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Zach Pereles drops the mic: Thoughts on a wonderful four years

Some thoughts, some memories, and a lot of gratitude.

I still remember meeting with Kevin Trahan at the Starbucks at the Norris Student Center and accidentally referring to this website as part of Bleacher Report. I spent the rest of the day wondering if I had blown it, but apparently I hadn’t. And now, I’m here, trying to figure out what to say as I type this into my phone on an airplane 36,000 feet above ground, probably somewhere over Nevada at this point. So here are my thoughts and ramblings. Take them as you will.

My first story was on Dan Vitale, one of the nicest guys I’ve interviewed. To see my name published on screen was a feeling unlike any other. Sure, I had written for my local paper back in Waynesboro, VA in high school, but this somehow felt different. I was in college, majoring in journalism, writing about sports. I was... a Sports Journalist?! I shared it on Facebook — I think I shared almost everything I wrote back then on Facebook, and if I had continued that trend, I would have shared well over 600 posts (sheesh). What I thought was a fun hobby quickly became an obsession. I still remember my favorite game of that year: The Tre Demps game against Michigan. I was writing the gamer, my first ever. Fun! Thank you Tre Demps for giving me the best workout of my freshman year. It was exhilarating and exhausting and, in the end, everything I hope my journalistic career will be.

I began covering football my sophomore year. The Big House was my first road trip. And man, it’s unbelievable. I was shell shocked. So, too, was Northwestern, which lost by 40 points. But that’s beside the point. I sat in the press box. I went down to the field. Delirious from a lack of sleep — we left at like 4 a.m. — and a whirlwind day in Ann Arbor, I slept almost all the way back. I’m sure that somewhere there are embarrassing pictures of yours truly knocked out in the back seat on his first road trip.

My junior year was special. If I tried to mention all the highlights, this piece would go on forever, but considering the academic year ends today, I don’t have forever to write this. Some things stick out: Playing ping pong in Iowa City with my cousin before Northwestern beat Iowa, watching the Wildcats drop 54 in East Lansing, experiencing Justin Jackson in his finest hour in the Bronx, seeing the Northwestern community come together in the wake of Jordan Hankins’ death, and pretty much everything the men’s basketball team did.

I’ve always loved sports. Ever since I was a little kid, I could plop down in front of the TV and watch football, and as soon as I learned how to use a TV remote, I started getting up at ungodly early hours so I could watch SportsCenter. I cried when my teams lost and wore my jersey to school the next day when they won. I learned how to throw a spiral thanks to the hundreds of tosses my dad and brother and I exchanged at halftime of Redskins games on fall afternoons.

But I didn’t know I loved sportswriting until early March of 2017. Sure, I liked the idea of being around incredible athletes, attending games and producing words about them both. But there had definitely been plenty of challenges, which I wrote about here. But nothing said “I want this to be my career” like Northwestern vs. Michigan. The Pass. The bucket. History made, or rather, ended. Chris Collins had tears in his eyes. Dererk Pardon, normally pretty reserved, cracked a smile and gave some great quotes in the presser. Henry Bushnell and I talked to Brian James in a Welsh-Ryan Arena by then inhabited by only us three and the cleaning crew, an interview I’ll never forget. Here’s a guy who coached Michael Jordan and Grant Hill and plenty of other greats. And he was on the verge of tears describing how he had let the chance slip away days before in a devastating loss to Indiana, only to be redeemed in incredible fashion days later. March 1 turned to March 2. Ian McCafferty, Josh Burton and I recorded a podcast, bleary-eyed but ecstatic. I kept pounding away on my keyboard. Things came together slowly but surely. I am hopeful there are more incredible stories to come, because if I’m lucky enough to write more stories that make me feel like that one did, I can’t imagine a more fulfilling career. I finished around 5 a.m. I don’t remember if I slept that night or not. I do remember falling asleep in my 9 a.m. class the next morning. Sorry, Professor Abrahamson.

Northwestern has been simply incredible. I’m a tour guide for the university, and tours always conclude with guides answering the question “Why Northwestern?” And I have the same answer every time: The people. Every single person I’ve interacted with over the past four years has been nothing short of outstanding. So here goes a long list of thank yous:

To Kevin Trahan, thank you for founding this wonderful website and bringing me along with it. My college experience would have stunk without the incredible amount of work you put in.

To Henry Bushnell and Josh Rosenblat, thank you for making me a better writer and a better editor, a better note-taker and a better question-asker. You made all the road trips fun. You taught me more than I ever thought I would know. You fostered my love for sportswriting. You inspired and pushed me to be better every story.

To literally everyone, past and present, who has written for Inside NU, thank you. You made it fun. You made it challenging. You made it life-changing. You edited my stories at 2 a.m. and never complained about it, and for that I am eternally grateful. Danny Rapaport, Ben Goren, Jason Dorow and Kevin Dukovic, you are equal parts hilarious and talented. Ian McCafferty and Josh Burton, thank you for all the sacrifices made and support provided. Martin Oppegaard, Brat Stop forever. David Gernon, you’re the man. Will Ragatz and Tristan Jung, you killed it. Caleb Friedman and Davis Rich, you are killing it. Sam Brief, Zach Wingrove and Henrique DaMour, I can only hope to be as multi-talented as you are. Chris Grismer, you’re one of the brightest basketball minds I know. Same for Rob Schaefer and Isaac Bushnell. Talia Hendel, Graham Brennan and Noah Coffman, you are awesome storytellers, and there is no Inside NU without those. Our staff is made up of terrific writers and even better people.

To Roger Gonzalez, Brian Carlton and Cody Elliott, thanks for giving me a chance. Traveling the Shenandoah Valley covering high school sports in between my own basketball and soccer games and golf matches was a blast. High school sports are wonderful. Getting to both cover and play them was an honor.

To all the readers, thank you. Y’all are (almost always) a joy. Your feedback — good, bad and in between — was appreciated and made me better.

To every person I interviewed — from Justin Jackson to Chad Hanaoka, from Jordan Wilimovsky to Selena Lasota, from Alex Olah to Vic Law Jr. (and Sr.), from Pat Fitzgerald to Chris Collins and everyone else who had my iPhone jammed in their face — thank you for answering my questions with grace.

And finally, to my parents, thank you for always believing in me. I know it wasn’t always easy. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’ll never be able to say it enough

For those of you who don’t know, I’m writing for Yahoo! Sports right now (alongside Henry!) but always looking for the next adventure. Stay in touch. Here’s my Twitter. Say hi.

It’s been a blast. Go ‘Cats. I’m gonna go cry now.