I’m not a fan of self-promotion, but I’m posting this more as an appreciation of the folks I got to write about in 2017. So, here are my favorite stories I wrote this year, and why I enjoyed writing them so much.
* Manny Diaz is finally home
Manny Diaz grew up in Miami. He cut his teeth on football at the old Orange Bowl, watching games with his dad. His father was mayor of the city, was a key player in the Elian Gonzalez story. That Diaz has found so much success with the Hurricanes in the past two years is a terrific homecoming story.
All of this was written before the advent of the Turnover Chain, of course, but I think it’s clear how much Diaz understands Miami, understands its players, and embraces the essence of what The U means to the city.
* Clemson’s best dive bar
One of ESPN’s editors had a plan to write about food this season. His pitch: An Anthony Bourdain-like trip around college football. The idea didn’t entirely take off this season, but as the Waffle House feature noted in my previous post shows, we did do some fun food features. This was another. My story on Clemson’s Esso Club was some of the most fun I’ve had reporting this year, with all the colorful details you’d expect from a place like the Esso, and it got about as much attention as anything I wrote.
* Inside Bronco Mendenhall’s library
Most coaches live inside a small bubble. Not Virginia’s Bronco Mendenhall, who is unique in a community that rarely embraces outsiders. The idea for this story came more than a year ago when Mendenhall casually told me about his personal lending library, but it really blossomed into something more because of the level of introspection from Mendenhall and UVA senior Malcolm Cook. Mendenhall’s openness about his introverted personality was refreshing, and Cook’s sheer enthusiasm for finally having a real father figure in his life provided the perfect through line for the piece.
* Luke Maye’s sudden fame
I hadn’t written much (any?) basketball for ESPN when I was asked to put together a quick feature on Luke Maye, the North Carolina forward who rocketed to stardom with a brilliant performance in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament. I was hardly the only one writing about Maye, so my goal was to write something different. Maye had noted that he’d arrived at class the Monday after his big games to a standing ovation, and so I reached out to his professor. It turned out, that was the perfect source for a unique story and a nice reminder that the best details are often from the sources who aren’t obvious.
* Bradley Chubb’s boundless energy
I wrote about Chubb and the NC State D-line a couple years ago, touting the bright future for the group. It was largely ignored. But by this season, Chubb was a superstar, and trying to profile him again needed to be something more than an introduction. It needed to be definitive, to get beneath the surface and explain who Chubb really was. I’m still not sure I did that, but I know he thought the story got him right, and the details in the piece were colorful enough that, at the very least, I think you get a real feel for what drives a guy who is just so… driven.
* Sean Pollard gets saved
This story was, in many ways, an incredibly tough one to report. It was heartbreaking talking to children with cancer and their families. But it was also incredibly inspiring, and the little girl who provided so much of the narrative — Bella — will stick with me for the rest of my career.
* Lamar Jackson got better and everyone missed it
I wrote this early in the year, but it held up OK. Lamar Jackson was, in my opinion, one of the year’s most interesting stories, and I’d be surprised if he isn’t a big talking point leading up to the draft, too. He’s so good, but no one is quite sure how to translate that talent into something we can understand.