A high school English teacher told me that I wrote well and that I should consider a career in journalism. Being a young man not prone to long periods of introspection, it seemed as good a choice as any.
Thanks to that gentle nudge of encouragement I went to college and majored in journalism, and here I am 30-plus years later writing about sports as Bleacher Report's new South Carolina Lead Writer.
For most of my career, I've worked as a college beat writer for daily newspapers, and it has been a heck of a ride.
I covered Georgia the year Herschel Walker won the Heisman Trophy and Auburn the year Cam Newton took home the statue and led the Tigers to a national title.
I moved to the New Orleans to cover LSU and Tulane for the Times-Picayune during the less than memorable football seasons in the late 80s and early 90s. That said, I did get to see Shaquille O'Neal as well as LSU's first championship in baseball.
In 2011, I started my second stint covering my alma mater in Columbia, South Carolina.
I have seen my fair share of ups and downs in an ever-evolving sports journalism industry, but I wouldn't trade it for anything.
Evidently, I'm still not prone to introspection.
Which coach or player was the best to interview?
Consistently, Steve Spurrier. He tells you what he thinks and isn't afraid to step on a few toes along the way. Although he has been known to call down a sports writer or two, most of his barbs are directed at other coaches and other teams. Just ask former Tennesee coach Philip Fulmer and former Georgia coach Ray Goff.
What was the best team you ever covered?
Without question, Auburn's 2010 championship team. Cam Newton was electric. They really didn't know what they had with Newton in the beginning, but game by game they found out, and by the end of the season, they were the best team I've seen in 30-plus years of covering football.
A somewhat close second was the Georgia team that lost to Penn State in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in the 1982 Sugar Bowl. Herschel Walker vs. Todd Blackledge and Curt Warner.
What was the most memorable game you have covered?
Auburn at Alabama, 2010. Auburn trailed 24-0 and came back to win 28-27. To me, that game resonates even more than the Tigers' national championship victory over Oregon because of the intensity of the Auburn-Alabama rivalry.
It's hard enough to beat Alabama at home under any circumstances. Imagine doing it after spotting the Tide a 24-point lead.
Which quarterback gives South Carolina its best chance to win in 2013?
Probably Connor Shaw, because of his versatility, although I believe the Gamecocks will need both Shaw and Dylan Thompson before the season is done. Shaw is tough as nails but also a bit injury prone. Also, if Shaw is having an off day, Spurrier won't hesitate to make a change and bring in Thompson.
Can Jadeveon Clowney win the Heisman Trophy?
He's definitely a longshot just because it's so hard for a defensive player to win the award. He begins the season as one of the favorites, but he'll have to be a dominate force in almost every game to remain in the conversation, especially since his main competition for the award—quarterbacks, running backs and receivers—will pile up gaudy offensive numbers.
Which defensive players will benefit the most from Clowney's presence?
Everyone else on the defensive front, but in particular Chaz Sutton at the other defensive end slot. Sutton is a senior who has paid his dues and waited for an opportunity like this one. Defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles could also be poised for a big year after putting in a lot of hard work in the offseason.
What does South Carolina have to do to beat Georgia and Florida this season?
Last year the Gamecocks played a near-perfect game against Georgia, then self-imploded against Florida. The Gamecocks will have to play their best football and have a few bounces go their way against those two opponents.
Getting Florida at home definitely enhances the Gamecocks chances of beating the Gators.
What's your prediction for South Carolina in 2013?
I think a third consecutive 11-2 season is the most likely outcome, with the possibility of a breakthrough to a BCS bowl appearance. The way the schedule sets up, I think it's Spurrier's best chance for a championship since he's been at South Carolina.
The last four games are at home. If somehow they get to that point of the season unbeaten, look out.
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