More than two years ago, I wrote my first feature article for The Badger Herald, a seemingly meaningless profile on one of Wisconsin’s linebackers who was in the process of a difficult position switch, as well as a painful recovery from an injury.
Then-freshman Culmer St. Jean is no longer a struggling athlete, and while he might not agree with me on this (or even know my name for that matter), we have quite a bit in common.
OK. I’m not six feet tall, I don’t weigh 230 pounds and the best football player I could tackle wouldn’t even make The Daily Cardinal practice squad.
I’ll tell you what, though. St. Jean and I might not be buddies and we might not be physically similar at all, but while we’re different on one side, we’re one in the same on the other.
After practice the evening of Oct. 20, 2007, I nervously walked into the McClain Facility and was directed to St. Jean. My first question for him went something like this: “How … uh … is your, uh, … switch to middle linebacker going?”
Yes. Bad question. However, perhaps an even worse response?
“Well, it was like, more inside,” he said. “There’s less space, more big guys.”
I couldn’t help but laugh at St. Jean later that evening while transcribing my quotes. I wondered how someone — no less a football player — could spew out such meaningless garbage.
But when I began preparing to write this column, instead of listening to profound words from Bo Ryan and Bret Bielema, I found myself turning back to that first feature and how poorly written it was. No style, no substance, nothing.
You see, as a freshman, I didn’t really know what being a part of the Herald really meant. I thought it was totally awesome that I could speak to football players with little experience as a journalist, and that’s all I wanted to do.
Here’s where St. Jean comes in. Back in 2007, the freshman was in the midst of a brutal position battle with former Badger Elijah Hodge, who had seriously regressed from the previous season.
At that point, St. Jean just wanted to play, and so did I.
Now, as a redshirt junior, the middle linebacker has started 11 of the Badgers’ 12 games this season, recording 60 tackles and had 15 of those in one game against Michigan State.
St. Jean no longer just wants to play. He wants to win, and more importantly, he wants to lead.
Just as he went through arguably the toughest part of his career midway through his freshman year, so did I. My Hoops America column titled, “Integrity not Samson’s concern” elicited nasty responses from angry Indiana basketball fans, and unfortunately for me, they were pretty legitimate.
I thankfully got another chance, and like my buddy St. Jean, I tried not to look back. My 60 tackles are in the form of 178 articles. My 15-tackle game was a 1,700-word feature on Marcus Landry. I guess you could call me the team captain of the Herald Sports section.
And just as my relative success over the past couple of years is a personal accomplishment, the possibilities were created as a result of a truly remarkable team (yes, much better than the UW football team).
St. Jean probably has just as many memories in his two-and-a-half playing years with the football team as I do with the Herald. He’ll always remember losing bowl games, and as for me? Well, I’ve never beaten the Cardinal in a football game either.
More importantly, though, the relationships I have built since I joined the Herald staff will always stick with me. This semester, I believe our staff has continuously put out the best Sports section in the history of our newspaper and probably the school in its entirety.
When monetary issues took away our precious AP license, we came back with more in-depth features and provocative columns. Michael Bleach and I also debated the possibilities of the Silk Exotic Gentlemen’s Club Bowl versus the Chipotle Burrito Bowl.
So, how does all of that relate to St. Jean? Think about it this way. Our improvements are a direct product of our own hard work, but more importantly, those who surround us. Putting together a special design at the last second would be nearly impossible without a dedicated staff, and throwing snowballs off the roof in the middle of a blizzard isn’t the most fun thing to do alone (just don’t tell Penz).
It’s funny that my entire career at the Herald can be summed up alongside St. Jean’s. When I first had that interview, I thought it — like my time at the Herald — would have a relatively minor effect on my life. Little did I know that, two years later, I would view that five-minute exchange as a life-altering experience.
It’s a tough thing to leave behind, but I know the section will be in good, if not better, hands next semester. Who knows, maybe there’s another St. Jean out there? Or maybe another Jonah Braun? Eh, who am I kidding?
Jonah is a junior majoring in journalism and Hebrew and Semitic studies. He would like to thank everyone who has read “Jonah’s Wail” over the past year and a half, and hopes to be an international contributor to the Herald next semester from Paris. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.