Within Inches: How We Got Here

Within Inches: How We Got Here

Football

Within Inches: How We Got Here


A new feature, Within Inches, that takes a look at something slightly off-topic, be it behind-the-scenes or whatever miscellaneous Michigan-related thing that doesn’t fit anywhere else.


Within Inches: How We Got Here

The road from being a bartender to publishing WolverinesWire has been a long one.

I found myself in a dark room, looking around – a camera strapped around my neck. A flash I barely knew how to use. I’d become an accidental photographer over the course of the past few years, taking pictures of political candidates in official capacity as they came to town for the 2012 election cycle. But even that wasn’t on purpose. As a former film major, I bought my then-Canon T3i to take video. But here I was, for the umpteenth time, snapping photos, but this time, I was surrounded by heroes.

It was December 2014, and in this room, was my favorite Michigan football player of all-time, Devin Gardner, who played his last snap as a Wolverine just weeks earlier, in a loss on the road at Ohio State, where Michigan looked like it had control until running back Drake Johnson tore his ACL – again. Look to your right, and there’s Ed Muransky, the former All-American and noted front-office guru of the great San Francisco 49ers teams of lore. Look to your left, and there’s Brady Hoke, recently fired from his post, but putting on a brave face for his senior class, despite the dejection that came with a 5-7 season. Ahead of me was soon-to-be Green Bay Packers LB Jake Ryan, who, amidst a series of disappointing seasons for the maize and blue, was, himself, taking in his last formal moment of being a Wolverine.

In that moment, I was at peace. I was content with the world. It felt like nothing could ever top this moment.

It was surreal even getting this opportunity. I had spent four years in Hollywood, three of which in training to be a talent agent at United Talent Agency. I hated every minute of it, save for Saturdays in fall, when I’d either traverse to a bar with fellow Michigan alums or have a small gathering at either my humble Hollywood apartment, or at my friend Corynn’s, a former classmate of mine in Ann Arbor. After I tired of the Los Angeles rat race, I came home to Michigan for the holidays and never left. It wasn’t in my plans. Only weeks earlier, I mired how I got to live in a land with mountains and ocean and sunshine, yet, here I was, feeling like I was called home. To greater Detroit, to Ann Arbor.

Life in politics was divisive, and gave me an equal amount of contempt for the daily. Film degrees only carry you so far when you’re not looking for creative jobs in the entertainment industry, and my U-M degree opened fewer doors than I had knocked on. I settled, for the moment, accepting a serving/bartending position at a seafood chain, while I plotted my next move.

In the interim, I put my film degree to some use. I bought the aforementioned camera. I downloaded full Michigan games and edited them together as I had learned in Ann Arbor – eliminating the feed at the bottom, putting clips together in succession. I made a limited name for myself with my first attempt, entitled “FERGODSAKES” after the then-popular Hoke’s catchphrase. Immersed in a world of Adobe After Effects, new skills acquired took it the next level, and what was, at first, a weekend project, turned into my first accolades in the world of Michigan fandom.

The second iteration of “Fergodsakes” prior to the 2013 season:

I wondered, often, what it would be like if I could do something like this as a career?

The videos came every year, on the eve of each successive Michigan football season. I made the front page of MGoBlog – which to me was the pinnacle of hype. Years later, as I toiled at the restaurant, I yearned for something different, something more. As I attempted to date 9-5 types, our schedules in complete disharmony, I sought out the Alumni Association, in hopes that they’d have some answers for me. I showed anyone who would listen the videos I had made, and that’s when, in late 2014, they asked how I was with a camera, and I became the official photographer of the 2014 Michigan Football Bust.

While that lived with me for quite some time, the shine wore off. I was back to square one, looking for something – anything – that could bring me closer to my first love: football. It was late-March, and I was bartending with my golf partner. He was about to leave for the night, when I got a message from Steve Lorenz, of Wolverine247 fame. He asked if he could give me a call, and I rushed in the back room to accept it, leaving my colleague to his devices behind the bar for an hour beyond what he intended. Steve had seen my work for the Bust, and asked me if I’d be able to take pictures at the 2015 Spring Game in mere days – new head coach Jim Harbaugh’s first. I probably tried to be calm and collected, but looking back, there had to be a level of ecstasy with such a request.

It was April 1, I believe, and reasonably warm. Not knowing the ropes or how journalists of any kind are supposed to act, I wore my favorite Michigan sweatshirt, a rugby-styled offering I picked up from M-Den a few years prior, in anticipation of Under the Lights II. I made my way down to the field and marveled that I, once again, was setting foot on the field turf where heroes and villains are made.

It wasn’t my first rodeo, overall. My senior year at Michigan, the professor of my TV production class sent out a mass e-mail, asking if anyone wanted to work the 2007 Michigan – Minnesota game for ESPN Classic. There were two options available: one as a utility – which required two days work, helping set-up and strike the camera equipment, and the other as a parabola microphone holder on the field during the actual game. I jumped at the opportunity for option one, and found myself all over the hallowed grounds of The Big House; in the press box, in the tunnel – everywhere. The game arrived, and with the limited setup, the producers said I could feel free to roam the sidelines, to watch the game from wherever I pleased. This led to a part-time job working with the newly-launched Big Ten Network, where I would continue to be a utility, but this time for mens and womens gymnastics and also at ill-attended basketball games, coached by this first-year Wolverines guy named John Beilein.

But this was different. The excitement surrounding Michigan football was at an all-time high, eclipsing that to which I was accustomed from Lloyd Carr to RichRod to Brady Hoke. I had gone to every 2014 home game as a fan, and on Senior Day 2014, the announced 100,000-plus seemed drastically less, as I had several rows, basically to myself. Now, just to catch a glimpse of Harbaugh in close quarters was a big deal, for everybody. And I had a front row ticket.

Hours later, Steve, Ben Fidelman and I sat in the press box, one vastly different from the one I was in eight years prior, and I showed them my pictures. Steve said I could continue to take pictures for the site if I wanted to, the invitation was mine to accept. I gleefully did, and while it was a step in the right direction, I still wondered if there could be more.

Months later, I would have another one of those wow moments, just as grand in scale, but in a much different context. Steve invited me to help him and Ben cover SoundMind SoundBody, then a giant nationwide camp, before the NCAA’s legislators decided to ruin it for everybody. I arrived, cameras in tow, and everywhere I looked, there was a high-level prospect or a nationally recognized coach. Giddiness overwhelmed me as I snapped pictures of Brian Kelly and Jim Harbaugh talking to future five-star Amon-Ra St. Brown. As I watched Urban Meyer, Greg Mattison and D.J. Durkin studying players like eventual Clemson commit Xavier Kelly. I watched Michael Onwenu – who would commit to Michigan in a matter of weeks – go through drills, as Penn State head coach James Franklin came by and introduced himself to Steve and I. I watched junior standout Donovan Peoples-Jones and eventual Ohio State commit Binjimen Victor go through drills together. I saw Mark Dantonio smile for perhaps the first time. It was crazy.

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh poses with now-Florida State DE Joshua Kaindoh

It was soon after that the photography element was just a sliver of my self-given responsibilities. My now-ex-girlfriend and I went to the first-ever A4: Ann Arbor’s Aerial Assault Quarterback Camp on the athletic campus, taking pictures and videos of the action. The premier guest was Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler, and I, again, was there, strapped with two cameras. Steve put out the APB on social media, alerting his followers to my presence there in official capacity, and I saw my Twitter account go from 400 strong to 1,000 in a mere matter of hours. I met up with Devin Gardner, who remembered me from the bust, and arranged to meet with him and Denard Robinson as part of a (still-not-released) project that Adam Schnepp (MGoBlog) and I had been working on.

Days later, we met up with them and some other notable former Michigan players, at Schembechler Hall. We did our thing, and I edited together a small, fun video based off of what Devin and Denard were saying. But that’s what got me thinking: what if I could write? I asked Steve what he thought, and he said I should go for it. So I did a quick write-up of what they had to say about their participation in A4, days earlier.

But what if I could do that all the time? Like, for press conferences, and such?

The season quickly approached, and I decided, that’s exactly what I was going to do. I arrived at Media Day in August, surrounded by the people who’s work I had been reading for years. Surrounded by the players I had adored from afar for just as long. The plan was, put a camera on them, and see what I could come up with.

It turned out, nothing so great.

Once upon a time, in high school, I somehow found my way backstage at every rock and metal show my heart desired, interviewing my favorite bands. Bands like Incubus, Slipknot, Megadeth. But I never was well-versed in the art of inquiry, as much as I just wanted to be around my heroes. This was different, and it became apparent quickly, as I asked then-running back Derrick Green a question that got a one-word answer. It wasn’t his fault, and he couldn’t know that I was, well, green myself. I tried my best, talking to Kyle Kalis, Shane Morris, Alex Malzone, Drake Harris. Some interviews went…okay. Others, not so much (again, that was on me). I settled down when it was picture time, and we photographers had the opportunity during Jim Harbaugh’s press conference to go out on the field of Michigan Stadium and arrange players as we liked. Here, I found myself side-by-side with photographers I respected immensely – Eric Upchurch, David Turnley, Bryan Fuller. And, somehow, arranging pictures with Jabrill Peppers, Jake Butt. Asking then-pass game coordinator Jedd Fisch to pose with his wide receivers, or then-offensive coordinator Tim Drevno to do the same with his linemen. Hours later, we had the same opportunity to speak with the coaches, and I had an excellent conversation with former Michigan RB/running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley – except I was so nervous that my camera was pointed entirely away from him.

The picture I posed of Tim Drevno and the 2015 Michigan OL.

But it was the start, and I listened in as the masters of this art – Angelique Chengelis, Nick Baumgardner, Mark Snyder, Brendan Quinn and then-Michigan Daily editor Jake Lourim did their thing. If I was going to do this, I’d have to sit back and learn from those who came before me, in a crash course that I was all-too-thrilled to be taking.

The season came, and every Monday, I would rush to Crisler Center for Jim Harbaugh’s press conference, go write up what I learned at Starbucks in Livonia and then pull into the restaurant in Novi just in time to bartend for hours. Rinse and repeat for four months. I continued to learn and get better, but that wasn’t without growing pains. I tried to remain quiet, but took my first chance to ask Jim Harbaugh a question.

It did not go well.

Eventually, all the pictures, all the articles and all the videos got me the opportunity that turned into a full-time writing position with 247Sports. It brought me to San Antonio for the Army All-American Bowl. It brought me to New York and New Jersey on an unseasonably warm weekend for a Rutgers night game, where Michigan rolled 77-0. It brought me Ohio State, where no one within earshot thought J.T. got a first down. It brought me to Miami, where my love for cigars was mixed with further immersion into the world of Michigan football.

That’s how I got here, in short. I’m still learning, but anyone who wishes to move forward hopefully still is. I’ve learned how to better ask questions, I’ve learned to how divulge information in a way that, hopefully, you want to digest it.

And now that we’re WolverinesWire, I hope to continue to cultivate that, and bring you multi-faceted coverage that speaks directly to how I got here.

The journey continues…

Contact/Follow @WolverinesWire@isaiahhole

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