When the ball dropped on Jan. 1 of this year, I never imagined the world as we knew it would be turned upside down by a global pandemic, and I had no idea I would be returning to the sidelines to cover high school football.
For a football fanatic like myself, there is no place I’d rather be on football Friday nights and Saturdays in the Horseshoe than the sidelines, so with no sports stringer at our disposal for the fall high school sports season, I decided to make my long-awaited return to the sidelines as a sports photographer.
Before becoming editor of The Delaware Gazette in February 2018, I began my journalism career in 2004 as a sports reporter for The Urbana Daily Citizen. My first assignment was covering a high school football game in Champaign County, a small county of 40,000-plus people, many of whom can be found at one of the county’s five high schools on Friday nights in the fall.
For the next nine years, I covered high school football games every Friday night and almost every Ohio State home football game on Saturday. In 2014 when my wife and I decided to start a family, I made the decision to switch to covering news as the life of a sports reporter/photographer is full of long nights and weekend assignments.
In 2019, however, I got the itch to return to the sidelines and was fortunate enough to become a credentialed member of the sports media once again, and man was it a glorious return to the hallowed grounds of Ohio Stadium. While nothing compares to standing on the sidelines at a Buckeyes game, there’s just something special about covering high school sports.
This season I was eager to take in the sights and sounds of football Friday nights at the seven Delaware County high schools. While the crowd sizes were limited due to COVID-19, there were still enough fans combined with the bands to create the atmosphere only football Friday night provides.
Being on the sidelines with the home team each Friday, I could tell the local student-athletes were happy to be out there competing during a year unlike any other. Standing on the sidelines also brought back many fond memories, like the time I suffered what was probably my first and only concussion I’ve received, or at least that I’m aware of.
Back in middle school I was lucky enough to serve as a ball boy for the Urbana University football team — my best friend’s dad was a coach at the time, so we took to the field with the team on Saturdays.
It was during this time when I learned a valuable lesson about being on the sidelines during a football game — always be aware of your surroundings, especially when college athletes are running at full speed in pads with helmets on.
So, there I was standing on the sidelines during a UU game one Saturday afternoon just doing my job as a loyal ball boy when the Urbana quarterback started to scramble down the sideline, running for his life. By the time I realized he was running out of real estate and was about to get hit, it was too late. Unable to get out of the way in time, the QB undercut my legs and down I went, hitting my head on the field. A little dizzy, I was helped to my feet by the trainers, and after some time on the bench, I went back to the job at hand as possible concussions weren’t treated the way they are today back in the 1990s.
On that unforgettable day, I learned a lesson that little did I know would come to serve me well as a sports reporter/photographer — make sure to keep my head on a swivel at all times, just in case I have to dodge a player with nowhere else to go but to run over anyone in his way.
When it comes to being on the sidelines at an Ohio State home game, nothing beats the sights and sounds of 100,000-plus fans and The Best Damn Band In The Land.
Some of my favorite moments from my time taking photos of the Buckeyes off and on since 2005 include being on the field for the Texas, USC, and Miami (Fla.) football games, and of course, being on the sidelines for several games against that team up north, specifically my favorite game of all-time that I had the privilege of covering — the 2006 contest featuring the top-ranked Buckeyes and the second-ranked Wolverines.
Being on the sidelines at Ohio Stadium comes with many perks, including the chance to be within yards of famous athletes and celebrities like LeBron James, members of Rascal Flatts, and Matthew McConaughey. While those encounters were certainly “alright, alright, alright,” nothing will ever come close to topping the time I was standing on the sidelines getting ready for the kickoff when suddenly I heard the chant I’ve taken part in numerous times over my lifetime — “Eddie, Eddie, Eddie …”
There I was camera in hand as Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George walked directly in front of me. As I stood there taking photos of the OSU legend while fighting the urge to be unprofessional by joining in on the “Eddie” chant, memories of watching Eddie play in the Scarlet and Gray came flooding back. It was a surreal moment to say the least.
Who knows, with the talent in Delaware County, I might one day end up covering a local high school gridiron star who one day hears his name chanted by over 100,000 people inside the Horseshoe. For instance, former Olentangy Orange standout Zach Harrison isn’t doing too bad for himself in his second season as a Buckeye.
Joshua Keeran is editor of The Delaware Gazette. Reach him by email at [email protected] or by phone at 740-413-0900.