I’ll never forget my first K-State game. My dad, uncle and I were sitting in my grandpa’s Winnebago well before kickoff, eating biscuits and gravy. It was still dark out, or maybe not. This was 20 years ago and I was nine. Details in my memory have shifted with time.
I remember looking out the window into the stadium parking lot. I remember seeing a group of Husker fans unrolling a giant banner that said “GO BIG RED.” I remember hating them. How dare they not cheer for the Wildcats.
I remember sitting in the stands above the south end zone and wondering why people were throwing oranges on the field. I remember asking my dad.
“Because when K-State wins this game, they’re going to win the rest of them and go to the Orange Bowl,” he said.
I didn’t know what the “Orange Bowl” was. My mind conjured up an image of a giant bowl of oranges. I liked oranges. I was happy.
But the happiness didn’t last. K-State lost the game 17–6. I remember watching Coach Snyder as he trotted off the field with the team. I remember thinking that someday I would be his quarterback and I would beat the Huskers.
I wanted nothing more.
I’ll never forget the summer before my eighth grade year. I went to the doctor for my fall sports physical. When the doctor asked me what sport I wanted to play, I told him football. There was no other sport.
I remember the doctor sitting across from me as my spindly legs dangled from the examination table.
“Oh, son,” he said, with a look on his face like he was about to tell me I had cancer. "You can’t play football. Not with those brittle bones. They’d knock you to pieces.”
He went on to explain to me that while I’m perfectly mobile, the cerebral palsy I’d been diagnosed with at birth significantly decreased my bone density, making it very unsafe for me to play contact sports. It was the first time I’d ever been told I couldn’t do something. I’d spent my whole life to that point proving doctors wrong. Talking when they said I’d never talk, walking when they said I’d never walk. But this was different. This barrier was unbreakable. I was standing at the entrance to the path of the only dream I’d ever had, and an impenetrable wall blocked my next step.
I remember running home, fighting back tears. I remember bursting through the front door and running to my room. I remember laying my head down on a notebook on my desk. I don’t remember how long I sat there, but I remember lifting my head and deciding I needed to get something out. I was so angry. So devastated. So full of… something. I needed to find an outlet. I opened the notebook, picked up a pen and started writing. To this day, I can’t remember what I wrote, but I remember knowing it was good. A new dream was born.
I’ll never forget the moment I gave up on being a sports writer. It was the fall of 2003 and I was sitting in a dank, poorly lit coach’s office in the bowels of Barton County Community College’s Kirkman Center. Sitting across from me was Lyles Lashley, the track coach. Two years after this encounter, Lashley would be indicted for lying to a federal grand jury. At this moment though, he was lying to me.
In August, I’d been named as the first freshman sports editor in the history of Barton’s Interrobang newspaper. My first assignment was to investigate further allegations of improper benefits being given to athletes by Barton coaches. The whole mess had been ignited by the Ricky Clemons scandal the year before. Now there were more questions. I had already interviewed athletic director Neil Elliott and newly hired basketball coach Dave “Soupy” Campbell1, both of whom served me with heavy doses of smug condescension. Now Lashley was practically yelling, pointing at the trophies and plaques that adorned the shelf above his head.
“Why don’t you write stories about the good things we do here? Why does it always have to be bad news with you people?”
By the end of the interview, I was devastated. I got into sports writing because I loved sports, and now the people who make my job possible were treating me like I was a pest. I was only 18 and just starting out. It was too much. By the end of the semester, I had dropped out of school.
I’ll never forget Christmas morning, 2009. After a second failed run at college, I’d been living in my parent’s basement for the last three years. I had completely given up writing and I was working nights as a dispatcher for the county sheriff. I wasn’t depressed, but I wasn’t happy.
I remember being very excited because my little sister and future brother-in-law had made the trip from college to spend Christmas with us. Even after all these years, my mom still tries to make sure we’re all together to exchange gifts around the tree on Christmas morning.
I remember the smell of freshly brewed coffee in the air as my sister crawled under the tree to hand out gifts. The heat from the gas fireplace made it extra cozy in the living room. She handed me her gift and told me to open it. I ripped off the paper to find The Imperial Cruise by James Bradley. I opened the front cover to read the book jacket and found a hand-written message:
I picked up this book one day & thought of you. I really don’t know why, but what I do know is that you should feel honored. And I really liked the quote in the back of the book. (You’ll have to check that out.) Merry Christmas!
I hope this Christmas is as lovely as all the rest. I know that you’re capable of changing the world, you just need the motivation & encouragement to take the first step. Consider this book as a small shove in the direction of success. Don’t forget that I am always here to help you (I almost have a college degree, by God!) And NEVER forget that I love you! Let’s start a new decade off on the right foot!
The quote in the back of the book was from James Michener:
Just because you wrote a few books, the world is not going to change. You will find that you will go to sleep and awaken as the same son-of-a-bitch you were the day before.
I’d be lying if I said that the message she wrote didn’t evoke a few tears. It was right then and there that I realized just how unhappy I was.
It was time for a change.
I’ll never forget when I found Bring On The Cats. It was 2011. I had recently moved to Manhattan to take a job as a dispatcher for the KSU Police Department. I had just gotten back from the Baylor game and my mind was buzzing. I needed to write something. I remembered hearing about SB Nation, a place where fans could go and write about their favorite teams. After some hunting and about 45 minutes of typing, my first BOTC post was born. It turned out pretty well, but I still wasn’t sure I wanted to get back into writing.
It took almost a year for me to work up the courage to post again. I had a good feeling that 2012 was going to be a special year for K-State and I wanted to be a part of it. Week after week, I wrote post-game recap fan posts. I didn’t care if anyone read them. I just wanted to write. Turns out, I caught the attention of TB and Jon. The rest is history.
This is the part of the story where the past meets the present. This is the part where I have to say goodbye. A few weeks ago, I accepted a position with the Junction City Daily Union as a sports writer. I’ll be covering Junction City High School and other area sports, which includes full press access to cover K-State.
Unfortunately, that means I can no longer regularly contribute to BOTC as a writer.
It’s really hard for me to leave. As an as-yet unmarried man with no kids, some of the greatest moments of my life have happened in my two years at BOTC. Interviewing Coach Snyder, Josh Buhl and the other players from the 2003 team for Ambushed, interviewing Daniel Sams, creating Fake Patty and Kerf and watching a post with my byline get voted to the top of the Reddit college football page. It’s all been amazing.
But what I’ll really miss the most is working with fantastic people. Jon Morse is an excellent site manager and an even better human being. If not for his support and leadership, I might still be sitting in the dispatch chair at KSUPD, dreaming of what might have been.
TB is a great friend and a great man. His lessons in everything from football to writing to politics are things I’ll take with me for the rest of my life. I’ll always keep a gChat window open for you, buddy.
Ahearn Alley has become one of my best friends. The podcasts we’ve recorded have been some of the most fun things I’ve done in my time here, but the hours we spent chatting off-air before and after were even more fun. Of all the things I’ve done here, I’ll probably miss the podcast most of all2.
Curtis and Panjandrum have always been incredibly kind and supportive. Their words of encouragement have helped carry me through to the finish line on some of my toughest posts. We’re all very lucky to have them on staff.
Bracket has been busy with life since I came on staff, so I haven’t had a chance to really get to know him, but hopefully we’ll meet, shake hands and swap stories someday soon.
My success at BOTC has also allowed me to meet and chat with some other great people from the SB Nation community. Ian Boyd is one of the finest football analysts (and biggest closet K-State fans) out there today. Matt Wilson (mattisbear) is one of the funniest dudes I know, a great twitter follow and an excellent podcast guest. Peter Pope is a great podcast host, guest and a fine human being. My brother-from-another-mother, David Smith has educated me on the finer things about the state of West Virginia, helped foster my budding soccer fandom and always makes me laugh.
Even though I’m leaving as a regular contributor, I won’t completely disappear. With the blessing of both Morse and my newspaper, I’m going to stay on as an editor/“creative advisor” to help spitball ideas for fun posts and guide some of our new, up-and-coming contributors. I’ll also always be alive and well in the comment sections, trying (and often failing) to make you all laugh with my cheesy jokes and puns.
My editor at the Daily Union has assured me that I will have an incredible amount of creative control and the ability to assign myself regular features on just about anything within my coverage area. I’ll be sure and promote anything and everything I can so you can all stay updated. Maybe I’ll even entice a few of you to subscribe :)
As I stand at the entrance to the path of my long-held dream of covering K-State sports, I hope you all know how important you are to me and to this site. You, the readers, are what makes this whole thing go. Without you, I wouldn’t even have a dream, let alone be able to live it.
And if any of you have ever sat in the stands of a sporting event and dreamed of being closer to the action, trust me, if you work hard enough and want it bad enough, SB Nation can get you there. It’s a fantastic community.
Both Elliott and Campbell were also later federally indicted and served time for their involvement in several scandals. ↩
The podcast will live on. Ahearn has my replacement all lined up and it will still be as great, if not better, than it was before. Also, I plan to return as a guest as often as they’ll have me. And be sure to tune in for the next installment of Bring On The Podcast. It'll be my last, and we'll have a VERY special guest. ↩
Ed. Note: Derek still has two articles loaded in the chamber to run before the weekend concludes. This is a horrible day and a great day, all at once; we're going to miss Derek's contributions so, so much, but at the same time... well, he's getting paid to do what he loves now. And that's what life should be all about. From all of us at BotC, Derek... Happy Trails.