The season of change

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As of today (Saturday), we are less than two weeks from the first day of fall.

It’s the time of year that most of us in these parts know means relief from summer is here, or close to being on the way, and, more importantly, football is in full swing.

From the day we sent our annual football preview magazine to the printer until now, the landscape for our local high school football teams has changed drastically. Last night, when Laurel, NE Jones, South Jones and West Jones took the field, only the Braves did so with their original starting QB for this season. And so much in the game of football hinges on the play of the team’s trigger-man. Why do you think the top QBs in the NFL get paid so much?

Northeast Jones has seen unprecedented injuries to its starters, but Coach Keith Braddock won’t allow that as an excuse in The Jungle, nor should he. That’s just another one of my points from nearly six years of writing this column about how the happenings on high school gridirons transcend over to real life. The current Tigers don’t know it now, but years from now, most of them will be stronger men because of the current season that they continue to fight through.

Many of you probably know that change is here for me on a personal level, if your read Murph’s column on Thursday or you read Jim’s column today before you read mine.

I have taken a job with a telecommunications company to go back to making a living in the fiber-optic industry. My more than three previous years of experience in the field helped me land my new job in hopes of growing that side of the business for my new employer. My previous stint in fiber optics was my favorite job that I ever had — until I came to the Leader-Call.

Starting out as a high school football reporter for The ReView of Jones County and then taking over as the full-time sports editor for the Leader-Call, I have nearly seven years of experience in the newspaper business. So, why leave something with that much time invested? I’m doing it for my family, the family I go home to every night.

While I made the decision a couple of weeks ago to leave my work family at the Leader-Call to pursue the next journey in my life, what finally made up my mind to take the new job was something my 14-year-old son Caleb said. We were driving home from his football practice at West Jones one afternoon when I was explaining to him the new job that I had been offered and that it would greatly benefit our family financially. His words ended up being the ones that sold me on making the change: “Sometimes you just have to do what you got to do.” I don’t know if he knew how correct he was, but he hit the nail on the head.

By the time this is printed, I will have left my position as the sports editor at the Leader-Call and worked my first day with my new employer, but while I may have portrayed otherwise over the past two weeks, it was never an easy decision for me, because, for the last five-plus years I didn’t simply go to a job every day. I went to a place where I worked and spent five to 10 hours a day with people who were my friends and not just co-workers.

I can never thank Jim enough for the opportunity that he gave me to run his sports department, but more importantly for the friendship that I gained. And Mark, it was fate that we ran into one another that April night in 2012, but as is always the case, everything happens for a reason — including my departure. I also cannot thank you enough for everything that you have done for me at work and outside of it. I became the success in the newspaper business because of you.

The girls who are still at the paper — Mashea, Kassie, Lakyn, Courtney and Layla — are all like sisters to me. And Robin, for better and for worse, has always been like a second mom to all of us.

It truly has been a family atmosphere at the paper the entire time I was there and the part that makes it the hardest to depart is leaving behind my brother from another mother — Murph.

The amount of fun that we have experienced and the stories that have been, and can be, written would take more space than there is in today’s entire issue of the paper. So I will keep it simple — I love you, Murph and I will miss you … but it’s not goodbye, it’s I’ll see you later.

That is the case for all my work family members I leave behind … I love you all and I’ll see you all later.

That is the same case for the multitude of relationships that I have forged with individuals in the realm of sports here in the Free State. To thank each of you individually would take a couple weeks’ worth of papers, so collectively, I will offer all of you a sincere and heartfelt thank you.

To all of the athletes from youth, to high school, to college and the pros whom I have had the great fortune of talking to and writing about, you are the ones who made this a helluva ride.

I’ll never forget the first state championship I covered when Stringer QB Tevin Moore strapped his Red Devil teammates on his back and carried them to a football state title at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson. And there was the night Murph and I covered Laurel winning a state title at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville. That will forever be entrenched in my memory, not just for the total experience that we had, but because it personally gave me some closure. My four years at Laurel High, all I ever wanted to do was win a state title and, while I wasn’t able to accomplish that, at least I was there to cover the Tornadoes when they brought another gold ball back to L-Town.

The memories could go on and on and on. Like the night Wes McDonnieal’s grand slam rallied the Mustangs from near elimination and eventually helped land them in the state championship series. Or, the night Callaway was awarded an extra timeout to eliminate the Tornadoes from the Big House and the next year, and the year after, when Laurel came back to the Big House and won the first of their back-to-back state titles.

And to all the coaches — especially the ones who are smiling while reading this part — thank you for each of your friendships. You guys made my job a lot of fun in so many ways and I will cherish everyone of those “off the record” conversations.

I could continue, but I know I have already eaten up more space than I should.

But know that this is also not a goodbye for me from writing for you. I will continue writing my Saturday column until the powers-that-be tell me to pack sand. And, at least through the rest of this college football season, I will continue to make my college football predictions in each Thursday edition of the paper.

Oh, and one more thing, you’re still welcome, West Jones girls’ soccer. How many sports writers, on any level, can say that they had an actual (even if not official) assist in helping one of their teams win a championship? I can, and Murph was there to witness that, too.

Speaking of West Jones, if you see me around town or at a game and I’m wearing the green and gold, don’t get upset. I spent the last six years doing my best to represent all the athletes in the Free State no matter what colors they wore. Now, I’m going to focus my next six years on the two who live in the same house as me.

Until next time … I’ll see y’all around..

Josh “The Guru” Nichols is… err… was sports editor of the Leader-Call. Don’t email him, but he does like text messages on college football Saturdays.