NEPD Owner: James Christensen
Exhaustedly picking my way through a nearly full parking lot strewn with empty bottles, dimming coals, and the crushed dreams of half a state, a faint smile somehow crept across my face.
The six-story trip down and up from the press box to the visiting team’s press conference wasn’t the culprit for my exhausted state. Perhaps it was the nervous stirrings that kept me from sleeping the night before, or maybe the eight hours that had elapsed since I had last eaten.
The smile, however, is a much longer story.
Four years ago, I started a website fusing two things I love: the New England Patriots and the NFL Draft.
The opening of NEPatriotsDraft.com was not met with the fanfare now afforded some website “grand openings”, a la ESPNBoston.com or Grantland.
Five unique visitors showed up on the opening day – non-coincidentally, there are five people in my immediate family.
After some small initial successes, including a Top 5 finish in the Huddle Report Mock Draft challenge in 2008, things were starting to get stagnant.
Media credential requests went largely ignored, although one small-college Sports Information Director sent a note saying that “…your website doesn’t look like a legitimate media outlet.” Ouch.
That would all change after the 2009 NFL Draft.
After Mr. Irrelevant, the last pick in the draft, was announced in 2009, I began looking for where some of my favorite undrafted free agents (UDFA) had signed, ultimately giving up the search. Instead, I started to gather the information myself – eventually becoming the premier spot to find information on UDFA’s following the 2010 and 2011 NFL Drafts.
A new coach and partner, BigLeadSports.com, was also instrumental in promoting our site and giving me the resources I needed to take NEPatriotsDraft.com to the next level.
With the help of Big Lead Sports, especially Executive VP of Content and Programming Andy Regal, we secured a spot breaking down possible UDFA’s for a USA Today 2011 NFL Draft magazine.
We’ve now had the privilege of hosting over four million visitors so far in 2011 (thru September 15) coming to our site looking for Patriots and NFL Draft information.
Just a few weeks ago, three blips of red on my BlackBerry alerted me to the fact that my place in the pecking order had finally changed. My Press Box credential request had been approved – for the Iowa (my former college) vs. Iowa State rivalry game.
As friends and family asked about my plans for the game, I explained that my seats had been, well, upgraded from the usual couch or party. With the exception of my wife, sister, and parents, nearly everyone was confused.
“How did YOU get a media credential?” “Do they sell press box tickets?” “What does your website have to do with it?”
These are the same people to whom, ultimately in vain, I had explained how the revenue from my websites was able to allow my wife to stay home and raise our own little draft prospects.
Thankfully, I wasn’t greeted with the same questions on entering the press box. A local sports anchor and his producer struck up a conversation with me, noting that they “are seeing more and more of you website guys this year.”
After exchanging business cards, I noticed a few minutes later that I had two new twitter followers, matching the names of the guys I just met.
The game itself, a triple overtime thriller, provided a ton of fodder for the live scouting report that I was continuously updating that day. Other than my inability to cheer and the fantastic All-22 high angle, the game itself wasn’t that much different that scouting in my living room or from the stands.
I stumbled my way through the start of the press conferences, questions sticking half-way as they tried to exit my addled mind.
Courage finally made an appearance however, as I managed to ask a decent question to a prospect that I had been watching. Broderick Binns, defensive end from Iowa, acted like I had been there for years, giving an answer more insightful than my question deserved.
After typing up my notes and thanking a couple of helpful writers, Marc Morehouse of the CR-Gazette and Matthew Elder of BuffaloBillsDraft.com especially, I walked out of Jack Trice stadium like I owned the place, a changed man. Only then did I realize that I had about two miles more of walking to get to my car.
In some ways, that walk mirrored my current situation. I’ve come so far, but I still have a lot to accomplish.
Shortly after hitting the publish button, I’ll be jumping into the NEPD-mobile and heading to Champaign, Illinois for the Illinois vs Northwestern game, just one of the four remaining games this year that I’ve received a credential for.
I’ll also be attending ISU vs Texas A&M, ISU vs Oklahoma State, and Iowa vs Michigan State. Our staff scouts will also be attending other games, including Boston College vs Florida State and more to come.
After that, we’ll see where the next walk takes us. For you loyal readers out there, thanks for helping NEPD become what it is today.