Missing Preseason Camp

For the first time in what seems like forever, preseason football at Wake is preceding without me.

That means I’m left to gather information the same way as most of you reading this, by perusing the steady stream of camp accounts from Les Johns of Demon Deacon Digest and Conor O’Neill of my long-time haunt, the Winston-Salem Journal – and checking in to see whatever the regulars on the message boards are bandying about.

And from all I can glean, Dave Clawson and company are getting along just fine without me.

The one question I get most since retiring going on 12 months ago is “do I miss being a sportswriter?’’ — the only profession I held from the time I graduated from college in 1974. The short answer is no. The newspaper industry imploded over my final years, and I rode the wreckage from the top floor right down the sidewalk. And by then I was long-since tired of plane flights, hotel rooms, rental cars, long solitary drives home through the dead of night, not to mention the ever-encroaching set of restrictions placed on my ability to do the job the way I had done it for the first 30 or so seasons.

By the time I hit 65, I was ready to retire. I knew it, and so did anybody and everybody who had to deal with me over those final years. I’ve not regretted my decision one moment.

I don’t miss attending games. I attended enough games.

But I do miss seeing so many good friends one gets to know over a long career, though, truth be told, so many of them had already reached the finish line – whatever form that might take – before me. And there are days and assignments that I look back upon fondly.

Early August was always one of my favorite times. I really enjoyed covering preseason. I loved watching a coaching staff build a team block by block. I had great fun hanging out with Les and Steve Shutt, the media relations director, and members of his cracker-jack staff. And it was always a treat to meander down from our perch on the balcony of the adjacent indoor center to see what observations and pearls of wisdom Clawson might have from the session.

Often I’d chat a bit with a player or trainer or assistant coach, or maybe Dave’s daughter, Courtney, a bright, amiable young person I expect great things from once she graduates from Davidson.

There were the unavoidable issues we had to work through, to determine how much I had seen that I could report without ruffling the wrong feathers in ways that couldn’t be smoothed over. And I readily admit I chaffed from time to time at not being able to report developments – which most often took the form of injuries – that had always been on the record under previous staffs.

But that’s a whole other subject to which I will return in posts to come. What I will say, however, is that the changes had more to do with what was going on throughout the sport of college football than it did with one coach named Dave Clawson.

And besides, what we should never overlook is how lucky we are to have those daily accounts from Les and Conor.

By now, most college programs have closed almost all of their practices, preseason or otherwise. So any information that comes from those places consists of whatever the media-relations arm chooses to disseminate – that and, of course, the general flow of rumors, speculation and scuttlebutt that emanates from non-sanctioned sites and message board chatter.

Clawson, lest we forget, was burned badly by a turn-coat of a home radio analyst named Tom Elrod. And if I happened to interpret Clawson’s reaction as at least partly a pretext for doing what he wanted to do all along, that probably tells you just how hard-bitten I had become by my final days as a sportswriter.

What Clawson did, to his credit, was reach a compromise. Once game week arrives, practices are closed to the media. That’s a first at Wake, but, again, these are different times. I am thankful he thought enough of the local media – not to mention the fans – to keep preseason camp open.

Otherwise we wouldn’t have the on-site accounts from Les and Conor to chew over.

Though I would have one less thing to miss from my days as a sportswriter.