Glad to see this feature return, and glad to hear that Ace is enjoying his new digs! Ace, what was your major? Did you do any writing in undergrad? I know Brian is a CS major, so it's not like you had to be a writer... just curious.
MGoProfile with Ace
Six Zero back with the January 2012 installment of:
This monthly offseason feature highlights some of the more famous personalities
here at MGoBlog. Without pulling back the infamous veil of blog anonymity, we’ll
get to know some of your favorite posters better and possibly shed some light
on their definition of why it’s so darn Great, To Be, A Michigan Wolverine.
CLICK HERE TO VIEW PREVIOUS EDITIONS OF MGOPROFILE
(Scroll down to the MGoProfile section of the User-Curated HOF).
SIX QUESTIONS WITH ACE ANBENDER
BIG SHOES TO FILL: 1. Definition(expr.) when a job that was
done by a great person will now be done by someone new.
Ex: Bob was so well-liked and successful; The man
replacing him has some very big shoes to fill.
When the acclaimed TomVH packed up his bags for the bright lights of ESPN, Brian put out the call for his replacement. And, to our surprise, the position was filled rather quickly, by some guy named Ace who previously wrote at some other blog or something. As if other Michigan blogs exist, right?
Since then, Ace has quickly carved out his own niche, both interviewing prospective recruits and covering sporting events and pressers as well. His style and writing voice has blended seamlessly with the existing culture of the blog, and yet he clearly seasoned the official content in ways we have never tasted before. And all the while, he is omnipresent, and certainly his biggest day of the year will fall next Wednesday as we learn of the luckiest two-dozen plus young men who will get to call themselves Michigan Men. In celebration of next week's National Signing Day, Ace broke away from the phone long enough to sit down for this exclusive MgoProfile:
1. First off—in your own words, explain to us the responsibilities and opportunities of being the Recruiting Analyst at MGoBlog?
To be perfectly honest, I’m still trying to figure this out myself. I know the opportunities—a chance to cover the team I grew up watching, a huge amount of exposure for my writing, making great connections, and being a part of the best team-specific blog out there, to name a few. As for the responsibilities, I’m still trying to find a balance between recruiting and football/basketball coverage; Brian has given me a lot of freedom to carve out my niche, and I’m trying to figure out what that is right now. Making sure readers get enough information to be able to follow the important recruiting stories is my main goal, and if I can help them become familiar with the type of people Michigan recruits, that’s a huge bonus and something I really enjoy doing.
As for day-to-day stuff, I’m learning it really changes depending on the season. Football season is a grind, especially when I’m checking out a high school game (or two) on Friday and then turning right around and covering the Michigan game on Saturday, and it’s also incredibly fun. Transitioning to basketball—while trying my hand at UFRing games—has also required a fair share of work. I hear things ease off a fair amount in the summer, and I can’t say I’m not looking forward to chilling out a bit and taking a week or two off in there. At the very least, every day I’m either writing a post or gathering information for one (read: watching film, usually) while also monitoring any recruiting info and trying to continue building my contacts. Though there’s a lot to do, you won’t hear any complaints from my end—I know how lucky I am to be in this position.
2. What was the hiring process to become a FT member of the MGoBlog team? And what on earth is it like to have Brian Cook as your boss?
The hiring process went so fast I barely had time to absorb everything that was going on. I’ve checked MGoBlog on a daily basis going as far back as high school, so I noticed pretty quickly when Brian posted the job opening on the site. I’m pretty sure that was on a Monday morning, and by that afternoon I’d finished up my resume—tailored specifically for the job, since this wasn’t your normal job opening—and sent it to Brian. I heard back within a day or two that I was one of the finalists, and I interviewed with Brian in person that Friday. Before the weekend was over, he informed me I had the job, and from there I hit the ground running.
As for having Brian as a boss, it’s a different experience than with any other job I’ve had (though, admittedly, this is my first full-time job). Most of my interaction with him is through GChat, and he’s not telling me what I should be writing about on any given day—football season had a relatively rigid schedule, but that’s not the case right now. I initially was worried that I would have trouble getting feedback on my writing, but I’ve found that Brian is great about helping me out as long as I take the initiative to voice my concerns to him. I know Brian trusts me to get my work done, and at that point there’s no need to micromanage—if I need something, I ask him about it, and otherwise we’re both focused on taking care of business.
[Ed: remainder after jump.]
Yeah, Brian just doesn’t seem like the “I need to see you in my office STAT!” type. He knows how to build a successful team around himself, however, and with success often comes turnover. Succeeding TomVH is no small task—what was your game plan going into the position, and what has changed from that philosophy since you’ve settled in?
The first month or two on the job, my game plan was simply to survive—I really didn’t have time to think about what I was doing, since a week after I took the job Michigan kicked off against Western. I’m not really focused on replacing Tom—or replacing Tim, for that matter—but instead on figuring out what I can bring to the site and how best to manage my time and effort. I’m working on being me, and finding out what that is, so trying to emulate Tom or Tim isn’t even really on my mind. That said, there’s a lot I can learn from what those guys did here and continue to do elsewhere, and both of them have been really helpful to me since I took the job.
3. What was it like taking your spot in the press box this season, as opposed to sitting in the stands? Describe some of the dreams that have come true for you since becoming part of the official media that covers Michigan sports.
I can only describe it as surreal. To go from unemployed in August to sharing a press box with people like John U. Bacon, Jim Brandstatter, and Bob Wojnowski in September, well, it was hard at times just to buckle down and remember that I was there to cover a football game. It took a while just to get comfortable with the idea that I was qualified to even sit up there.
It’s an entirely different experience up there from being in the stands. Obviously, not being allowed to cheer is tough, especially since I take a lot of joy just from seeing these remarkable athletes do remarkably athletic things—I caught myself more than a few times just laughing after a Denard Robinson run or a Mike Martin sack. The more you start talking to other people in the press box, though, the more you realize most of them feel the same way. It’s great being able to talk Michigan football with people who have been around it for a long time, really know the game, have dedicated their professional lives to covering sports, and have a great passion for doing so—it sounds cliché, but I learn something new every time I step into that box. All that, and we get free food, too. The only thing about the press box experience that I don’t like is being separated from the fans. I’ve always loved the atmosphere at the Big House, and having a big sheet of glass between us and the crowd provides a rather stark reminder that I’m there on business, not to kick back and enjoy the game (though I certainly do enjoy myself, especially since I’m not on deadline like many up there).
As for living out any dreams, being on the field at the end of the Notre Dame and Ohio State games was indescribable. I had never been on the field during a game, and those were two of the loudest crowds I’ve heard at any sporting event—taking in the sights and sounds of the game from field level is a completely new and incredible experience. More than that, though, I’m living out a dream simply by being paid to do what I love: writing, and specifically writing about Michigan sports. Not everybody gets the opportunity to turn their passion into their job, and I’m fortunate that I’m in the position to do that only a year after I finished undergrad.
Fortunate? I’m sure many middle-aged Midwestern men see your position as a dream job. But, does it ever become hard work? And how much sports—college, pro, and high school of course-- do you officially watch now?
I don’t think anyone who’s doing their job well doesn’t have it cross into the “hard work” category at some point. That just comes with the territory. Spending hours on the road on weekends, combing over recruiting rankings every week, charting games while watching film—sometimes it just feels like work. When I feel like that, though, I remind myself that I get paid to watch sports, and for me that can’t possibly be a bad thing. I’ve had my moments of being overwhelmed, but I usually get over them quickly.
I actually don’t think I watch that much more sports than I did in college (though that probably says a lot about how I spent my time in college), especially since I closely follow all the major Detroit sports teams, too. Instead, my watching is a lot more focused: I’ll go over a Michigan basketball or football game for a second time instead of checking out the Red Wings game, for example. I’m watching at least one sporting event every day, though, and usually more than that.
4. You spend a great deal of time getting to know the recruits: what’s the percentage of information you reveal vs. what you actually know? And how hard is it to keep things off the record?
At this point, to be honest, I’m probably writing up 95% of what I know on recruits—I’m not established to the point where I have a lot of secrets. I really respect the time that recruits take to talk to reporters—when I think about how much time these guys spend fielding the same questions from the media (not to mention family/friends/fans), and the fact that they’re still high school students who also spend a ton of time on at least one sport, I don’t think it’s necessarily appropriate to try to get buddy-buddy with them by trying to chat them up off the record. If a guy wants to talk, I’m happy to do that, but usually I’m just doing a quick interview, trying to get the pertinent information, and wishing them well—anything more and I’m in danger of losing my objectivity, and since I’m also going out in the fall and watching a lot of these players from more of a scout’s perspective, that’s not at all what I want to do.
So, that said, it’s pretty easy to keep things off the record, because there’s not a whole lot I’m keeping off the record in the first place. When I reach the point where that’s the case, I’m sure it won’t be too difficult—I’m going to respect a recruit’s wishes about what gets reported and what doesn’t, plain and simple. I just don’t see a lot of gray area there.
Sure—if you ever got that reputation, you’d never shake it—but I know that’s never gonna happen. What recruits are you most excited about joining the team? And which recruits that got away are you most disappointed about?
After his performance in the Army game, as well as the personality he’s shown off the field, it’s hard not to get excited to see Ondre Pipkins in a Michigan uniform. The team obviously needs him to contribute immediately, and luckily it looks like he’ll be able to do just that. As for a player who I’ve actually seen in person, I’m really looking forward to seeing what James Ross can do in a couple of years. He was the most productive commit I saw all year—with the possible exception of Mario Ojemudia—and he showed the tackling ability and instincts that could make him a special linebacker.
Of the players who are ticketed elsewhere, I think I’m most disappointed—from a pure playing standpoint, since I’m not familiar first-hand with the intricacies of his recruitment—that Aaron Burbridge won’t be part of the class. He’s a great athlete and showed all the skills necessary to come in and contribute at receiver right away, including as a deep threat, something Michigan really needs right now. He’s a big-play guy who always looked like the best athlete—and best player—on the field, and while I certainly hope he succeeds in college, I also hope he doesn’t have too much of that success against Michigan.
5. What do you like to do for fun?
Sports used to be my escape, but I’ve always loved music. I played tenor saxophone from elementary school all the way up through my senior year of high school, mostly focusing on jazz, and I also played sax and was the lead singer of a ska band through most of high school. I haven’t picked up an instrument at all recently, but I still love listening to music and getting out to see live shows. I went to Rock the Bells—a one-day hip hop festival—in New York City last summer, Bonnaroo in 2006—the one and only time I’ll go to a typical “hippie music festival,” which was worth doing once, but once was enough—and I’ve seen performances by artists as varied as The Roots, Andrew Bird, and Ornette Coleman here in Michigan.
Otherwise, I think I’m a pretty normal 24-year-old male. Most of my social life, for better or worse, revolves around going to the bar or grabbing a few beers and watching sports at a friend’s apartment. I used to play my fair share of video games, too (mostly sports games, surprise!), but these days I’ve found I don’t have much time nor desire to fire up the PS3. If you challenge me to a game of NCAA, though, I’ll be more than happy to beat you.
Only if I’m Michigan and you’re Delaware State. Describe the perfect meal.
I was born in San Francisco and my parents lived there for 20 years. When we go back, Zuni Café is a must-visit. I would say my perfect meal is one of their wood-oven pizzas (classy, I know) with a Caesar salad. One of the best meals in a city known for its food.
6. Can you explain why you are a Michigan fan?
It’s tough not to become a Michigan fan when you grow up in Ann Arbor (my family moved here when I was five), and doubly so when your dad is an alum. My father started taking me to games in the ’94 season, when I was six, and though he never really pushed me to go to Michigan or become a huge fan—other than taking me to the games, but that was as more of a father/son thing to do in A2—I was pretty much a die-hard from the first moment I stepped into the Big House. When you’re a kid, I don’t think there are many sights more visually astounding than walking through a tunnel and seeing 100,000+ people dressed in maize and blue.
From that time forward, I was 100% committed to doing whatever it took to go to Michigan. I turned in my application the first week it was available during my senior year of high school, and I only applied to one other school (Stanford, for whatever that’s worth, and I didn’t get in anyway). When I found out I got in, I didn’t bother filling out any more applications. Nothing was going to top the combination of academics, a great town/campus, and the deep-seeded love for the school that Michigan provided.
Yes, I believe it’s referred to as “The Michigan Difference.” Who’s your all-time favorite Wolverine?
Man, that’s tough. The first player I really idolized at Michigan was Tim Biakabutuka, probably as much because of his name as his running ability. Then Charles Woodson happened, and until recently I would not have hesitated to say his name in answer to this question. The problem is that I was ten years old when Michigan won the national title, and though Woodson has always been my favorite, I also don’t remember much from a large portion of his career.
Still, I think it has to be Woodson, though Denard is making a strong push—I have never seen another athlete like him, and going to Michigan at the same time as him before covering him as a media member makes me feel a stronger connection. I try not to look at athletes this way when they’re still at Michigan, but I think when his career is over I’ll say that Denard is my all-time favorite Wolverine.
Twenty-four years old. When I was that age I was still dreaming about what I’d do when I grew up, haha. This guy has landed an amazing opportunity on the front lines following the teams he loves at the university he loves, and we get to be there with him every step of the way in his interviews and reports.
Sure, there’s been times he—and Heiko-- have been exuberant, in ways a traditional stuffy mainstream reporter tries to conceal. I couldn’t imagine Rittenberg giving me that “Dude can you believe this is happening?” vibe the way our new talent sometimes does. And, frankly, that’s one of the things I’ve enjoyed about Ace the most—he’s a legitimate member of the media, but he’s also human enough to allow us to see the wide-eyed wonder as well. Already a rock solid writer, it’s very easy to sense that a long and prosperous career is laid out in front of the guy.
I look forward to being along for the ride.