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Rake over this feature

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by YoungGun7, Oct 7, 2007.

  1. YoungGun7

    YoungGun7 New Member

    Without the helmet or his No. 5 jersey, many Mississippi State fans may not be able to recognize Gabe O'Neal. And they certainly wouldn't realize he plays linebacker.

    Most football enthusiasts would describe the attributes of a linebacker as a fierce, intimidating presence, who takes great pleasure inflicting pain on quarterbacks and running backs alike. And most importantly, they should be big. But for the 6-foot 2, 220-pound O'Neal, that's not the case.

    Just how much of a size difference is there?

    Look at how some of O'Neal's linebacker brethren from across the Southeastern Conference size up: Luke Sanders, linebacker from LSU, 6-foot-5, 242 pounds, Georgia senior linebacker Brandon Miller, 6-foot-4, 257 pounds, and Kentucky's Johnny Williams, 6-foot-3 240-pounds. O'Neal stands in a group of intimidating company to say the least.

    However, while playing outside linebacker, O'Neal has been able to show that it's not all about brawn. He's been able to use his speed as well as his brain to achieve success on the field.

    "I guess since I'm a little bit of a smaller-sized guy, I try to be smarter and quicker than the other guy," O'Neal said.

    O'Neal said being smaller does have its advantages and that it allows him to get to the ball carrier a lot sooner than some of the bigger linebackers can.

    "For a lot of the bigger linebackers, the offensive linemen can see you coming," O'Neal said. "But for me, if they're coming at me, I'll cut behind the linemen to make the tackle. A lot of bigger guys may not be able to backdoor like that."

    It's not only at the point of attack where O'Neal puts his brains to use; it's also before the snap.

    Middle linebacker Jamar Chaney says that while it's not his duty, O'Neal knows every defensive call.

    "On the field, Gabe pretty much knows everyone else's job," Chaney said. "That's a huge advantage when two people on the field know what to do. If I don't know something, he knows and vice versa."

    O'Neal is really no stranger to cutting behind linemen.

    While at Columbus High School, he rushed for more than 900 yards and scored 10 touchdowns his senior season, but when he began the recruiting process, he realized his success would come on defense.

    "Yeah, at those other spots on offense, you get the fame and the glory, but as a defensive guy you stand out a little more," O'Neal said. "Now I get to make the big hits and interceptions which aren't always so common, so when you do it's a big accomplishment."

    Getting the opportunity to achieve those accomplishments is something that hasn't come so easily for O'Neal.

    Since he arrived in 2004, O'Neal has dealt with a series of nagging injuries which caused him to doubt if he would ever be able to show his true skill.

    First it was a left knee injury, which would eventually require surgery. The knee soon became his shoulder, although not requiring surgery, it was troublesome none the less.

    "My knee bothered me for awhile," O'Neal admitted. "It just nagged me, and then it was my shoulder. It seemed like every time I got back from an injury, I'd get another injury."

    O'Neal said he's now healthy and is ready to continue to accomplish great things during his final season.

    He's already got one award under his belt.

    O'Neal was voted SEC Defensive Player of the Week following State's 38-17 win over Tulane.

    In that game, he returned an interception 47 yards for a touchdown on Tulane's first possession.

    "That's big," O'Neal said of the honor. "As a senior, when you get an award like that; that's what you play SEC ball for."

    But it's the touchdown O'Neal says he'll always remember.

    "I had flashbacks," he said. "Who ever thought I'd score a touchdown on defense?"
  2. Flash

    Flash Guest

    Misplaced modifier in the lede. I can't read past that.
  3. dawgpounddiehard

    dawgpounddiehard Active Member

    Thanks for posting.

    The first thing I noticed when I did a skim over your piece is you write how most people would talk. Not good. Do you get what I mean?

    My comments are in bold...

    Now, as far as your lede, I see where you're going with it. OK, this dude is an undersized linebacker in the SEC. Instead of going about it by using generalizations like, "Most football enthusiasts would describe the attributes of a linebacker..." or "Without his No. 5 jersey and helmet fans may not be able to recognize Gabe O'Neal..."

    This is where reporting comes in to play. Who on the team can provide some insight into his ability to play linebacker despite his size? His LB coach? Recruiter? Was he recruited as another position? Find some story you can tell in your lede that brings his size into the forefront. That would pull a reader into your story.

    All these "XXX says..." Use your sources to provide background, you don't need to attribute EVERYTHING a source says. Do you say, Columbus High coach Tim Johnson said O'Neal rushed for 900 yards his senior year. No. If it's controversial then, OK, attribute it. But things like O'Neal knowing all the defensive calls doest have to say it came from a teammate. Use that teammate's quote to piggyback what you wrote.
  4. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    Young Pistol,

    Thanks for posting. Just to follow up on some of dogpound's solid advice, let me speak a bit more generally.

    Is 6-foot-2, 220 pounds really that smal? Seems like a pretty average collegiate linebacker to me. I think it's kind of a weak point to hang the story on. In the end, we're really talking about an inch and 10 pounds here, plus, when I think small linebackers, I think Zach Thomas and Sam Mills, and both are much, much smaller than Mr. O'Neal. Even Derrick Brooks is all of 6-0, 230 pounds.

    It may be that there isn't a lot that's really interesting about O'Neal, and it may be that you just need to dig a little deeper.

    As jgmacg always points out, every feature needs a description of what this person looks like. Look for physical details that reveal character. This is especially true if you write a sentence like "Not that many people would recognize Gabe O'Neal without a helmet on." Well, what does he look like?

    Also, all these injuries, have they produced scars? What do those scars look like?

    And what does he look like when he's performing his craft? It's your job, as the observer, to show (not tell) me what makes O'Neal a linebacker worthy of this feature? How about starting with that interception return? Put us, the reader, inside his head? Describe what happened on that play, then let O'Neal explain what was going? Did he make a great read on the quarterback? Did he happen to be in the right place at the right time? Did he outrun everyone to the endzone? Or bowl over five would-be tacklers?

    As a former college beat guy myself, one of the things I learned (mainly be watching another reporter) is that rarely, if ever, should you settle for a two-source feature. Parents can be invaluable when writing about kids. All you do is ask the kid at the end of the interview: Do you mind if I call your parents? Some say they do mind, but most say "Yeah, go ahead." Then I ask for the number. If they say no on the parents, I ask about siblings or friends outside of football. Even for 15 inch features. You'll be wowed at what kind of great details you can get just by going outside the football world.

    It's not a bad effort, but it lacks depth. That comes from experience and from pushing yourself, even if no one is making you do it. You might not use 80 percent of the stuff you get by calling a bunch of other people, but the 20 percent that does make it into the story will be your best stuff.

    Thanks again for sharing. Best of luck.
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