Throughout the course of your lifetime, you will make thousands, maybe even millions, of choices (don’t quote me on that, I don’t do math). Every so often, there comes a choice that will leave an indelible mark on the course of your history on this small rock in the middle of nowhere. A lot of those marks are individual achievements, but if you’re truly lucky, you will get to share them with the people who truly make those achievements possible.
I am truly lucky. I am so damn lucky that it feels like a dream. A dream that I don’t want to wake up from. But if you spend too much time in your dreams, you’ll eventually forget how to live. The first choice was choosing Slippery Rock University, but the more important choice was choosing The Rocket.
I was never good at math or science in school. It was complex, it challenged a part of my brain that must have never developed and I just didn’t like it. I barely scraped by physics my senior year of high school (although we’ll just chalk that up to senioritis) and I had to get a tutor for whatever math I took as a junior. So, what did I do coming into college? I chose a major heavily reliant on math AND science. But it kind of, sort of, almost was a life in sports.
To say my first semester in college went poorly would be an understatement of rather epic proportions. A colossal failure? I sure felt like one. As it turned out, utterly unpredictably, I know, I wasn’t good at anatomy. I wasn’t good at going to class either. To blame my failures on a disliked major or anything other than myself would be unfair and wrong. I own my failures now, but I didn’t then.
I rolled into my second semester with a new major, my current major, and a GPA of 1.0. It was embarrassing. I went to my probationary meetings, but I didn’t really improve my behavior. I was going to class more, but I was drifting aimlessly. I was lost in all senses of the word. My GPA improved minimally, but it was still below a 2.0.
I remember sitting in my bedroom in my parents’ house, playing Skyrim one day in January, waiting for the mail to be delivered. I wasn’t 100% sure how the expulsion process worked, I was too scared to look, but I was a nervous wreck as I waited for a letter from SRU. The letter came that day, and I got it before anyone else could discover my failure. My eyes raced across the page, scanning for the proverbial axe drop. I didn’t see it. OK, maybe I had another chance.
Fall 2017 was important for a number of reasons. It was the beginning of the climb to fix my GPA, and, now I don’t want to say more importantly, but more importantly, it was the semester I finally started contributing to The Rocket.
Adam Zook was the assistant news editor at the time; he was also my best friend. If there was ever anyone who was born to be a journalist, it was him. He was insightful, curious and had a way with words that few could match. He encouraged me – relentlessly – to contribute for The Rocket, just go talk to Cody Nespor and Justin Kraus, he said. Well, I did. And it was the best decision I’ve ever made. Even if it didn’t feel like it at first.
My first assignment for The Rocket was a men’s soccer article. “Men’s soccer ties again.” 337 words of complete and utter perfection. … Well, it wasn’t an abject failure, I guess. But it was the first of 200 articles written during my time with The Rocket. My first interview came a short while later, an interview I scheduled with then-men’s soccer head coach Steve Small in his office after class (I was attending class regularly finally) one morning.
With my heart hammering a million miles an hour, I nervously walked into the Field House a good 15 minutes before the interview. I had a rough idea where his office was, tucked away inside the sprawling collection of… offices above the court. I had a list of questions on my notes app, my voice memo pulled up with all the other apps cleared (a habit that carries through today) and no idea what to do or say. I found Small’s office, knocked twice and no one answered. He wasn’t there. I was kind of relieved, maybe this wasn’t a good idea after all. I was about to leave when he walked into the sitting room outside the offices, absolutely no recollection of who I was on his face.
“Rocket?” he asked me.
“Yes,” I stammered.
“Well… come on in.”
I don’t think he understood a word I said when I asked my questions. I stammered through my four questions, not really listening to the answers so much as I just wanted to get through it. I muttered a thanks, and I was back outside. Pretty good start, huh? That was three years ago?
Somehow, after a few more articles, one of which being my first feature story in which I called coach Giegucz Jennifer (sorry, coach…), I started to get used to this lifestyle. The thought of talking to coaches and athletes didn’t leave my stomach in knots. Funny enough, I was actually liking it.
As a kid who flunked out of athletic training, was listless in sport management and had no real direction in life, The Rocket saved me. I had a purpose, a reason to wake up every day with new excitement. It’s no coincidence that my first Dean’s List (Not to brag but multiple Dean’s List appearances now…) came as I was elected to assistant sports editor.
I was fortunate enough to spend two years on staff, rising from the rank of Padawan learner under Jedi Knight Matous to being promoted to Jedi Knight myself, and while I’ll never reach the rank of Master, I trust that I was able to pass on valuable knowledge to those who needed it. I actually spent an entire night in The Rocket office once, the Star Wars prequels playing in the background.
With my time at The Rocket coming to an end, it’s a bittersweet feeling. It’s comparable to a dream when you come to the realization that you’re dreaming. You can hold on for a little bit longer, or you can open your eyes. It’s time to open my eyes.
These past two years have been the best of my life, finding my passion in life, getting to live and explore that passion every day and working with some incredible people. I’ve written about Harlon Hill Award winners, incredible student-athletes with even more incredible stories, every sport that SRU has to offer and more. I’ve been blessed, truly. And it wouldn’t be possible without the help of so many people.
To my professors: Dr. Higgs, thank you for holding me – and the whole major – to a higher standard. Dr. Crow, thank you for being someone who values laughter in a classroom, it’s much needed. Dr. Zeltner, thank you for teaching me what it means to be a journalist – and more importantly someone I can always ask for advice. Dr. Harry, thank you for dragging this random kid through journalistic writing, I’ll never forget it. And most of all, Dr. Fleming, thank you for being my SRU mom. None of this, literally none of it, would be possible without you.
To my dear Rocketeers, I stand on your shoulders. There are, have been and will continue to be incredibly talented and dedicated journalists on this staff. To the staffers who hired me, thank you for welcoming me with open arms. I hope I made you all proud. To the staffers of present, thank you for letting me help you produce quality content. I’m only as good as all of you. To the staffers of the future, thank you for keeping this paper going. I’m eternally grateful for you all.
To Oscar, future Pirates beat writer and aspiring PGA Tour pro, thank you for being more of a brother than a friend. I hope I have lived up to the magnificence that was your writing. Let’s watch Rise of Skywalker soon.
To Hope and Hannah, it feels like we’ve been through everything there is to go through together, and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. You are both incredible journalists, better people and I’m proud to have gotten to work with you both. Hannah, you are truly the kindest person I’ve ever met. You can do whatever you want in life, please never limit yourself. Hope, you have a strength of spirit that I don’t think you even know. Believe in yourself.
To Keegan and Brendan, thank you for being my boys. Keegan, you are the most talented photographer I know (sorry, Paris), and I cannot wait to see what you make with your talent. Thank you for being a true friend. Brendan, you are one of the most talented writers I know. When you put it all together, I expect to find your byline in Sports Illustrated.
To Tyler and Madison, you are the future. I have the utmost faith that the pair of you will transform the sports section far past anything I ever imagined. No pressure now.
To Nicole, there is nothing that I could possibly say to thank you enough. For everything. I wouldn’t be where I am today without you. You have challenged me to be the best version of myself like no one ever has.
To Adam, thank you for being my best friend. I’ll never be able to repay you. I just wish you were here to see me now.
To my parents, thank you. Mom and Dad, I don’t know what I’d do without you. Thank you for believing in me even when I didn’t deserve it. Kole, let’s play some Mario Kart tonight. I love you all.
There are so many people that I am thankful for, too many to thank in one column, so I limited this to majority Rocket. And this seems to be a good place to wrap things up.
Never be afraid to dream, but don’t forget to live. This dream of mine may be over, so now it’s time to open my eyes.