and wait situations we often have to find ourselves in. We watched from the second floor mezzanine as they ate supper, consistent with the professional creeper title I joke we sometimes have. But once the games started, we were able to go downstairs and film as they played. This was a lot of fun and maybe one of my favorite events of the week. So often we have to see these guys as names on a roster or jerseys on a field. We talk about them in terms of stats and production. It was really special to have a night where we got to be around them as people, seeing them have fun together as friends and catching up with them between games. Despite the aforementioned instances of having to view them only as players, we are around these guys enough and talk to the enough that you form relationships so it’s always nice to have those moments where we can just talk and laugh about something other than football. 

Caption: Stalking the players as they eat dinner at the College Football HOF

Caption: Marco Wilson 

After the event was over, Jacquie and I headed back to the hotel (we were sharing a room to save money) and I updated the boards and social media. Finally around 10 p.m. I ate supper because there’d been no time yet 

Thursday was an interesting day because on Wednesday I got really, really sick. But Thursday was also the day we were getting to speak with the coordinators and six players. I couldn’t depend on someone else to ask the questions I wanted to ask, getting the stories I knew I could dig out, so I had to suck it up, take medicine and head downstairs. Since we were staying in the media hotel, everything was in the building so that made things much easier. 

I grabbed a Chick-fil-A biscuit (since they’re the sponsor, there was Chick-fil-A available at all times) and headed to the breakout room. They split the offensive and defensive guys and would send one group the main room with TV cameras and a press conference set up while the other group would go to what was known as the breakout room where everyone gets their own table and reporters can sit and talk one on one. I prefer the latter because there’s a moderator in the former and I know any basic, necessary questions will be asked and transcriptions will be provided. In the breakout room, I can sit and talk with a guy more at our leisure. This is where knowing everything from their stats to their mothers name is important. After about 20 minutes they switch the offense and defense and we do it again. 

After the media day is over, we head down to the media work room. Here there are workstations set up along with snacks, coffee, even Advil and tissues. The Peach Bowl really provided first class service all week and I want to thank them for making it such a friendly work environment. There we transcribed again, tossed around ideas for stories and compared notes. This Florida media contingent is really close and it’s one of the best parts of working with this group. I’m not sure if fans or young people wanting to get I to the business realize this, but for as much time as a reporter spends with players and coaches, you spent triple that with the other reporters. Having a win at all cost, stab you in the back for a story mentality just doesn’t work. We all get a lot farther when we work together. Yes our sites are often competitors and as such there are things we don’t always share, or information we keep private. But we also understand that these people know the landscape of the job better than anyone so it’s not uncommon for us to ask each other’s opinions and advice. And because we’re all a little different, we can each bring our own style and flair to a story, so that you the reader don’t have to see the same thing over and over. 

We also just genuinely enjoy spending time around one another. I noticed when I walked in the room that Thursday that all of the Michigan reporters were spread out yet all of the Florida reporters were together at one table. 

Caption: Reporters relaxing in between media opportunities

After I was done with one story and the afternoon practice, I had to take some more medicine and a nap. When I woke up around seven that evening, I visited the media hospitality suite for some food, a quick game and then went back to the room to write the three other stories that needed to be done before bed. 

Friday was pretty much exactly the same as Thursday except we spoke with the head coaches during the media time and there was no open practice. 

When Saturday arrived, I woke up, packed and picked up my car from the garage. Jackson Ramar, our other football writer here at ITG, headed to the stadium and were inside by 9:45. I try to arrive at the stadium anywhere from 2.5 to 3 hours before kickoff so we were running a little behind but the early games are harder to be on time for. 

Caption: Heading up to the stadium

The first thing I always do is head to the press box so I can put my backpack down and get settled in; I like to have my computer set up, Notebook out, flip card ready and everything before I do anything else. Then Jackson and I headed down to the field to watch warmups. This is common everywhere except Florida field. Because the Swamp is so compact at field level, they don’t allow anyone more than necessary down there before kickoff but at other stadiums—and as was the case Saturday—we were able to head to the field. It’s much easier to watch warmups from the field because the Gators don’t wear jerseys during the time. For Jackson and I to report on who’s there, who’s playing, etc, we often need to see their faces...which also means we have to know what they look like. We split the field then meet back up every few minutes to compare notes. When it’s a home game, we do this from the press box with binoculars. 

 

Caption: Chauncey Gardner-Johnson pre-game

During this time I walk around just to see what stands out. That’s how I saw Kyle Trask and realized he wasn’t playing. This is also when we see just who’s there. Florida had several former players on the field Saturday and I was able to take a video with Ahmad Black, Major Wright and Ben Troupe on their score predictions. This is always a good time to catch up with people and meet new ones. 

Half an hour before kickoff, I head back up to the press box, grab a bite to eat, get the stats page pulled up (media has access to an incredibly helpful stats page that keeps up with around 30 different versions of the box score) and I get the template for my game story ready to go. 

Caption: My own little corner of the world for the next three hours

Once the game starts, I’m posting on the thread, tweeting, taking written notes and writing my game story. I try to take notes of every play but that’s near impossible so I end up just keeping notes of anything that might be important. For example, if it’s a crucial tome and could therefore be a crucial play, who lined up where, who did what in pre-snap motion, then what happened as the play developed? I’ll watch it live on the field then turn to the TV and watch it on the broadcast. Between those two moments then the replay, I can usually get everything I need. 

And as always, during this time, I’m trying to put more on the thread than anywhere. Twitter’s free and a great tool but I feel if our subscribers are paying for access to our site and therefore the forums, my information needs to go there first and any insider information should only be there. 

I take notes till about 5 minutes left in 3rd quarter. By then I have an idea of how the game’s going to go and can start writing. I’ll rewrite things multiple times as other things become more pertinent but I’d rather write and have something than nothing. 

With around 10 minutes left on the game clock, I email everything to my phone and get the stats page pulled up there. Whenever a commercial break or timeout falls between the 9-7 minute mark, I head down since we can be on the field with 5 minutes left on the clock. The last 5 minutes I’m finalizing my game story which is why you never see me post on the thread during that time. 

The MBS is really nice and spacious. With the extra room behind the bench I was able to get other videos like the one of the wide receivers. 

Caption: On the field post game

As the clock ticks down, I watch the cop that stays with Coach Mullen and I don’t step on the field until he does.

The celebration was absolutely insane. A lot of times I just let my phone roll and then cut it later since I’ll have 20 minutes worth of video to go through. I always try to find Feleipe Franks, Dan Mullen and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson since those are the big names but Kadarius Toney, Brian Edwards, Umstead Sanders and Adam Shuler are always good video as well. 

With bowl games, there’s a trophy presentation. I and a couple of other reporters had to convince security we could get close but you want to be by the stage when the confetti guns go off; that’s when all of the guys turn into kids again. 

Once the celebration is over, we head to the post game press conference. With bowl and championship games though, the locker rooms are open and that access is too good to pass up. The guys are respectful of us being there but it’s also their space to the best thing to do is just keep your eyes up and don’t look around too much. 

This past Saturday was about asking as many draft eligible guys their plans as we could. Once that was out of the way I started working on pulling quotes for game stories. With around 10 minutes left, I headed to the breakout room where the SID’s had put some of the guys to make it easier to speak with them. There are certain guys that are always a pleasure to talk with and Van Jefferson is one of them so I wanted to get in there while he was still giving interviews. 

Caption: Interviewing Van Jefferson

 

Caption: Interviewing C’Yontai Lewis

Once we’re done, I go back up to the press box. Usually we would split transcripts but since it was all split in the locker room it’s every man for himself. I knock out the most important, which was the draft eligible guys, then prioritize what I think is most interesting. this varies from reporter to reporter and what is in each reporters wheel house. 

I try to get two stories done in the press box and then I head home. With it being a noon game, I was able to leave Atlanta by 7:30. I headed to Birmingham to some family and spent the rest of the holidays with my parents. The game is never the end though as I have quotes and stories from the day that will typically last till Tuesday. With this being the last game of the season and how much access we had, I came away with enough quotes to write stories for the next week or so.  So it’s really never over. 

Overall, despite being sick, it was a great week and an incredible experience. The New Years six bowls are special for the players and we as media members are thankful to be apart of it as well. It wasn’t a vacation and it was hard work as usual, but it’s what I love doing more than anything and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Thank you for letting me be the person to share the Florida Gators with you. 

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