A SELECTION OF NEWS, EVENT AND FEATURE STORIES
How UAB football came back to life: An oral history: (ESPN.com, Published March 23, 2016) With UAB participating in its first spring practice since eliminating its football program in December 2014 and then deciding to bring it back six months later, I traveled to Birmingham to write about the process of re-establishing the program. I also assembled a list of all 94 UAB players who had eligibility remaining after the 2014 season and broke down what happened with each of them once the Blazers program dissolved. The Football Writers of America honored the package with a first-place award for enterprise reporting in its 2017 national contest.
Where do SEC football players come from? Look to Georgia, and specifically Atlanta: (ESPN.com, Published June 18, 2015) This was the lead portion of a four-part series that examined where SEC football programs recruited over a 10-year period. The metro Atlanta area was by far the most fertile recruiting ground for the conference's schools. Additional pieces broke down recruiting trends for schools in the SEC West and SEC East. A final piece examined SEC recruiting trends by position. The next summer, I added the newest class and took a deeper dive into state recruiting trends by position on offense and defense.
Four-part Power Five recruiting series (Baton Rouge Advocate, Published Dec. 17-20, 2017) Expanding upon the 2015 SEC recruiting series, I compiled data on the last 10 recruiting classes (2008 to 2017) at each Power Five college football program. Collaborating with Ross Dellenger of the Baton Rouge Advocate, I assembled a four-part series that explained the trends that the data revealed. Part One discussed the state of Louisiana's fertility and its importance in LSU's recruiting efforts. Part Two examined the talent-rich state of Texas and why its proximity helps LSU. Part Three broke down the importance of in-state recruiting and the conditions that can exist that would reduce its significance. Part Four concluded the series, explaining why many major programs focus their recruiting efforts on the blue-chip prospects in California, Texas and Florida. The package tied for second place in project reporting in the 2018 Associated Press Sports Editors national contest.
ESPN.com "Position U" series: (ESPN.com, Published June 18, 2014) After hearing so many LSU players refer to their school as "DBU" (Defensive Back University), I set out to determine whether that was actually the case. Which schools deserve to carry the label as the best at given positions? I gathered the results of every NFL draft, each of 20 of college football’s top individual awards, coaches’ first-team all-conference selections and consensus All-America picks for all Power 5 teams (plus Notre Dame and BYU) each season between 2000-01 and 2013-14 and came up with a point system to reward those accomplishments. The team with the most points won the “Position U” title for the 2000s.
How much do first-round draft busts cost NFL teams? Nearly $9.4 million: (Forbes.com, Published April 18, 2018) Since the NFL essentially standardized the terms of rookie contracts in 2011, it became easier to determine whether a player had lived up to the expectations that accompany becoming a first-round draft pick. I looked at players picked between 2011 and 2014 -- the ones who at the time of publication had had enough time to play out a full four-year rookie contract -- and determined an average expense among those who had not yet panned out, using Pro Football Reference's Drafted Approximate Value metric as a guide.
LSU players share their Hurricane Katrina stories: (ESPN.com, Published Aug. 26, 2015) As the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approached, I spoke to 16 LSU football players -- leading with the incredible Katrina story of star running back Leonard Fournette and younger brother Lanard -- about their experiences during the storm. Here are some of their recollections.
Recruiting a major yet vital expense: (ESPN.com, Published Aug. 11, 2013) Recruiting is obviously one of the most important line items in a football program's budget, as the talent on hand is what keeps it successful. It's also the one that is most shrouded in mystery. This three-part series attempted to shed some light on the amount of money that Georgia spent on recruiting and where the money went. Additional stories focused on the school's new director of on-campus recruiting and on the recruiting grind for the coaching staff.
NEWS, TRENDS AND EVENTS
Canceling LSU home game a 'non-starter' for fragile Baton Rouge economy: (ESPN.com, Published Oct. 12, 2016) When Hurricane Matthew's approach forced the LSU-Florida game to be postponed, many figured that LSU would simply cancel its Nov. 19 home game against South Alabama and play that day at Florida instead. There were many reasons why LSU adamantly refused to do that -- one of which was that its home city was in desperate financial shape following the historic floods that overwhelmed Baton Rouge in the summer. The city needed the influx of cash that accompanies each LSU home game, which several economists and restaurateurs explained in this story.
Unheralded factor in Patriots' winning culture: A roster loaded with college captains: (Forbes.com, Published Feb. 1, 2018) Leadership is not a measurable trait like a time in the 40-yard dash or a number of reps on the bench press, but the New England Patriots seem to value that intangible as much as those workout skills. Nineteen players on their two-deep depth chart in the 2018 AFC championship game were captains on their college teams, helping create a professionalism in the locker room that is a vital -- if underappreciated -- element of the franchise's success.
After a summer of heartbreak, LSU again playing for Louisiana: (ESPN.com, Published Aug. 23, 2016) LSU players' families were not spared from the devastating floods that hit Baton Rouge in August, barely a month after weeks of unrest between local law enforcement and the community. LSU's players and coaches recognize that football success can bring a measure of healing to the community, so they set out to help the many Tigers fans affected by the flooding with their play on the field.
Draft reveals impact of pro-day script: (ESPN.com, Published May 8, 2014) Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel made waves when he completed his NFL pro day passing session while wearing shoulder pads, not shorts and t-shirt like most players. His personal coach, George Whitfield, discussed that decision, and other 2014 QB prospects chimed in with their thought processes on what they were looking to prove in their passing sessions at pro day.
NCAA tournament's biggest spenders usually rank among its biggest winners, too: (Forbes.com, Published March 7, 2018) I traced the expenses of college basketball programs that participated in the 2017 NCAA men's basketball tournament and determined that only one of the 68 participants had spent less than $1 million on its basketball program that year. Being good enough to receive an at-large bid comes with a substantial price tag. Of the 36 teams that received at-large bids, 32 reported at least $6 million in men's basketball expenses that year.
In-state opponents add spice to schedule: (ESPN.com, Published Sept. 9, 2014) Bradley Dale Peveto has coached on both sidelines at Tiger Stadium. He is a two-time LSU assistant coach and also brought his Northwestern State team there as head coach in 2011. Just ahead of LSU's game against Louisiana-Monroe in 2014, Peveto discussed what it meant to bring a team loaded with Louisianans to play the state's flagship team. Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin also chimed in on the subject, just weeks after his school renewed its in-state rivalry with Southern Miss.
Fewer schools hiring alums as coaches: (ESPN.com, Published April 9, 2015) Although the trend of hiring alumni coaches stayed fairly steady at most major conferences, it had plummeted by 2015 in the SEC. This was part of a story package that included a list I compiled of good and bad alumni hires and stories by other ESPN.com staffers on the numerous alums on the Texas Tech coaching staff and the number of Big Ten alums coaches ranking highest among Power 5 conferences.
First-round draft prospects' draft exposure worth $50 million, maybe more, to college programs: (Forbes.com, Published April 27, 2018) For the elite quarterback prospects in the conversation to become the top overall selection in the 2018 NFL draft, their college programs could not have paid for more valuable exposure. Well, maybe they could have, but it might have cost as much as $50 million in advertising dollars according to Joyce Julius & Associates, which tracks the equivalent value of media exposure for college athletes and teams.
LSU experiments with new technology to diagnose head injuries: (ESPN.com, Published Sept. 4, 2015) Since concussions have become such a hot-button issue in football over the last several years, there has been a rise in scientific innovation to assess and possibly prevent head injuries. I spoke with medical staffers at UCLA, Florida, LSU and Penn State for a two-story series on what can be done. The second story focuses on the addition of an independent medical observer who can stop games if necessary if a player needs medical attention.
Caddie Evert charmed by National, husband's play: (Augusta Chronicle, Published April 9, 2009) I tracked down tennis legend Chris Evert on the back nine of her husband Greg Norman's Wednesday practice round at the 2009 Masters and had a lovely conversation with her about the similarities between Augusta National and her favorite tennis venue, Wimbledon. This was not one of the most memorable stories I ever wrote, but it was certainly one of my most memorable experiences as a sports writer.
Dawg (almost) bites man: Inside an enduring image from Georgia-Auburn rivalry: (ESPN.com, Published Nov. 10, 2016) The 1996 image of Georgia's bulldog mascot Uga nearly biting Auburn receiver Robert Baker is among the most famous photographs from one of college football's oldest rivalries. On the 20-year anniversary of that game -- the first overtime game in SEC history -- I spoke with the photographer who took the picture, the dog's sideline handler and a competitor from the game about their recollections from that infamous moment.
Main attraction in Georgia vs. Southern game might be halftime show: (ESPN.com, Published Sept. 21, 2015) This was a fun story that came about mostly out of curiosity. Knowing the reputation of Southern University's marching band, "The Human Jukebox," I wondered whether Georgia would require that the band make the trip with the football team in its contract for their game at Sanford Stadium. So I requested a copy of the contract and, sure enough, there was a section that included that stipulation.
Dawgs key in Jacobs' recovery: (ESPN.com, Published Nov. 23, 2011) I covered Georgia for nearly a decade and the only time I saw Mark Richt cry was when we sat down in his office and discussed what happened to David Jacobs a decade earlier. Jacobs suffered a stroke after a 2001 practice and nearly died, and had to undergo a grueling rehabilitation process to regain basic physical skills that most of us take for granted. I caught up with him a decade after the incident and wrote two stories on what he is up to now. The second story focused on his speaking to the team in 2011 and inspiring Richt's newer players.
Georgia LB Jake Ganus' trick play results in postgame engagement: (ESPN.com, Published Sept. 22, 2015) Georgia linebacker Jake Ganus had his girlfriend completely fooled when she and their family members were ushered onto the field after a win against South Carolina to celebrate his winning a fictional "Senior of the Week" award. Instead, he proposed to her, adding another happy chapter to his UGA experience after leaving the defunct UAB program.
Leonard Fournette is college football's next phenom: (ESPN.com, Published Aug. 24, 2014) Before he had even played one game in college, LSU running back Leonard Fournette was already a legend in his hometown of New Orleans. His arrival in Baton Rouge was met with an inordinate amount of hype, with even longtime college football pundits speculating that he might contend for a Heisman Trophy as a true freshman.
Landon Collins' mom might require another promise from son: (ESPN.com, Published Dec. 30, 2014) Landon Collins' mother April Justin became a viral sensation when she publicly disapproved of his choosing Alabama over nearby LSU on national television. Collins became an All-American at Alabama and entered the NFL draft shortly after this story published. Justin indicated she would probably support that decision, but she wanted him to pinkie swear that he would complete his degree -- a motherly tactic she also used when she made him promise to do whatever it took to become an impact player at Alabama if she was to approve of his leaving Louisiana.