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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Man, I got played.

I was convinced. I was supposed to be a sports reporter. It was everything I wanted, and it was what I was called to be. How did I know this? Perhaps it was because I started writing this column at 11:21 p.m. when I have an exam the next day that I just started studying for. Oh, and did I mention the six-page paper that is due at the same time? I'm a few paragraphs in. No worries, it's only 11:57 now.

Sorry, professors, but I picked Tim Tebow over you a long time ago. I've been to more press conferences and interviews than classes. During my editing days, I cared more about how the paper looked the next day than what I got on a quiz. I'd rather have used a stronger word in a tiny box than get five points higher on a test.

I don't, however, believe you'll be seeing this byline anywhere in the future. When I was applying for journalism gigs earlier this spring and late last fall, a line in one of my cover letters said that if I'm not meant to be a sports reporter, "God has played some well-crafted mind games with me the past few years."

This is how I got played - and I couldn't be happier about it.

Returning from a spring break mission trip, God changed my heart and showed me the gifts He has given me. Those gifts aren't supposed to be used in journalism. They're better used elsewhere, and that elsewhere, I believe, is in seminary. I'm not sure when - it may be in four months or it may be in four years, but that's where I'm supposed to be. I'm going to leave the timing up to the Big Guy upstairs.

I love people - and even understand most of them - and I am called to use those gifts in more ways than just interviewing, reporting and writing.

Wherever God sends me, I've had one heckuva ride getting there. Anything I write here doesn't do justice or provide proper appreciation to those whom I've dealt with and have put up with me.

I've served what I call the three-semester alligatorSports sentence, surviving 40- to 70-hour work weeks as the Assistant Sports Editor, Editor and finally the Sports Editor this past fall, a semester filled with some of the greatest editors in the Alligator's history.

I've been around this joint for nine semesters, written hundreds of stories and endured 589 1/2 headaches.

It has all been one unforgettable, crazy, intense, blessed ride.

And holy shnikies, I've had a lot of people who helped me get on this trip.

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Ian Fisher, who for some reason took a chance on me with only horrid high school clips, worked with me and forgave my rookie mistakes. If you don't remember Extra Iannings, that shows you how old I am.

Nobody - and this isn't close - had as big of an impact on my writing as Louis Anastasis. If Louis didn't take as much time with me as he did, I wouldn't be writing this today. He pushed me, and when I turned in something that wasn't horrible, he said how proud he was of me. Thank you so much, friend.

I learned how to run a sports staff from Nick Zaccardi. Nick, you were the ultimate sports editor for a college paper, and I was extremely fortunate to be able to sit by you every night. If you guys want to talk about a guy doing what he's meant to be doing, Nick is supposed to be a sportswriter. You were not only a colleague, but also a friend. On Nick's Facebook page, he says he never forgets people who have had an impact on his life. You, my friend, have touched mine.

Even Bryan Jones - who thought being sports editor was worse than trying to formulate a defensive gameplan for Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and Jeff Demps - left a mark. You were great where it counted. You were a loyal and true friend and someone who cared more about us as people than about the 300 to 500 words we'd write for you each night.

If you guys want to know somebody whose byline you can keep reading, watch out for Evan Drexler. He's a sports reporting stud, and he is going to kick some serious butt in this business. Plus, he made sense of my incoherent sayings last fall when we worked side-by-side every night. Evan, if you can do that, the rest of this business is a piece of cake.

To the rest of the current staff, there's so much talent here it's ridiculous. Go break stories and write features that make Sports Illustrated drool. The sports section is in great hands.

Residents of Gainesville and visitors to, whatever you do with your life, make sure you touch others. That can be in any field, wherever your passion lies. I don't care if you have the emotional depth of a cactus, but when anybody gets passionate about something, those around you notice. This is what matters. It's an awfully lonely world if we go through life alone.

Thank you all so very much for allowing me anywhere from 350 to 2,000 words of your newspaper space on any given day for the last nine semesters. I've been far luckier than I deserve.

God bless.

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