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Postcard from Santa Clara: An unforgettable season

Watching the first five minutes of the 2019 College Football National Championship produce 21 combined points, I sat back in awe.

I’ve been lucky enough to cover college football for the past five years, but I’d never seen a game start, or finish, quite like this one.

After the roller-coaster-like first several drives my advisor, Sports Capital Journalism Program director Malcolm Moran, looked over to me and my colleague Josh Roller.

“Buckle up,” he said with a smirk.

Gee, I wish you would’ve told me that last July.

That’s about the time I began my responsibilities covering what has been a truly unforgettable 2018-19 football season. Through my roles with the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA), The Outland Trophy and IndyStar – all set up by IUPUI’s Sports Capital Journalism Program – I was able to travel the country covering the sport I love.

In about half a year, I’ve gone to Big Ten Media Days in Chicago, traveled across Indiana covering high school, NCAA and NAIA football, met and hung out with the College Football Playoff selection committee in Dallas, attended the ESPN College Football Awards Show in Atlanta and capped it off with an unforgettable trip to Santa Clara, California.

During that span, I’ve seen myself grow as a journalist in ways that I never could have imagined. Coming in, I thought I was going to be nervous going through the sequence of media events in San Jose before, during and after Clemson’s 44-16 domination over Alabama in the national championship.

I wasn’t.

I felt right at home, reporting alongside some of college football’s best like Stewart Mandel of The Athletic, Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports and CBSSports.com writer Dennis Dodd, who followed me on Twitter.

In case you missed that, Dennis Dodd now follows me on Twitter. As I was typing I looked back to ensure that it was, in fact, my personal account he follows and not one of the accounts I help manage.

Anyway, I digress. I felt comfortable among some of my idols because I kept thinking, “I’ve been here before.” Working long hours, cranking out multiple stories in a day and writing on deadline. That’s what this trip has been about, that’s what my career will be about, and I love it.

While the days leading up to the game were unforgettable, the Monday of the National Championship solidified what I want to do with my career – cover college football.

After the FWAA Annual Awards Breakfast, I waited in the lobby of the Fairmont San Jose, staking out the College Football Playoff governance because of reports – including my own — that they were discussing the possibility of playoff expansion. It was a big story. I waited in the lobby for more than two hours before I was able to write my second of three pieces for Newsday about how the committee put an end to rumors about potential expansion.

From there, we headed directly to Levi’s Stadium for the game. Since I wasn’t driving, I began ferociously typing away to see how fast I could discern the information and beat the other national writers who I knew were doing the same thing.

Finishing up my story, I quickly made sure that I sifted through the dozens of pages of game notes to ensure I had everything I needed to write a game story on deadline.

“It goes by in a blink of an eye,” I’ve been told this whole trip. And it really does. As I sit typing this, I’m one meal away from heading back home to begin my final full semester of school. There’s nothing I’d like more than to go back in time and relive this experience – all six months of it – again.

And you know what? I think I will.

Listening to stories and meeting people who’ve covered, or worked around football for years, I can’t imagine doing anything else with my career.

I would be remiss if I didn’t give out a few thanks to the people who’ve made all of this possible.

Thank you, Malcolm Moran, for setting up what has been the most unforgettable year of my life. I am forever grateful for your continued trust, support and guidance.

Thank you, Steve Richardson, for giving me a chance to work with The Outland Trophy, taking me to Atlanta for the College Football Awards Show and acknowledging my work at both the FWAA Past President’s Dinner and Awards Breakfast, even though I’m not yet worthy of being in the same room as those people.

Thanks, Ted Gangi of the FWAA, for your amazing stories and insight. It’s nice to know that in a room full of national writers you still find the time to come and say hi.

I’m missing a bunch of people, like everyone who took the time to offer a 22-year-old insight during one of the busiest weeks of the college football season.

This isn’t a goodbye. Somehow, someway, I’ll find my way back to a College Football Playoff.

Until then, I’ll keep reading and learning from the best.

By Robby General | @rgeneraljr

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