Editor’s Note: A winding road to living the dream

Smoothie bar.

Boat detailing.

Science show presenter.

Operations/guest services manager.

After-school program director.

Those are just a few of the jobs I did to pay the bills while trying to see if I could eventually make an actual career out of my labor of love-turned-side hustle of writing about football.

When I was 14 years old, I started volunteering at Tampa’s Museum of Science and Industry, where my older brother worked. I was only allowed to work one four-hour shift per day, so (after dressing up as marine animals to talk about ecosystems and pollution, or teaching rocket propulsion with a blowtorch, a giant water jug, and some isopropyl alcohol) I would clock out at 1pm, and have four hours to kill until he was done for the day.

The ghost of a good thing.

Some days, I’d grab a basketball out of our summer science camp closet and walk over to a rickety court at the school next door. Other days, I would climb to the top of MOSI’s IMAX Dome Theatre and work on some math problems.

Most days, I would hunker down in the small public library annex inside the museum, and write stories for the ugliest football blog nobody ever read.

Eventually, I started sticking my nose into places it didn’t belong in the football media world, and if nobody noticed or told me to leave, I stayed.

First, it was access to the media section of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ website. Then, the NFL’s media site. That gave me access to the league’s weekly conference calls with some of the league’s star players. I would sit in the museum’s volunteer break room, shushing anyone who dared come in to eat their PB&J because I was on a conference call with Peyton Manning or Jerry Rice or Derrick Brooks or Steve McNair or Donovan McNabb.

I had a longtime family friend who worked in the Sports department at The Tampa Tribune (where my grandfather worked the Linotype machine for 30 years). He had a room in his house where he kept the countless amount of sports media guides he’d amassed over his years in the business, and in return for cutting his grass, he would let me take home as many as I could carry.

My friend got me in the door at the Trib not long after, just stringing high school games at first. Heading into my senior year, they let me write a preview on a local school that was about to start their first-ever season in football. A few months later, in the first regular-season game in their history, I threw for three touchdowns and ran for another, and we beat them 30-6.

Sorry about that, Cambridge.

It didn’t take long for my friend and his colleagues to realize what I really wanted to do: Cover the NFL draft.

So, they let me come in on draft weekend and type in all the picks for every round that would run on the agate page. A high-schooler sitting in a real newsroom, working the draft in real time. I was in heaven.

My friend at the Tribune landed me a full-time desk job in the newsroom right after I graduated high school, so I put off college for a semester. This was back when newsrooms were full of incredible reporters on any and every beat imaginable, instead of the skeleton crews they’re forced to work with these days. I soaked up every morsel of knowledge, every tidbit of expertise, every tip and trick I could from anyone who would give the random 18-year-old answering phones up front a spare few minutes. The sports editor even let me tag along for Bucs preseason games, running post-game quotes up from the locker room to the beat writers and columnists in the press box so they could make deadline.

The ghost of a good thing (pt. 2).

Another reason for the delay of higher education? I only had eyes for one football program: USF, my dad’s alma mater. They didn’t have eyes for me, but they let me hang around spring practice like a lost puppy, which was . . . nice, I guess? I remember standing on the sideline and watching Auburn transfer Courtney Denson scramble toward me, unaware that Terrence Royal was coming unblocked from the back side at full speed. The sound that came when he arrived was like a no-doubter fresh off the bat in Omaha.

That was the first moment where I thought, “Maybe I should just write about this instead.”

So write about it I did, on a newer, slightly less-ugly blog that a few people read.

I wrote about it for the Tribune, when I was offered a part-time job on the Sports night desk as an agate clerk, writing fantasy football columns (back when they could spare an entire page of the section for such a thing) and a draft blog for the paper’s website (in between taking scores from high school coaches over the phone, and trying to format horse racing results, and deciding where to cut off the golf scores to make the column fit).

I wrote about it after a failed attempt to play college football at 24 years old for a startup program in another state, finishing my one banged-up season by writing a profile on some of my teammates for the local small-town paper.

Touch (fake) grass.

One night, I was staring at the stats page for my blog, two days after writing an in-depth film breakdown on Le’Veon Bell and Manti Te’o.

Six page views.


In two days.

I vividly remember asking myself, “Are you really gonna keep doing this to yourself? Banging your head against the wall, trying to make a career out of this, when clearly, nobody is reading any of this?”

At the time, I was miserable at one of those aforementioned jobs (feel free to guess which one), and starting to wonder if it was time to hang my digital pen up right next to my cleats.

I didn’t.

I decided that night that I love doing this so much, that I would always do it, even if nobody read it.

Scouting trip.

Enter social media.

For all its ills, Twitter had a thriving NFL draft community. It gave me a place to show my work, get feedback, learn, get better.

One day, while reading an article penned by a new friend on Bleacher Report, I saw a link where you could apply to write for them.

What’s the worst they could do? Say no?

They didn’t.

I wrote for B/R, and every other outlet imaginable over the next few years, until I found this beautiful corner lot with tons of acreage in a great neighborhood.

Joining the NFL Wire network was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It literally changed my life, no exaggeration. This incredible team of people is unlike anything I’ve ever been a part of, which is why it’s so bittersweet to be moving elsewhere. The address is changing, but the friendships will remain.

For nearly seven years, I’ve been able to live the dream here, and the dream is finally what’s paying the bills. I think that’s all any of us could ever really ask for, right?

I’m just a home-schooled, trailer-park kid who didn’t finish college. Lucky, blessed, whatever you want to call it . . . I’m just grateful for the endless list of helping hands along the way; amazing people who have reached down from further up the ladder, when I had nothing to give in return but gratitude.

That’s all I have today, too.

Thanks for a great ride.

Here’s to the next one.


Story originally appeared on Draft Wire