So, there’s a big game Saturday. It will have all the trappings. National audience. National prime time. National title implications. The blimp may as well read: “center of the college football world.”
Nope. I’m not in Kansas anymore.
Kansas, in my analogy, represents Auburn, Al. That’s where I spent my past 17 months, covering a truly enigmatic football program. The Tigers packed their greatest heights and deepest depths into a span of 30 months. I was there for the latter, covering a national champion plummet 20,000 leagues under the sea.
Clearly, this is a different challenge.
My name is Ryan Wood, and I’m embarking on a great journey thanks to a wonderful opportunity. My first day as South Carolina beat writer for The Post and Courier was Tuesday. Yes, I picked one heck of a week for an introduction.
This week, there really is little time for side-winding distractions. This week is about South Carolina. It’s about Georgia. It’s about two teams that have a healthy dislike for the other, thanks to proximity and fighting over the same goals in the SEC East.
But, if you’d allow me briefly, I’d like to tell you a little about myself. To do so, I’ve adopted colleague Aaron Brenner’s clever 7 at 7 format.
1. Family first: I’m married to a wonder gal named Kelly, whom I met in a political science class my freshman year of college. I thought she was pretty. She thought I was annoying. It really is a miracle we married. (I clearly got the better end of the deal.) We have a 17-month-old son named Owen, and we’re expecting two more children in March. Twins?!?! I was shocked, too. Come spring, we’ll have not one … not two … but three kids.
2. Off the beaten path: I’m from north central, Ind., a town called Marion. It’s a place known for basketball in a state that’s known at every level for basketball. I took another path, attracted to football since the day I first begged my parents to buy me cleats. Of course, I was also 5-foot-10, 180 pounds … and slow. On the field, I wasn’t going far. So I combined my two passions – sports and writing – to become a sportswriter. Novel idea, I know.
3. #MACtion (Yes, the hashtag is warranted. We’re in the age of social media, folks!): My alma mater is Ball State University, where I went to class when I wasn’t working for the student newspaper. The Mid-American Conference is far from the SEC – same distance from here to Mars – but I was closer to major college football than I thought. I covered Brady Hoke’s final two years at Ball State, the last a 12-0 regular season in 2008. No, I wasn’t surprised when the current Michigan coach quickly ascended his profession.
4. #MACtion … so good you write it twice: Out of college, I caught another miracle. My first job was at the Daily Chronicle in DeKalb, Ill., where I covered Northern Illinois football one season before its shocking appearance in the Orange Bowl. It was a great foundation for a young reporter, but covering the MAC can give you a different perspective on the game. If South Carolina gives up 28 points to Georgia on Saturday and still wins, nobody will forget a subpar defensive effort. If Northern Illinois gives up 28 points to Idaho on Saturday and still wins, nobody will care.
5. Professional storyteller: As a beat reporter, I care about the wins and losses, player injuries, weekly awards. But my passion is stripping sports down to the raw, human element – the thing that makes sports truly great. My most memorable bylines at Auburn were stories off the field. I hope that will be the same at The Post and Courier.
6. A great team: Brenner, also an Auburn beat alum, is one of my closest friends. We met on the Plains, clicked immediately. Now he’s like an uncle to my kid. I’ve wanted to work for The Post and Courier since he returned to Auburn from his interview for the job covering Clemson. He had a glowing report of sports editor Malcom DeWitt, college editor Gene Sapakoff and the whole sports team. Their approach to covering a beat – tell great stories, be unique – is a perfect match with what I like to do. I know I have huge shoes to fill. Darryl Slater did a great job covering South Carolina for The Post and Courier, Travis Haney before him. Andrew Miller did a great job in the interim role. I’m not looking to reinvent the wheel here. Just want to keep it rolling.
7. Feels like home: I love palm trees like children love Santa. Seriously, each time I see one, I’m jumping inside. It was inevitable I would end up living in the Palmetto State. I consider myself lucky enough to call two places home in this great state. My professional home will be Charleston, a great city with great people. I look forward to the writer-reader relationship we’ll have. Each morning, when you flip to our sports section and read my story, you make my job worth it. I’ll live in Irmo and consider the greater Columbia area my personal home. Kelly and I are very excited to be here. From everything we’ve seen, it’s a beautiful place. We look forward to entrenching ourselves in this community, this city, this state. But first, I have a fairly important football game to cover Saturday.