Dave Matter named FWAA Beat Writer of the Year

Veteran Mizzou scribe is 11th recipient of the award

DALLAS — Dave Matter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has been named the FWAA Steve Ellis Beat Writer of the Year for his coverage of the University of Missouri football team during a pandemic-ravaged 2020-21.

The FWAA has named a Beat Writer of the Year since the 2011 season in honor of Steve Ellis, long-time Tallahassee Democrat writer who passed away in 2009. Democrat sports editor Jim Henry once wrote of Ellis: “Nobody covered Florida State athletics with the passion and ferocity that Ellis did for 30 years.”

Dave Matter

“As our industry evolves, I take more pride in being a newspaper beat writer in 2021 than ever before,” said Matter, who has covered the Missouri football beat for more than two decades. “To be recognized for that work is deeply appreciated, especially by my peers in the FWAA.

“Writers make our way with words, but I’ve struggled to find the best ones to describe how incredibly touched and honored I am to win this award,” Matter added. “Just to be mentioned with the past winners — some I know well and some only by their work and reputation — is the honor of a lifetime.”

Previous winners of the FWAA’s Beat Writer Award: Doug Lesmerises of the Cleveland Plain Dealer (2011), Mark Blaudschun of the Boston Globe and Steve Wieberg of USA Today (2012), Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News (2013), Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch (2014), Chris Dufresne of the Los Angeles Times (2015), Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman (2016), Mike Griffith of SEC Country (2017), Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com and Chris Vannini of The Athletic (2018), Brett McMurphy of Stadium Network (2019) and Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated (2020).

Matter has lived the Missouri beat — now on his fourth football coach (Larry Smith, Gary Pinkel, Barry Odom and the current head football coach Eliah Drinkwitz) — since the late 1990s when he still was a student at Missouri. He was a staple at the Columbia Daily Tribune until 2013 when he went to work for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, his current employer.

“Before he became such a fixture around Mizzou athletics that the Antlers (Missouri student group) started chanting his name at basketball games, Dave Matter made a name for himself by willing to stand in the sun longer than anyone else,” said Joe Walljasper, former Columbia Daily Tribune Sports Editor. “He watched every minute of every broiling preseason football practice, interviewed everyone who would speak to him, and then wrote long blog posts — thousands and thousands of words — that put the whole sweaty mess into context.

“I would prefer not to know how much unpaid overtime he worked, but he built a strong reader following and earned the respect of the people he covered,” Walljasper added. “Through the years, he’s developed sources, honed his writing style and accumulated the institutional knowledge that turns a good reporter into a great reporter. But he never lost the willingness to put in the work.”

Matter has won writing awards in the FWAA Best Writing Contest and others: Associated Press Sports Editors Top Ten twice and National Sports Media Association three times. He has had three books published, including “The 100-Yard Journey: A Life in Coaching and Battling for the Win” (Triumph Books), co-authored with former Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, whom he covered from 2001 to 2015.

He is a 2000s jack-of-all trades beat writer. In addition to writing game stories, features, analysis pieces, columns, blogs, he hosts weekly on-line chats, a podcast, a weekly TV show covering University of Missouri Athletics available statewide via cable and on-line.

To top that off, Matter is an adjunct instructor at the MU School of Journalism. He teaches an introduction to writing course, “instructing first-year undergraduates how to compose news stories and press releases in multiple formats and media, including print, online, TV/radio and podcasts.”

“He is relentless as a journalist, selfless as a teammate and totally on top of what is going on at Mizzou,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist BenFrederickson said. “Yes, sometimes even more so than the folks who work there. I’ve learned so much from watching Dave work, and his strengths truly set him apart when the pandemic’s challenge arrived. During a time when Zoom ruled and creativity suffered, Dave didn’t settle. He blazed his own path, rewarding his readers with quality coverage. He can hit you in the feels with a feature, teach you something about the sport in an analysis piece, and break big news. All in one day.”

Frederickson added that Matter had been instrumental in reviving the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s campus correspondent’s job, which “gives Mizzou students an opportunity to get valuable experience covering the Tigers while still in school. He (Matter) is an advocate for the next generation while providing a great example to follow every day.”

Matter summed up the FWAA award this way: “This award isn’t possible without the editors who have turned me loose on the Mizzou beat over the last two decades: Roger Hensley and Cameron Hollway at the Post-Dispatch and from the Columbia Tribune, Joe Walljasper and the late Kent Heitholt, who gave me my first paying job in journalism and someone we’ve dearly missed since we lost him 20 years ago this fall. I proudly dedicate this award to his memory.”

Founded in 1941, the Football Writers Association of America consists of journalists, broadcasters, publicists, photographers and key executives in all areas of college football. The FWAA works to govern media access and gameday operations while presenting awards and honors, including an annual All-America team. For more information about the FWAA and its programs and initiatives, contact Executive Director Steve Richardson at 214-870-6516 or tiger@fwaa.com.

Dellenger named FWAA Beat Writer of Year

DALLAS — Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated has been named the 2020 Steve Ellis Beat Writer of the Year (for the 2019) season by the Football Writers Association of America.

Ross Dellenger

In the most recently completed FWAA Best Writing Contest, Dellenger picked up a first place in Game Story and a second place for Feature Story, both stories dealing with LSU’s national championship season. He is the 10th annual winner of the award which goes to an FWAA member who has displayed excellence in college football writing during a season.

“I am humbled beyond words,” Dellenger said of winning the FWAA Award. “I’m not sure that I’ve ever felt more fortunate and proud. I pride myself in my work and this helps justify all the long hours on the road, in the press box and behind lit computer screens pounding on keys in the middle of the night.”

The award is given in the memory of the late Steve Ellis, the Florida State beat writer for the Tallahassee Democrat. Current FWAA President Doug Lesmerises of Cleveland.com, then of the Cleveland Plain Dealer was the first recipient in 2011. Other recipients have been Mark Blaudschun of the Boston Globe and Steve Wieberg of USA Today (2012), Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News (2013), Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch (2014), Chris Dufresne of the Los Angeles Times (2015), Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman (2016), Mike Griffith of SEC Country (2017), Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com and Chris Vannini of The Athletic (2018), Brett McMurphy of Stadium (2019).

“Ross is certainly an outstanding talent, combining excellent writing with detailed and thorough reporting,” said FWAA Executive Director Steve Richardson. “When LSU’s football team ascended to the national championship level in 2019, he showcased those abilities in covering most of the Tigers’ top moments with a flair. Overall, his breaking coverage of college football has been top-notch for a while now.”

 A native of the Mississippi Gulf Coast and a Mississippi State graduate, Dellenger has spent the last 15 years as a sports writer, specifically reporting on SEC football. He’s covered programs such as Mississippi State, Auburn, Missouri and LSU before landing at Sports Illustrated in May of 2018 as national college football writer. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife, Elizabeth, a fellow journalist. She is the lead White House correspondent for Newsweek.

 Getting to Know Ross Dellenger

Question: What was your first interest in sports/journalism and any good stories about how you got your start?

Dellenger: “My career started with an interest in sports before journalism came along. My father was and still is a high school football coach in Biloxi, Miss. I grew up around the sport as a kid — riding on team busses, running through locker rooms and playing around on blocking dummies. But I wasn’t athletic at all, couldn’t catch much and was rail thin. I played football for two years as a 6-foot, 160-pound offensive guard (spoiler alert: that didn’t turn out well). But I did develop a love for watching the game from the sidelines, and I began stringing for a local newspaper as a senior in high school.”

Q: Who were your mentors and what did they contribute to your career? 

 Dellenger: “I think the best sports editor I ever had was Rusty Hampton at The Clarion-Ledger. I’ve had plenty of other great bosses —  and do now at SI —  but Rusty really broke me in as a sports writer, teaching me more about reporting than actual writing. He was hard on us, and I’m thankful for that to this day.

“Ian Rapoport, now famously working as an NFL news-breaker for NFL Network, was once a small-town college beat writer in Mississippi, and he mentored me there, while covering Mississippi State for The Clarion-Ledger (I was a student at State then). I learned a lot about writing from Ian, a noted wordsmith who sadly doesn’t use that skill much longer (aside from Twitter of course!).

“There are plenty more people I idolized (and still do) in the industry, those I read closely and have watched their work ethic and reporting up close, including Kyle Veazey, Rick Cleveland, Pat Forde, David Brandt and, maybe most importantly, Elizabeth Crisp, my wife, whose vocabulary, concise writing and intellect I envy every day.”

Q: What are some of the stories you have done that have been the most rewarding to you? 

 Dellenger: “I think breaking news —  whether through short bursts on social media or woven into a deep investigative feature or enterprise story — is essential to journalism. To that end, some big news stories over the years stick out over everything else, including reporting Les Miles’ firing from LSU in 2016 and Ed Orgeron’s hire there as the full-time coach. Those were significant news-breakers for a young college beat writer and without them, I’m not sure I am in my current position at SI.

“But more specific to the ‘rewarding’ portion of the question. I pride myself in digging deep on issues, writing long, detailed stories on interesting people or topics. In a way, that’s a lost art in sports journalism these days. The world is so caught up in catching clicks and driving traffic that we’ve forgotten a cornerstone of our industry: explanatory writing that sheds light and reveals information never previously explored. As a beat writer, I tried to write one of those stories once a week, which could be very difficult during the season given other daily beat writing duties, but my boss at The Advocate in Baton Rouge, Joe Schiefelbein, gave me the time and resources to do this. My current bosses at SI, namely Ryan Hunt, has done the same.”

Q: Best piece of advice anyone ever gave you?

 Dellenger: ” ‘Write like you talk.’ That’s from Ian Rapoport. ‘Don’t try to be cute with your writing. Put down the thesaurus. Put away the dictionary. And write in simple terms. Your reader will appreciate it.’”

Q: Best interview you ever had and why?

Dellenger: “Talk about a difficult question. … I don’t know where to start. I have recency bias with this of course, but LSU coach Ed Orgeron’s mother, Coco, provided an incredible two-hour interview in December that triggered me to explore the coach’s Cajun heritage. She cried, laughed and even grew slightly perturbed during the sitdown — all signs of a great interview!

“But there have been plenty of others. Again, recency bias here, but I spent a full day two years ago with Dana Holgorsen. The day and night included boozing at the bar, watching a Houston Astros game and a sitdown in his office. A word of advice: You can understand a person more when experiencing them outside of their work arenas. That was the case with Holgorsen.

One more recent interview that sticks out took place last fall with former Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster, who revealed during a 20-minute talk with me that he’d been rushed to the hospital earlier that year with a heart condition —  the true reason for his retirement. You don’t forget those talks.”

Q: Hobbies/passions?

Dellenger: “A former colleague of mine, who I won’t name (ah what the hell, it was Scott Rabalais at The Advocate), once told me, “Ross,” he said, “you work hard and you play hard.” That’s pretty much me in a nutshell. I like to have a good time — bars, restaurants, the beach, the club — but there’s a time to work and a time to play. My life is split between the two.

“I don’t know that I truly have many passions. I do enjoy my job, which explains why I do find myself working quite a bit. I’m growing more and more passionate with traveling (for both work and play), though the pandemic has thrown a wrench into that. I think an impending passion of mine is traveling the world, as soon as the pandemic subsides. And though I no longer live on the Gulf Coast, I do have a passion for boiling and consuming seafood, specifically crawfish, crab and shrimp. Some would say I have a passion for flip flops, which is probably quite true.

“My hobbies are pretty limited. I enjoy a good weight-lifting session, a bike ride and fun night out on the town. I’ll never pass up an opportunity to go to a beach or, while back home, hop around the islands with family and friends.”

Q: Do you have any sports mementos in your house? Such as the press pass from the first game you covered, an old glove?   

Dellenger: “In all honesty, I do not believe I have any of that. It may come as a surprise, but I’m not the biggest sports fan. I watch college football and do enjoy it. I watch some golf and the NFL. But that’s about it. As I grow older, it interests me less and less. I’ve come to realize that sports is such a small part of our world — a great and wonderful part, full of incredible people and awesome stories — but a very small part nonetheless.”

Q: What has been the most difficult aspect of the last few months and COVID-19 in terms of covering sports?

Dellenger: “I usually spend the spring and summer visiting college campuses, building relationships with coaches and administrators, exploring potential story ideas, etc. But that didn’t happen much this year. I felt like I was back working for the Associated Press as a news intern. The virus had me springing into action. It really felt like I was a daily news reporter, each week chasing a new wrinkle regarding the virus and its impacts on a college football season.”

Q: What has the FWAA meant to you over the years?

Dellenger: “If you’re a college football writer, there is no better place to establish relationships than the FWAA. It’s a fantastic way to network, which we all know is the best way to ascend in the industry. Everyone mostly works hard. Plenty of people are good writers. Plenty more are good reporters. But who do you know and what do they think of you as a person? The FWAA is a great way to answer the latter question.”

McMurphy Named Steve Ellis FWAA Beat Writer of the Year

DALLAS — Veteran sports reporter Brett McMurphy of Stadium Network has been named the ninth annual Steve Ellis/FWAA Beat Writer of the Year for his work covering college football.

Brett McMurphy

McMurphy, 57, broke a huge sports story in 2018, concerning Courtney Smith and domestic violations against now ex-husband, ex-Ohio State assistant coach Zach Smith. His reporting also revealed that Urban Meyer, Ohio State’s head coach at the time, knew of the domestic violence despite his public denial of any knowledge.

After those disclosures, an Ohio State investigation confirmed McMurphy’s reporting, resulting in suspensions of Meyer and Athletic Director Gene Smith. McMurphy was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in the Investigative Category for the second time in his career, but he was not named a Pulitzer nominee finalist.

During the contest time period, McMurphy broke numerous news items (coaching and athletic director hiring/firings, new bowl affiliations/lineups, bowl bids, College Football Playoff news, etc.) From April 2017 to Aug. 13, 2018, McMurphy did all his reporting on Facebook/Twitter after being laid off by ESPN and bound by non-compete. He has been reporting for Stadium Network since Aug. 13, 2018.

McMurphy will be honored at the FWAA’s Annual Awards Breakfast on Jan. 13 in New Orleans at the Sheraton New Orleans, the Media Hotel in conjunction with the College Football Playoff National Championship Game. The late Ellis, for whom the award is named, was a longtime sports reporter for the Tallahassee Democrat who covered the Seminoles for three decades with tenacity.

Here’s an up-close-and-personal interview with Brett McMurphy:

PERSONAL: I am married to Susan, and we have a daughter, Chesney, a 15-year old high school sophomore. Susan and Chesney love traveling with me on my work assignments — especially if it’s Los Angeles, Pasadena, Destin or New York City.

I am an Oklahoma State graduate and this spring, OSU’s media and strategic communications department recognized me as the Paul Miller Journalism Lecturer of the Year. I have also won 10 FWAA Best Writing Contest Awards and twice have been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

MENTORS: Look, if you’ve worked — and have been laid off — at as many places as I have, you have crossed paths with many great mentors and even better friends. Here are a few that have truly impacted my career and life: Tom Kensler, Steve Schoenfeld, Tim Allen, Chris Harry, Joey Johnston, Martin Fennelly, Andy Staples, David Whitley, Dennis Dodd, Bruce Feldman, Tony Barnhart, Mike Epstein, Jeff Goodman, Mike Harris and Matt Hayes.

In addition, when I was laid off at ESPN, my wife was incredible throughout that time, in providing support and encouragement for me to continue to break news, even it was only on Twitter/Facebook and without a media outlet.

Kim Postlick, my high school journalism teacher, also deserves a great deal of credit — or blame — for my career. My senior year, she forced me to apply for a journalism scholarship at Oklahoma State, which I received. That was extremely fortunate since my only other college option was a partial scholarship to play small college football at East Central University in Ada, Okla., where I undoubtedly would have torn my ACL at least twice and majored in “undecided.”

BEST STORIES: The biggest was my reporting about the domestic violence past of Ohio State assistant Zach Smith and then Urban Meyer’s mishandling of it throughout their time together and what Meyer knew about it. There are other “best stories” I could include, but this one had the biggest impact.

Based on my reports, Ohio State launched an investigation, which cost the school $1 million, verifying my reporting and ultimately leading to a three-game suspension of one of college football’s most powerful and successful coaches. What’s ironic is this would not have reached this magnitude if Meyer didn’t lie when initially asked about my reports at Big Ten Media Days. “I don’t know who creates a story like that,” Meyer said. Of course, none of my reporting would have seen the light of day without the incredible courage and tenacity of Courtney Smith. I am forever grateful for her trust and confiding in me during the entire process.

BEST ADVICE: The best advice I have received is that when a source tells you something is off-the-record, you may never — under any circumstance — use that information. If so, start pursuing a new profession, because you won’t be a journalist for long. Something else I stress to younger reporters is that “it’s better to get beat on a hundred stories, than to be wrong on one story.” It doesn’t matter if you’re first if you’re wrong.

BIGGEST CHANGE IN THE PROFESSION: You don’t have to work at a giant media company to make a real impact and be a credible, trusted and relevant reporter. Because of the non-compete clause in my ESPN contract after I was laid off, the biggest story of my life I broke on my Facebook page. With social media, podcasts and other outlets, if you consistently can provide legitimate news and information and/or entertaining content, people will find you. It may take a while but eventually, they will find you.

BEST INTERVIEW: Long before he was hawking grills, George Foreman visited Odessa, Texas, where I was a reporter for the Odessa American, only a year out of college. Foreman was incredibly open, patient and gracious with his time. He was unbelievable, especially recounting the Rumble in the Jungle fight with Muhammad Ali. Runner-up: perhaps my shortest — and most memorable — nterview was my freshman year at Oklahoma State, working in the school’s sports information office. OSU hosted defending national champ Louisville and I was required to get visiting players’ quotes. With 4 seconds left, UL, up one, missed a free throw and OSU’s Eddie Hannon hit a game-winning 40-footer at the buzzer for the 72-71 upset in which OSU may have benefited from a friendly home court clock operator. (No instant replay in the old days). I entered the UL locker room (yes, you could go in the locker room back then), and asked UL guard Jerry Eaves about the controversial ending. Eaves said: “Four seconds on the clock. Our guy misses the free throw and the ball bounces in the corner — click. Their little guy goes and grabs it and turns up court — click. He dribbles through traffic — click — and then you tell me he gets all the way past half-court and shoots before another second clicks off? Kiss my ass: Flash Gordon isn’t that fast!” I said, “thank you, Mr. Eaves” and quickly exited the locker room and wrote the best game story of my life.

Chris Vannini: FWAA Co-Beat Writer of the Year

Chris Vannini of The Athletic and Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com will be named co-winners of the FWAA’s Beat Writer of the Year Award on Monday. The following is a profile of Dodd. For a profile of Dodd, CLICK HERE.

Chris Vannini, The Athletic: Co-2018, FWAA Beat Writer of the Year

Age: 29

College: Michigan State

Chris Vannini

Personal: Claimed FWAA Best Writing Game Story HM (2018) and FWAA Best Writing Feature Story HM (2018). I also won Best Sports Story when working at The State News- Michigan State student newspaper (2011)…I have been married to wife Gabi and since 2012…Dogs and pro wrestling are my passions. You will see both subjects all over my social media accounts. My wife, a dog trainer on the side, has worked at various animal shelters. We always have different dogs coming in and out of the house, along with the ones we own. I am also a pro wrestling fan, watching WWF/E since I was a kid. Writing about the transition ex-football players make to become pro wrestlers was a very fun story to do, combining two of my passions.

Mentors: I have to start with the various editors at The State News. When I was hired as an intern. I had very little journalism experience. I was writing alongside high school journalism all-stars. My early stories were critiqued heavily by the editors. They helped me figure things out. I owe my career foundation to the people at The State News: Joey Nowak, Julie Baker, Kris Turner, Cash Kruth, Matt Bishop, professional adviser Omar Sofradzija and others. The standard at that paper put in place by the students ahead of me was so high, winning a Pacemaker Award every year I was there, and I hoped to keep up that standard when I became an editor as a senior. Even after graduation, Omar was always a sounding board for me. Jason Beck from MLB.com became another mentor when I worked alongside him covering the Detroit Tigers in 2011. Pete Roussel, a former college football coach, hired me at CoachingSearch.com. Although he didn’t have a writing background, he taught me how to simplify subjects in a concise matter and get to the point and make the point. All of these people helped me get where I am today.

Most Rewarding Stories: Writing about the families honored on UAB’s children’s hospital jerseys was very meaningful. Each player was paired with a current or former patient. Some of the names were of children who had passed. Talking to Tracey Thompson, whose son “Jack-Jack” was honored on the quarterback’s jersey, she explained that you miss hearing your child’s name after they die. People don’t bring it up to you, for fear of upsetting you, but the silence makes their lives feel insignificant. So the fact that UAB used his name, especially in such a prominent position with the QB, was honoring Jack-Jack in a way where people would never forget him. I hoped my story had the same effect for those families. On a less serious topic, I pushed hard to write a story on how football players become WWE wrestlers. It took months to complete because I had to work to convince WWE to let an outlet they’d never heard of speak with active wrestlers, who were vital to the story. I also had to convince editors it was worth running during the season. But several events happened during the season to make it feel timely, and it turned out to be a hit with readers. It was a niche topic with a unique angle, but it worked.

Best piece of advice: When I was a college student at Michigan State, I was grappling with the time commitment of journalism (how it takes away from having a personal life) to go along with the declining state of the industry. I was enjoying college life as one does, but when I joined The State News as a sophomore, time with friends outside the paper decreased. I e-mailed Terry Foster, a Detroit News columnist whose radio show I listened to, and I asked about that balance and sacrifice. He responded with this: “If you like journalism, don’t do it. If you love it, then come into the club. You need passion to get through the rough days.” Ten years later, I still have that e-mail printed out, and I still think about that advice every day.

What has changed most in the journalism profession? I can really only speak for the last 10 years, but even so, I’ve experienced a big change on the print side. When I started at The State News as a sophomore, our paper had two eight-page sections every day. By the time I became sports editor as a senior, we only had one section, sometimes at six pages. The quick decline of print advertising took its toll. But I was an early adopter of Twitter in 2009. It was evident then how valuable it could be as a tool. Our sports account at The State News became a must-follow when I was the editor, like when Tom Izzo flirted with the Cleveland Cavaliers job in summer 2010. We had updates throughout the day, photos from the airport, photos from rallies and other news. That wasn’t normal at the time. Professional reporters covering Michigan State sports used to rib me over my constant Twitter usage. Now they are on it just as much as I am. Every job I have gotten has come in large part because of Twitter, whether that was finding a job opening or someone else finding me. Stewart Mandel and Bruce Feldman discovered my work at CoachingSearch.com through Twitter, and that eventually led to Mandel bringing me to The Athletic.

Best Interview: One of the interviews I’m most proud of was with Ohio University Football Coach Frank Solich this past August. I did a ton of research before the interview, and a colleague tipped me off to something about a class. I asked him an obscure question about being in a class taught by Tom Osborne when he was a Nebraska student-athlete, and he brought up that he nearly went into the FBI. I followed up on that a few times and got more details, which became the lead of the story. After the interview, an Ohio communications staffer told me that he never talks about the FBI topic with anyone, so the fact I found my way into the topic and got him to open up about it was encouraging. I was also told before the interview that he wouldn’t talk about Nebraska and his firing there, but I was able to ask numerous questions in ways that invited him to open up about it in a comfortable way. I got the important insight the story needed. I’d consider that one of my best interviews.

Dennis Dodd: FWAA Co-Beat Writer of the Year

Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com and Chris Vannini of The Athletic will be named co-winners of the FWAA’s Beat Writer of the Year Award on Monday. The following is a profile of Dodd. For a profile of Vannini, CLICK HERE.

Dennis Dodd, CBSSports.com: 2018 FWAA Co-Beat Writer of the Year

AGE: 62

Dennis Dodd, CBSSports.com

PERSONAL: Married. Wife Janet. Two children–Haley, 26, and Jack 22. Haley is a graduate of Missouri and is working in Los Angeles in social media. Jack is a senior in journalism at Kansas. Dennis has won three FWAA Best Writing Contest Awards. He is one of seven media members to cover all 16 BCS title games. Written two books, one on the history of Missouri basketball and the other on the formation of the Big 12. Calls wife Janet, “the absolute light of my life, guidance counselor, travel companion, cancer survivor and best friend.” One of his hobbies, NCAA Football on the PlayStation, was taken away from him by litigation; Jack took the Xbox to college. His passions are Happy Hour, hockey and Friday nights before Saturday games in college towns dining with media friends. “There’s no better fellowship,” he says.

MENTORS: The gang, Tom Shatel and Steve Richardson, early on. Richardson, Dodd says “mentored him when he came to Kanas City in 1981.” Shatel: “I wish I could be him as a writer and a father.” They can all still be seen in San Diego in somebody’s picture of that little joint by the sea. Dodd started going there 36 years ago; Shatel was along for the ride. Ivan Maisel, he calls his “literary and personal hero.” He also wants to thank Vahe Gregorian, David Jones, Todd Jones, Dick Weiss, Mark Blaudschun, Tony Barnhart, Chris Dufresne, Pat Forde and everyone who has pounded the key boards at midnight with him.

BEST STORIES:  Most proud of two—one was on Dave Redding. Drove up to central Nebraska to see legendary strength coach Dave Redding. In a profession full of characters, rogues and heroes, he was all three. Red Man had been stricken with Parkinson’s. He lived in a house built on the banks on of the Platte River by himself and his dad. His only companions were a couple of dogs and a houseful of memories. He showed me his Super Bowl ring he earned with the Packers. His went in depth on two brothers who made it big in Hollywood before both dying of HIV. He kept asking me if I wanted a drink. It was 2 p.m. It was clear he was lonely. I had to decline because I had to drive back to Lincoln. “I’m really proud of honoring him by winning for that story.”

In 2001, I had the idea to drive out to Cottonwood Falls, Kansas to find the Knute Rockne Memorial. It was the 70th anniversary of the plane crash that killed Notre Dame’s legendary coach. Before the days of GPS or Siri, I drove 90 minutes to Emporia, got directions to Cottonwood Falls, and then got directions again to Bazaar, Kan. That’s the closest spot to the memorial which stands alone on a 1,500-acre plot of land in the Flint Hills. I met a gentle soul named Easter Heathman, who as a 13-year old in 1931, had seen the plane come out of the clouds and crash. He was one of the first persons upon the scene. He remembered seeing a body with the legs wrapped with bandages. Years later, he figured that must have been Rockne because the coach had phlebitis. Well, over the years Easter became a caretaker for the memorial, taking anyone who wanted to see it, up to the site. The land owner had given him a combination to unlock a gate.

BEST ADVICE: Came from Janet, of course: “Listen…listen to her, listen to your children, listen to your heart. Professionally, listen to your interview subjects. They are doing you a favor by talking to you. They have a story to tell. It’s up to you to communicate it clearly. Also read (your story) one more time before sending it. Several editors.”

THE BIGGEST CHANGE IN THE PROFESSION: The lack of intimacy. I don’t have to tell anyone here how hard it is now to connect with subjects. Open locker rooms are few and far between. Interviews are now “media availability”. A chat must fit into an available “window.” I believe schools sometimes are doing disservice to these kids. They come to college to grow as people and, sure, as athletes. For a lot of them this is going to be the time of their lives. I’ve said many times, on the college beat we’re there to write something positive 80-90 percent of the time. Don’t make it so hard. I mourn the loss of access. Often the story that gets told is not THE story.

On the positive side, the best biggest change is the influx of women into our profession. There still aren’t enough, but they keep coming. That’s a good thing. Thank you, Stef Loh for being our 2018 FWAA President. Thanks to all of you for your passion for sports and professionalism.

BEST INTERVIEW:  Jeff Sims.  He’s the coach at Garden City Community College. When I visited a couple of years ago, this was before Last Chance U. Sims grew up in St. Louis and had a dad who smoked marijuana in front of him. He waited outside a prison for a player who was completing 3 1/2 years for armed robbery. There’s a book here somewhere about the desperation at the junior college level — for the players to get there, get good, and get out. During my visit there, I sat across from a linebacker, Alex Figueroa, who’d been kicked out of Miami for sexual assault. His teammate had body-slammed a high school security guard and beaten up his girlfriend on camera in the hallway. These are kids Sims pursued to be on his team. I’m not making value judgments here. I’m just telling you how fascinating the interview was. Coach and players made no excuses about why they there in the southwest corner of Kansas — to get out as soon as possible.

Mike Griffith named FWAA Beat Writer of the Year

ATLANTA-Mike Griffith of SEC County was named the Steve Ellis/FWAA Beat Writer of the Year during the association’s annual Awards Breakfast on Monday morning at the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel.

Griffith, FWAA President in 2007 and a frequent award winner in the association’s Best Writing Contest, becomes the eighth recipient of the Steve Ellis/FWAA Beat Writer of the Year Award, which annually honors one of the best beat writers in college football. The award is named after the late Steve Ellis, a standout beat writer who covered Florida State football for the Tallahassee Democrat for a number of years.

Mike Griffith

Griffith follows previous winners Doug Lesmerises, Cleveland Plain Dealer; Steve Wieberg, USA Today, and Mark Blaudschun, Boston Globe (co-recipients); Jon Wilner, San Jose Mercury News; Tim May, Columbus Dispatch; Chris Dufresne, Los Angeles Times;  and  Jason Kersey, Daily Oklahoman.

“Mike has been a relentless reporter on whatever beat he has covered over the years,” said FWAA Executive Director Steve Richardson. “Now that we are in an era of a myriad of reporting platforms, Mike has mastered the switch technique of adapting to the many different mediums.

“He’s also forever a guard of his and others’ job space in the press box. One time a couple of years ago, he was on the prowl when he was told a road SID was going to limit the time reporters could stay in the press box after a night game. The media and the FWAA are better off with a watch dog like Griff.”

Griffith fits in very well at SEC Country as its main Tennessee Vols reporter.

“On the Tennessee beat the past year, Mike has been a one-man wrecking crew,” wrote Ken Bradley, the SEC Country Deputy Sports Editor, in Griffith’s support letter. “Going up against competitors with multiple writers, he never backed down. In fact, he embraced the challenge. He stayed up late producing content to roll out the first thing the next morning. He thought of different ways to provide video content that others weren’t doing. He attacks every day the same way with the same goal — to inform, entertain and attract readers to SEC Country’s Tennessee coverage.

“A new job, with a new company mixed with modern-day digital journalism enabled me to cover college football a variety of ways this past year,” Griffith wrote.

Griffith’s duties on the Tennessee football beat include a daily podcast, attending and writing from football-related functions, Tuesday morning radio appearances on Huntsville and Nashville radio stations and Sunday morning appearances on Knoxville’s highest-rated local television sports show.

Special assignments involved travel to the homes of several signees as part of the “Next Generation” series, with Facebook Live presentation videos a part of the extensive interviews performed with recruits and their families.

In-season responsibilities also included taking pictures and setting up video to live-stream press conferences, team arrival at stadium and Facebook Live “stand-up” reports from after the head coach’s weekly press conference, as well as stand-ups from the pregame and post-game stadium field level and a co-host role on a Thursday night television show.

Griffith, a Michigan State graduate, was hired by Cox Media Group SEC Country in May 2016 after covering high-profile Michigan State football and basketball teams for MLive for four years. During his first stint in Knoxville, Griffith covered Tennessee football and basketball for the News-Sentinel for 14 years while also doing television and radio weekly.

Prior to Knoxville, Griffith covered Alabama for the Mobile Register for four years and Auburn for the Anniston Star, including Auburn’s unbeaten team in 1993. His first job out of college was covering Idaho State for the Idaho Falls Post Register. He worked all four years in college at the Lansing State Journal for Steve Klein, who went on to develop the blueprint for USA Today’s online product.

“When I think of Mike Griffith, eight words come to mind: talented, versatile, creative, hard-working, collaborative, professional and meticulous,” Bradley wrote. “If you were searching for a beat writer and could get half of those, you’d be happy. Mike brings all of that to the table every day.”


Jason Kersey named Steve Ellis/FWAA Beat Writer of the Year

Jason Kersey

Jason Kersey

Former Oklahoman reporter Jason Kersey has been named the Steve Ellis/FWAA Beat Writer of the Year for the 2015 football season, when he was covering the Oklahoma Sooners for the newspaper.

Kersey, almost 30 and now a writer for SEC Country and covering the Arkansas Razorbacks, is the sixth annual winner of this award. He will be honored during the FWAA’s Annual Awards Breakfast on Jan. 9 in Tampa, Fla., at the media hotel for the CFP National Championship Game.

“I am genuinely stunned and overwhelmed,” Kersey said. “I want to thank the committee for this unbelievable honor. It means more to me than I can adequately express. I want to thank Ryan Aber (an FWAA member), who was my cohort on the OU beat. He was as perfect a beat partner as anyone working in this job could ever hope to have.

“Also, thanks to my dad for instilling in me a passionate love for sports. Thanks to my mom for how irrationally proud she is of any accomplishments, be it massive or minuscule. And a special thank you to my wife, Annie. This job can be tough on spouses, and Annie not only puts up with it but also encourages and supports me because she knows how much it means to me.”

For the first time, the FWAA Beat Writer of the Year Award will be known as the Steve Ellis/FWAA Beat Writer of the Year Award.  The late Ellis was a standout beat writer who covered Florida State football for the Tallahassee Democrat for a number of years.

Previous winners of this prestigious FWAA award: Doug Lesmerises (Cleveland Plain Dealer), Mark Blaudschun (Boston Globe), Steve Wieberg (USA Today), Jon Wilner (San Jose Mercury News), Tim May (Columbus Dispatch) and Chris Dufresne (Los Angeles Times).

“Jason was instrumental to The Oklahoman’s Sports section’s success in print and digitally,” said Mike Sherman, sports editor of the Tampa Bay Times and former sports editor of The Oklahoman. “He worked his way through various roles in our department, capitalizing on every opportunity to build skills, relationships and his capacity for great storytelling. His reporting broke news and ground.”

In his nomination folder, one fellow writer said: “Jason’s work during the 2015 season perfectly paralleled the play of the team he covered. Oklahoma was at the top of its game, and so was Jason. His versatility shines through on a daily basis, as he reports the good, the bad and the ugly.”

Kersey gave Sherman an assist for his award-winning coverage.

“Mike Sherman is the best sports editor in the country,” Kersey said. “He hired me as a part-timer when I was just an awkward, 19-year-old college sophomore. Throughout our almost decade-long working relationship, he always believed I could do better. I miss working for Mike Sherman every single day because he flat-out makes writers better.

“When I was little, I thought I would someday be a quarterback. I didn’t have the arm, so I tried wide receiver,” Kersey added. “And when I found my speed and athleticism lacking, I decided writing might be my ticket to a career involving football.”


Jason Kersey joined The Oklahoman’s staff in November 2006 and worked as a part-time results clerk, a page designer/copy editor and a high school sports and recruiting reporter before spending four years on the OU football beat.

His work covering the Sooners twice resulted in national recognition as a top-10 beat writer from the Associated Press Sports Editors, as well as top-10 APSE honors for features, breaking news and multimedia. Jason has also won awards from the Tulsa Press Club and Society of Professional Journalists. During his time covering Oklahoma, Jason chronicled the Sooners’ monumental 2014 Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama, the rise of quarterback Baker Mayfield and OU’s run to the 2015 College Football Playoff.

His work at The Oklahoman also included extensive coverage of the racist fraternity video that shocked the entire country and spurred social change on OU’s campus; exclusive reporting on a Title IX sexual assault investigation involving a football player; and the Joe Mixon saga.

Jason left The Oklahoman in May 2016 to join Cox Media Group’s new venture, SEC Country, as its Arkansas beat writer. He is wrapping up his first season covering Bret Bielema and the Razorbacks.

A Noble, Okla., native, Jason graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2009. He lives in Fayetteville, Ark., with his wife Annie and dog Buster.

President’s column: Beat Writer award to be named for Steve Ellis 1

By Mark Anderson, FWAA President

A friend and I were traveling through the West with Steve Ellis back in the early 1990s. We all woke up in Provo, Utah, one morning ready to hit the road. But first we had to wait for Steve to file a Florida State football notebook.

In July. On his vacation.

2016 FWAA President Mark Anderson

2016 FWAA President Mark Anderson

That was Steve. From him, I learned the value of great reporting. No one could ever outwork Steve. The trips with Steve also gave me a love for this region of the country and an appreciation for the beauty of the West. I eventually made my way from the Tallahassee Democrat to the Reno Gazette-Journal and then to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Having worked with and having known Steve, I think it is truly appropriate that we name our FWAA Beat Writer of the Year Award after him. I have to credit FWAA Board Member Malcolm Moran, a long-time friend of Steve’s, with the idea. We both wish Steve could be here to enjoy the recognition.

Steve, sad to say, died on Nov. 19, 2009 after suffering a heart attack nine days earlier. His widow, Karen, will attend the FWAA’s Annual Awards Breakfast on Jan. 9, 2017 in Tampa and present the award in his name.

Karen shared her thoughts with the FWAA:

When I found out the Football Writers Association of America planned to name its Beat Writer of the Year Award after Steve, I was completely overwhelmed with emotion. I know Steve was an outstanding writer and a special man, but to be recognized by his peers is just amazing. I watched Steve work 24/7 to make sure he didn’t miss a story and to ensure all the facts were correct. The other writers on the Florida State beat always said they had to work harder just to keep up with Steve. He truly loved what he did and knew at an early age he wanted to be a writer.

When we first started dating Steve was working on a story about a freshman football player and was worried about a quote he thought could give people the wrong impression about the young man. He called the player’s position coach and was up until 2 a.m. waiting for a quote from the coach that would help give credibility to the player with fans. More…

Dufresne to be honored as FWAA Beat Writer of the Year; read his farewell column after 40 years at the LA Times

2013 FWAA President Chris Dufresne

2013 FWAA President Chris Dufresne

Chris Dufresne, president of the Football Writers Association of America in 2013, will be honored as the FWAA’s Beat Writer of the Year and receive a commemorative football at our annual Awards Breakfast on Jan. 11 at the JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn Resort and Spa.

Dufresne also recently retired after 40 years at The Los Angeles Times. CLICK HERE to read his Farewell Column, published on Dec. 8 in The Times.





Tim May Wins FWAA Beat Writer of Year Award

DALLAS –Veteran Columbus Dispatch reporter Tim May has been named  the winner of the 2014 FWAA Beat Writer of the Year Award for his superb coverage of the Ohio State Buckeyes, who played in the first College Football Playoff  Title Game here.

The FWAA’s Beat Reporter of the Year Award is based on a comprehensive look at the way a person covers the beat and encompasses all categories of coverage over a period of time. May was recognized at the FWAA’s Annual Awards Breakfast at the media hotel in Dallas on Tuesday, the morning after the Buckeyes faced Oregon in the title game at AT&T Stadium in nearby Arlington.

May has been a sports writer at the Columbus Dispatch since 1976, covering all manner of events from a few Super Bowls to a few national Putt-Putt tournaments. He has been on the Ohio State beat since 1984.

“I’m honored and humbled to receive this award,” May said. “Most of us local guys just bang away, day to day, but covering Ohio State football for 31 seasons has been quite the rollercoaster ride, from the Rose Bowl to the toilet bowl and back up again. As I’ve always said, I’d have the greatest job in the world if I didn’t have to write.”