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Start, Sit & Still Here (An IUP Journalism Story)

by Seth Woolcock

College Finals Week, 2015

It’s December 2015, finals week at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). Pete Sirianni, a senior journalism major, finds himself at Wolfendale’s, aka Wolfie’s Dance & Night Club, for Country Night – a college tradition.

After leaving the bar and making a Sheetz run, Pete returns home to study for his final the next morning. Though he may have been a few minutes late for the final, his preparation paid off, and he moved one step closer to graduation the next semester.

Son of a Watchman

Not too long before Pete executed this near-perfected social-scholarly balance he showed that winter night, he was just like a lot of us: a high school student in a small town one’s ever heard of. This one specifically is Kane, Pennsylvania. (If this small town’s name is familiar to some returning readers, it’s because it is — more on this later.)

Like many families in small towns like Kane, Pete’s family has strong roots tied to the community. His grandparents founded Sirianni Bros. Jewelers there in 1947. His father then sold his share of the business in 1998 and began his own business, Mark Sirianni Watch and Jewelry Repair. Having his own business allowed his father to spend more time with his family and pursue his interest, according to his website.

Pete, who was an active student in high school — a three-sport athlete participating in multiple clubs and organizations — had an interest in writing at a fairly young age. He wrote for the school newspaper in both middle and high school, and one of his first pieces was about the beef between rappers 50 Cent and Kanye West in 2007.

His passion for writing and journalism continued to grow, thanks in part to a sound English program in high school, as well as identifying with ESPN personalities Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon from the three-time Emmy-winning sports talk show “Pardon the Interruption.”

Knowing he wanted to study journalism in college, Pete toured IUP one day to scope it out. There he met a man wearing wire-framed glasses, a gold watch on his left wrist and shorts much shorter than most men his age can pull off. Randy Jesick was not only an IUP journalism faculty member but one of the founding members of the department.

By the end of the day, and after a sound conversation with Jesick, Pete knew for certain that was where he wanted to be.

From Freshman Freelancer to New Castle News

After a semester of being on campus, Pete picked up writing for The Penn, IUP’s student-run newspaper, often beat writing for Olympic sports like women’s field hockey and men’s basketball. For extra practice when he was home on breaks, he freelanced for the Bradford Era, covering high school sports.

Pete poses for a photo in Pittsburgh in 2020.

Over the next few years, Pete continued to grow both professionally and personally through various opportunities — some leading to conversations with individuals who grew up drastically different than he did in his small town.

Playing for the university’s club soccer team introduced him to students from many different countries through their common interest. He also had the opportunity to interview people like Mirza “Mo” Zukic,  The Penn’s now-Interim Director of Public Relations and Marketing. Zukic is an IUP Journalism alumnus himself, but what stuck out about him at first to Pete was where he came from. Bosnia-Herzegovina. He and his family came to the United States in the early 1990s. And though the situations that brought the two men to IUP differ, there is common ground in a passion for writing and the link of an academic family.

The Penn and freelancing helped to sharpen Pete’s journalistic skills to set him up for the future. He could question the world around him and actually get some responses.

“Journalism, the main crux of it is you ask people questions and they answer it,” Pete said. “If you have more questions, you find the answers for them.”

By his junior year, Pete was the student paper’s managing editor. And like a lot of college journalists, this meant Pete had to continue his craft at the newspaper, while also diligently balancing classwork and a social life – not an easy task for someone so young.

Going into graduation in May of 2016, Pete lined himself up a job where to serve as a sports reporter once again for the Bradford Era. In October 2017, he was hired by New Castle News as a digital news editor. Today, he works as that paper’s managing editor.

“Beyond expectation is what IUP can do for you, to use their old tagline,” Pete said.

College Welcome Weekend, 2016

As one kid from Kane exited the underage heaven in 2016 with a journalism degree, another entered, pursuing one, while also searching for a hell of a lot more.

Like Pete, I come from Kane and attended IUP to major in journalism after being inspired by the same high school English teacher, Joshua Jekielek and various ESPN personalities.

Randy Jesick poses for a picture inside his office in the Humanities and Social Sciences building on IUP’s campus.

I met my girlfriend of now four-plus years our second day on campus after I was sitting next to none other than Jesick himself, still wearing his wire-framed glasses, gold watch on his left wrist and his iconic shorts.

Two days later, I walked into The Penn, Pete’s former home where eventually I would make unforgettable memories and slowly evolve from the uncultured small-town kid I was into a legitimate communications professional and writer that I was proud to be.

I learned the same life-changing lessons from faculty like Jesick, Dr. Erick Lauber, Dr. Michele Papakie and Dr. Laurie Miller while also befriending people like Zukic who would leave a lasting positive impact on me.

And yes, my senior year after the work was done, you could occasionally find me at Wolfie’s Country Night enjoying the classic college tradition with a rum and coke in hand.

For more on my experience studying journalism at IUP, you can check out this column from last season where I explain it in greater detail. But for the context of the column, you just need to know that I wouldn’t be who I am today, and there wouldn’t be an In-Between Media without IUP Journalism.

Present Day

Today, about a year-and-a-half since graduating from IUP myself, I write to you with my MacBook sitting upon my same wooden bar from our basement in college – just in a new university town.

I work at the Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) as a communications strategist, which makes what recently happened to the IUP Journalism and Public Relations Department even more heartbreaking.

As of June 1, the department ceases to exist, due to the university-wide layoffs, resulting in four of the five journalism faculty members being let go.

Not only does cutting the department serve as a grave example for the current and future state of higher education in the state of Pennsylvania, but it also leaves alumni like Pete and me with a permanent hole when we think back to our collegiate years.

Being someone who made IUP Journalism my home when my real home had fallen apart, it was specifically troubling to think that it’s all gone – just like that.

 The Silver Lining

Though it’s likely that only time will heal the pain that myself, Pete, our fellow alumni, current students and the faculty are feeling, there are still silver linings and lessons to be learned:

“Anything is possible,” Pete said, quoting the infamous Kevin Garnett when discussing why others shouldn’t be afraid to pick up a pen, even after the department’s cutting.

For myself, I move forward believing that we’re still here. Sure, there is no physical space designated for IUP Journalism and its teachings. But we’re here, out in the world, using the skills the department gave us to make it a better place.

Thank you to all those at IUP Journalism who helped people like Pete and me chase our dreams. Whether it’s him asking the hard questions to bring fair news coverage to the people of New Castle or me here, helping others by offering life and fantasy sports advice, we’ll do our best to make you proud, starting with this column.

Now, let’s get to it.

The following rising/fading selections are based on stats, trends and film research, reflecting value in Points Per Reception (PPR) Redraft Leagues. In honor of still being here, this column’s selections will focus solely on vested veteran players with four-plus years of NFL experience.

Quarterback I’m Rising On:

Ryan Tannehill (Tennessee):  In his 26 games as the starter for Tennessee, Ryan Tannehill has scored 17-plus fantasy points in 21 or 80 percent of them. During that span and since taking the job in Week 7 of the 2019 season, the only quarterbacks to score more total fantasy points are Josh Allen, Aaron Rodgers and Lamar Jackson. That’s the entire list.

And this was before yesterday when the Titans traded a 2022 second-round pick and a 2023 fourth-round pick to the Atlanta Falcons for a 2023 sixth-round pick and seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Julio Jones.

Tannehill is now equipped with Jones, the best No. 2 receiving option he’s ever had, across from the hyper-efficient A.J. Brown who was a Pro Bowler last season himself after going for 70 receptions, 1,075 yards and 11 touchdowns in 14 games played. This, coupled with the bruising Derrick Henry who topped 2,000 rushing yards last season in a pass-first league, sets up Tennessee for one of the most dynamic offenses in the NFL.

The proven consistency of Tannehill, met with the now-high upside of the offense and a fantasy-friendly beginning schedule of Arizona, Seattle, Indianapolis, the New York Jets and Jacksonville, makes him a top-10 option at the position and someone who will likely still fall in drafts due to his lack of name value. Sign me up!

Quarterbacks I’m Fading:

Kirk Cousins (Minnesota):  Last season, in large part due to the record-setting emergence of rookie receiver Justin Jefferson, Kirk Cousins finished as a fantasy QB1 for the first time since 2017 as he threw for 4,265 yards and a career-high 35 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

The Vikings’ brilliant returning offense, still led by Cousins, Jefferson, two-time Pro Bowl running back Dalvin Cook and reliable veteran receiver Adam Thielen, has many analysts projecting another QB1 season for Cousins.

But after a closer look, some may rebut that notion. Prior to 2020, in his first five seasons as the Vikings’ head coach, Mike Zimmer lead the Minnesota defense to top-11 finishes every year and a top-five defense in three of five of those.

However, in 2020, the Vikings’ defense ranked 29th. I believe that it’s this outlier defense last season that led to Cousins’ record-breaking season. And after adding defensive ends Dalvin Tomlinson and Stephen Weatherly, along with cornerback Patrick Peterson, all in free agency to sure things up, I’m expecting a return to form for Minnesota’s defense and fading Cousins outside my top-12 quarterbacks.

Running Back I’m Rising On:

Leonard Fournette (Tampa Bay):  During Tampa Bay’s 2020 postseason run to their first Super Bowl victory in 18 years, former top-five NFL draft pick Leonard Fournette averaged 75 rushing yards on 16 attempts and 4.5 receptions, 37 receiving yards and one total touchdown per game.

Leonard Fournette averaged 21.7 PPR points per game during the 2020 playoffs and Super Bowl.

I would have assumed this heavy postseason workload, amounting to an average of 21.7 PPR points per game, would have pushed Fournette’s ADP to a point where he wasn’t worth the price.

However, his current ADP of 54.0, the RB33 off the board according to Sleeper, makes it quite the opposite. Fournette is a value right now.

In 2020, Fournette saw a career-low 97 rushing attempts, due to a mixture of poor availability and Tampa Bay’s low 24.5 rushing attempts per game (27thin the league). The subtle trend here is that during the final three games of the regular season Tampa Bay, who had finally found both their identity and chemistry, averaged 30.7 rushing attempts (fourth in the league over that span).

With Tampa Bay returning all of their unrestricted free agents, including linebackers Shaquil Barrett and Lavonte David, I’m expecting a more dominant team from start to finish, leading to less competitive games and more time to chew the clock by running the ball.

I’m not overly concerned with the presence of any of Ronald Jones, Giovani Bernard or Ke’Shawn Vaughn as the 6-foot, 228-pound Fournette should secure the goal-line back role for one of the most potent offenses in the league. It’s not a huge bargain. But taking someone at the RB33 that projects to be safe RB3 option with high-RB2 upside sounds like a pretty fair deal to me.

Running Back I’m Fading:

James Conner (Arizona):  Not far from Fournette in current ADP is James Conner. After four years in Pittsburgh, one being a top-six PPR RB, Conner finds himself in Arizona as the more run-heavy complement to fourth-year running back Chase Edmonds, an elusive pass-catcher.

The debate is whether you want to chase the supposedly goal-line upside that awaits Conner for the price of RB36 or pay for Edmonds’ PPR floor at RB29.

Personally, I rather take the shot on Edmonds, who tracked for the seventh-most receptions for a running back in 2020 with 53 on an efficient 79.1 percent catch rate, as opposed to Conner who has never rushed for more than  1,000 yards and has missed 35.4 percent of his starts in his three seasons as the starter in Pittsburgh.

In a similar role last season, Kenyan Drake finished as the PPR16 on 239 carries (seventh-most in the league). This is typically worrisome both because Drake appears to be a better running back at this point in his career. Conner’s max season carries is 215, and the last two seasons he hasn’t been able to crack 170.

This lack of ability to withstand volume, crippled with the limiting upside the role held initially, takes Conner completely off my redraft boards moving forward.

Wide Receiver I’m Rising On:

Michael Thomas (New Orleans):  Normally in redraft leagues, I tend to fade receivers as a whole — some due to the availability at the position compared to running back and tight ends. But if I can get Michael Thomas in the third round of 12-team leagues, I’m more than happy to pull the trigger.

Michael Thomas had four straight PPR WR1 finishes to begin his career before 2020.

Thomas is one of only three rookies in the last nine years to finish their rookie season as a PPR WR1, joining Jefferson and Odell Beckham Jr. as the only players to do so. He followed that up with three consecutive seasons of 100-plus receptions, 12-plus yards and three top-six PPR finishes.

After the retirement of quarterback Drew Brees and a disappointing 2020 campaign where Thomas was a first-round pick in most drafts, yet finished as the PPR WR93 in seven games, he is sliding in drafts. His current ADP is 23.8, according to Sleeper, but I’ve seen him slide in a majority of industry mocks and best ball leagues until the middle or back-half of the third round.

If Jameis Winston is the starting quarterback, don’t forget that he led Chris Godwin and Mike Evans to respective PPR WR2 and WR15 finishes in 2019. And if it’s Taysom Hill, Thomas averaged 13.2 PPR points in Hill’s four starts last season — truly his first meaningful reps at the position in his career.

Thomas is a possible WR1 with top-five upside going for low-end WR1 or high-end WR2 prices. I’ll take that for an RB-early roster all day.

Wide Receivers I’m Fading:

Breshad Perriman & Tyrell Williams (Detroit):  To patch up their gaping hole at wide receiver with the departures of Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones Jr. and Danny Amendola, the Lions signed journeymen receivers Breshad Perriman and Tyrell Williams. They later drafted Amon-Ra St. Brown from USC in the fourth round.

While it’s hard to fade players like Perriman and Williams, who hold current ADPs of 214.0 and 271.5, I feel the need after seeing them drafted in several mocks and leagues I’m in.

Yes, there is nearly 50 percent of the vacated targets available in Detroit. But third-year tight end T.J. Hockenson, along with running backs D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams and St. Brown, who projects to play in the slot – favorable to Jared Goff – should take a large majority of them.

This leaves Williams and Perriman to compete for low-target percentages of Goff’s outside deep passes, a place that was a struggle for the quarterback. In 2020, Goff had 31 percent completion on passes 20-plus yard – the worst of his four seasons under head coach Sean McVay.

Leave players like Perriman and Williams undrafted and do what you can to leave your draft with Hockenson, who should lead the team in targets and most other receiving stats.

If you have a feel-good story that you would like to share for an opportunity to be featured in an upcoming edition of “Start, Sit & Seth,” please reach out.

And for more fantasy football and uplifting content, you can find me on Twitter @Between_SethFF.

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