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When time runs out

<p>Duke beat Syracuse on  a golden goal in March, but beat writer Seth Johnson gets no overtime.</p>

Duke beat Syracuse on a golden goal in March, but beat writer Seth Johnson gets no overtime.

The final buzzer is sounding. The game is over. It is time to pack up and go home.

Unlike in the sports that I have had the privilege of covering for The Chronicle, there is no overtime in life. I am finishing my collegiate four quarters, the second half is winding down and the clock on the scoreboard sits at zero. It is time to leave Duke. But that does not mean I cannot take the memories out of my undergraduate locker and bring them with me when I go.

Every one of those experiences as a sports writer will forever be etched in my memory.

The first game that I ever covered as a sports writer was a Tuesday night men’s soccer game at Koskinen Stadium. The press box was a rickety shed atop the visitors’ bleachers—the majestic Kennedy Tower remained half-finished, ominously hovering above the home stands. I sat in the brisk October night with pen in hand and laptop by my side, ready to capture every moment of what I hoped would be a victory for the home side. The Blue Devils were facing Davidson and had not lost at home all season—surely I was about to write about another triumph.

Two halves later, the score was knotted at one goal apiece. Fewer than five minutes into overtime, it was over—Duke had fallen 2-1 on its home turf. Despite all hopes I had for interviewing an ecstatic Blue Devil squad and writing about another victory, my hopes were dashed.

But even in defeat, Duke head coach John Kerr said something that will stick with me forever: “It’s a cruel game sometimes.”

He was right about what had happened that night. It was a cruel game. And that is not confined to just soccer or sports in general—life can sometimes be as cruel as that game. But my experience as a writer at Duke mitigated a lot of disenchantment that this University had thrown my way.

In many ways, I view my writing experience as a parallel to the final Blue Devil basketball game that I covered. Earlier this season at PNC Arena in Raleigh, Duke came out cold against N.C. State and fell into a 43-36 hole at the half. But the Blue Devils rallied out of the locker room, outscored the Wolfpack 52-35 in the second half and snagged a much-needed 88-78 victory.

Like Duke on the hardwood, I did not get going until my own second half. After two years as an undergraduate, bouncing around various social scenes, spending many nights looking for a purpose and where I really fit in on campus, I was approached by the upcoming sports editor and his blog editor—two friends of mine—to join the sports staff in the fall of 2014. I loved sports and I loved writing. Why not, right?

That turned out to be the best decision I have ever made as a college student. And for the first time, I think I really felt like I belonged on campus.

And sure, like many students, I had been baptized a Blue Devil from a very early age, but this time I felt like I had found a home at Duke, covering the sports and teams that I had idolized since I knew what a sport was.

As a kid, I revered the 2001 national championship basketball team. J.J. Redick became—and still is—my sports hero. I learned to loathe Kentucky and North Carolina. I even hated Connecticut with a passion. Why? They had ruined Redick’s championship run in 2004—as a 10-year-old, that will make you despise a team in more ways than one. When it came time to pick a place for my undergraduate career, as my friends so often reminded me, I would have been in trouble if I did not attend Duke—everything I owned was stained with the blue that might as well be pouring out of my veins.

Now, as a writer, these sports had been thrust upon me. They were up close and personal.

I started small—a blog every week or so that was ripped to shreds and hardly resembled the piece I had meticulously prepared. But I strived to improve, and I sought out a beat position for wrestling and men’s lacrosse. Had I ever wrestled? No. Did I play lacrosse? Not at a rural public school in Georgia, I didn’t.

It did not matter because these sports became my home for my last two years at Duke.

The wrestling beat was the best. The squad is composed of some of the most devoted student-athletes I have ever met. And if one coach deserves credit for being the most dedicated, personable man at the helm of a program, it is Glen Lanham. Whether or not I ever did anything else for The Chronicle, meeting Lanham and having our weekly chats during the season put a smile on my face and kept me coming back for more.

The lacrosse beat was a roller-coaster ride. After two championships in 2013 and 2014, I witnessed the struggles of a team under the pressure of besting its past. The 2015 squad fell short in the first round of the NCAA tournament and the 2016 season has not met expectations, but there’s still time to change that. Despite the valleys, I have also been there for the peaks of the record-shattering Class of 2016 and the explosive offense that roams Koskinen’s confines.

With my undergraduate career coming to close, both as a fan and a writer, I can now gather all of my Duke sports memories and move on. I camped out freshman year to watch Aaron Craft and Ohio State cave under the chants of the Cameron Crazies. I watched the White Raven dismantle Miami on one leg. I witnessed Myles Jones defy the laws of physics.

Duke captured multiple national titles during my time in Durham—from lacrosse to basketball—and I covered the Blue Devils’ 44-41 overtime victory at Yankee Stadium—their first bowl victory since 1961.

But unlike that program-defining squad on the gridiron, I do not get overtime. This is very likely the end of my writing career and I am glad to say that I have no regrets. It’s been one hell of a ride.

Seth Johnson is a Trinity senior.

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