This month, your favorite little Ohio State news source turned 10.
It's crazy to think that something that started on a whim – more on that in a few – is now 10 years old and has become a business instead of the hobby it started as.
As real as it has become, we realized we didn't have much in the way of a site history or anything like that, so in July, several of us headed to Montreal for a long weekend of work and play. We arrived at our Airbnb'd condo, set up recording devices and proceeded to talk about where we'd come from, what we'd experienced and where we might go.
What follows is a transcript of that discussion, shortened a bit from the nearly 10 hours of audio recorded over two days. The last decade has given us crushing defeats and improbable championships. We've seen coaches come and go, performances that will be remembered forever and had the pleasure of working with and alongside some of the best people you will find.
We enjoyed putting this together and hope you'll enjoy it as well. Thanks once again for helping to make us who we are.
2006 Whitlock Must Pay
JASON PRIESTAS, FOUNDER: In May 2006 I moved to Chicago with my then girlfriend, now wife. I was able to keep my job with Chase, working remotely from home. Ohio State was stacked and would enter the season No. 1 in every preseason poll that mattered.
After moving I found myself in a situation where I had nobody to talk Ohio State with. I was working from home, hadn't really met anyone in Chicago and if I had, they'd likely be Illinois, Northwestern, Iowa, Wisconsin, or worse yet, Michigan fans. I still had friends and family in Ohio, but I was missing the water cooler.
So to kind of get me through this I started reading team blogs, which were really starting to come into their own – sites like Buckeye Commentary for home cookin' and MGoBlog for the enemy perspective.
I have a tech background, so I started to put together a site on Blogspot, picking the name, creating a ratchet logo and all that. I hate to admit this now, but the first post was driven by something dumb Jason Whitlock had said along the lines of if Texas beat Ohio State that season and went on to lose twice, he'd still keep them above the Buckeyes, regardless of what Ohio State did the rest of the year.
That post, Jason Whitlock Might be High went out on August 20 because I just had to tell the world how ignorant Whitlock was for saying basically, asinine, typical Whitlock stuff.
RAMZY NASRALLAH, EXECUTIVE EDITOR: It's kind of interesting how affected you were by a hot sports take.
JOHNNY GINTER, SENIOR EDITOR: It's a little shameful that Jason Whitlock serves as the primary inspiration for Eleven Warriors. Should we include him on the masthead?
JASON: I need to clarify. A lot of the legwork was completed for the site. Whitlock just happened to serve as the inspiration for the first post. However, that's something I have to live with for the rest of my life.
JOHNNY: In the summer of 2006, I was just a dumbass undergrad looking for information on the Buckeyes. Buckeye Commentary was a place I visited a lot and saw Eleven Warriors pop up one day, so it became one of the sites I frequented.
JASON: One of the cool things back then was the community of blogs that would link to each other. Keith Courter of Buckeye Commentary was great about that. Unfortunately, you don't see a lot of sites linking out to peers as much these days.
JOHNNY: Keith did great work with videos, too. I think he deserves a lot of credit for setting the template, so to speak, for what a lot of sports blogs became.
CHRIS LAUDERBACK, EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Jason and I have been friends since middle school, so I was aware of Eleven Warriors in its infancy and was one of the three or four people checking it with any regularity back then.
Jason, myself and another guy actually had an Ohio State site in 1997 and 1998, called “Chris Spielman's Dirty Socks.” It was great. We were younger, funnier, more creative and had more energy.
JASON: But the publishing tools weren't mature. There was no WordPress, there was no Blogger. It was all static HTML, so it was hard to maintain and it fizzled out.
VICO: I had just graduated from Ohio State and moved to a strange place called Alabama. So I was trying to survive that as best as I could.
RAMZY: I was moving from Chicago to Ohio for day job reasons. I was in my 8th year writing for Bucknuts. Like everyone else, I was anticipating the triumphant march of a wire-to-wire national championship.
D.J. BYRNES, ASSOCIATE EDITOR: I was in Montana going to school. I was most likely drunk and definitely the most obnoxious Ohio State fan in the state of Montana.
JASON: So in that first month I posted six times from the 20th until the end of the month. Chris, my dad, maybe one or two other people – tops – were reading. There were certainly no comments.
The following month, September, I posted 13 times. Still no readers or comments, but I went in on Jason Whitlock again!
JOHNNY: I think part of the reason the site resonated with people early on is because it offered them something they didn't have at the time.
RAMZY: That's a good point. It's actually having an angle instead of the milquetoast classic who/what/when/where/why reporting you got from the Dispatch and other traditional outlets. People are intrigued by the how.
JASON: At the time the Dispatch, which has never really had a solid digital strategy, was paywalled too.
CHRIS: And it predated their own blogs so it was basically just the paper on the web, nothing more.
JASON: In October I started to take the site more seriously. I was having fun with it, the Buckeyes were rolling, having knocked off Texas, 24-17 in Austin and I posted 25 times that month. Even if nobody was reading I wanted to get my thoughts out there.
The next month, November, we ramped up to 42 posts for the month. Chris and I were on the phone one night early that month and were discussing Thad Matta's freshman class and basically said, “You know, we should probably cover this team. They might be good.”
CHRIS: I follow Ohio State basketball as closely as I follow Buckeye football and offered to lead Eleven Warriors' coverage of the men's basketball team. Back then it wasn't like every game was televised, especially for someone living in Chicago. There was no Big Ten Network at the time.
I can actually remember buying tickets to go to some of the games that weren't on television, like exhibitions and things like that, to cover the team from the stands. My first post went live on Nov. 10 and then the next day was the season opener. It was perfect timing because, as we all know, that team was pretty special.
JASON: We had a couple of other firsts that month. We premiered our Buckeye NFLer of the week column, which still lives on. “Five Things” also debuted in Nov. 2006, though it first appeared under as “Five Things We Learned or Confirmed” following the win over Michigan.
We were still knobs, though, using “we” literally to refer to the team and much less professional than we are today, if you can even consider us professional today. For instance, the title of our recap of the Michigan game – the biggest football game ever played in Ohio Stadium to that point – was simply “Wow.” To be fair, it's a stretch to even call that a recap, too.
RAMZY: That title foretold Kyle Rowland's arrival.
CHRIS: It was written.
JASON: In December we published 57 posts. It wasn't a really big football month, despite national championship anticipation because the Big Ten Championship wasn't a thing yet, so a lot of that was basketball coverage.
CHRIS: We published our first real game preview – for a basketball game – just trying to add a bit more structure to the site.
JASON: We also launched the “11W Mix Tape,” which was a precursor to the Skull Session everyone knows and loves today.
And then we spent the whole rest of the month talking shit about Florida and how badly they were going to get destroyed.
CHRIS: Another first: on Christmas day, I actually published the first ever NCAA violations post on the site. Antonio Pittman and Beanie Wells got pinched for going to a fundraiser dinner to help families go to the bowl game. They were both cleared four days later.
2007 Devastation & Hope
JASON: January was big for us because we splurged on a proper domain name and migrated to WordPress. We were making moves and starting to plug things in like Google Analytics that all blogs were supposed to do at the time.
We also experimented briefly with covering the Blue Jackets that month. That was fun.
Then we gave the BCS a proper preview and Urban Meyer wrecked us. That was probably the toughest loss I ever experienced as an Ohio State fan. And then every Ohio State fan hated Meyer because he destroyed Tressel.
THE DEBACLE IN GLENDALE
VICO: Living in Alabama, the locals were so convinced that Florida would manhandle Ohio State, that they truly had this god-given speed advantage and yeah, they were right.
JOHNNY: My roommate and I watched the game from the Schott. We watched the first half and said “Screw it!” We walked back to our dorm and then just had the game on in the background. We didn't say anything for three hours.
JASON: What was the atmosphere like at the Schott?
JOHNNY: It was awful. It was like the wake for a funeral.
CHRIS: I've never seen Tressel so desperate. When he went for it on 4th down in the first half, it showed how little confidence he had that night.
JASON: The beating was just so absolute.
DJ: Especially after how it started, with Ginn's return.
CHRIS: Nope. 82 yards of offense. Troy Smith – Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith – completed 4 of 14 passes.
DJ: And got sacked by a helmetless dude.
RAMZY: The only comparable thing I can think of in terms of buildup, which is actually way worse, is Brazil getting the World Cup. They had countdown clocks for 10 years and then they got brained by Germany. That would have been like if Urban had been up 80-0 in that game in the first quarter. In the Shoe. After a 10-year buildup.
JOHNNY: I've always been bothered by that. I always had nothing but respect for the man.
JASON: On the site front, we started running Google Ads in January and made a whopping $4.55 for the month on 8,520 pageviews. To put that into perspective, we do several hundred thousand pageviews a day now.
RAMZY: The Skull Session currently does 8,000 pageviews before anyone wakes up.
JASON: We kept chugging in February – the site was gaining a bit of traction with family members, friends, and some people we didn't know stopping by to read what we were putting out.
And really, thank goodness for that basketball team that winter, because as bad as the Florida loss was on the football field, the Thad Five helped heal some of the trauma.
CHRIS: If that had been a 10–20 basketball team, we might have shut the site down.
JASON: Right. And what a tournament run that team turned in. They played great teams along the way – a No. 2 seed Memphis in the Elite 8, a No. 2 seed Georgetown in the Final Four and then the tourney's No. 1 overall, Florida in the championship.
CHRIS: Let's not sleep on the Xavier game with Lewis hitting that late bomb and then the insane comeback against Tennessee, down 17 at the half.
JASON: That run stands out to me because it was the first time we'd really ever aggressively covered an Ohio State team, football or basketball. We published previews, recaps, news items between games.
The end result? A whopping $1.44 payday from Google ads in March. That's like $0.03 per post for the month.
CHRIS: April saw the publication of Jim Delany's infamous letter to the SEC.
VICO: That's still online.
JASON: It wasn't a good look. You know, just take your lumps. That was kind of his Cavs Dan moment.
May brought the first offseason for us as a site and we struggled. I think someone – I won't name names – published a photo of Erin Andrews and that was like, it. The substance of the post.
Greg Oden went first in the NBA Draft that year and we spent quite a bit of time telling anyone who would listen that Oden was better than Kevin Durant and history would prove that assertion.
RAMZY: And we were right.
JASON: Our first viral hit came in July, “The White Reggie Bush,” which was a video of an 8-year-old in California just wrecking this Pop Warner league.
VICO: That actually was our highest performing post until 2011 if you can believe that.
JASON: Later that summer, we created our first mobile site, a short-lived iPhone-specific version of the site. And then in August, we launched a redesign of the main site for our one-year birthday, which is the design we more or less ran with up until this current iteration of Eleven Warriors.
We were invited to participate in the now defunct Blogpoll late that summer, which was a prestige thing, but the work that went into publishing and revising a weekly ballot based on feedback from readers was a pain in the ass.
Corey Carpenter, a friend of Chris and mine, joined as the third writer in early September, and that month also saw our first reader contest. We gave away a hat to someone for predicting the score of the Ohio State–Washington game, and of course we didn't have our own merchandise back then, so we basically bought someone a hat with the $1.50 we were making each month from ads. So, yeah, we spent an entire year's revenue on a contest prize. But contests have been really integral to what we've done all along and they've helped, at least in a small part, with our growth.
CHRIS: We brought on another friend to write, Mark Frost, in December as the site's fourth writer because we were so thirsty for content at the time.
JASON: We also published the first of our now annual top Ohio State moments of the year at the end of 2007 and strolling through that list is a fun flashback.
JOHNNY: Michigan's loss to Appalachian State made the list and that game also happened to be the first ever broadcast on the new Big Ten Network.
CHRIS: Which was huge for BTN because their bug appeared on highlights packages across the country that weekend.
JASON: In terms of traffic, we did 246,000-ish pageviews in 2007. A lot of work went into the year but again, that's less than a day's worth of traffic for us now.
We made a grand total of $100.35 on the year, so clearly we were already looking into purchasing private islands with the stacks of blogger cash that were rolling in.
VICO: 2007 is when I noticed Eleven Warriors. I can remember when I started my own blog the following year, I patterned it off of a lot of what you guys were doing at the time. Most other college blogs were just blogs, but Eleven Warriors took it to something else with previews that featured opposing logos and stylized text. Stylistically, I think that's when Eleven Warriors began to stand out.
JASON: We had a tools section of the site that you could punch in data and it would generate the HTML for you to paste into your previews to publish, which gave us a consistent look for things like that.
JOHNNY: 2007 is when I began my commenting career on Eleven Warriors as Bup Bup Bup.
2008 The Hustle & The Flow
CHRIS: January 2008 was a big month for us. We introduced Gravatars to the site allowing the dozens of regular commenters we had at the time to comment with flair, and then we also rolled out “11W Lite” which was a precursor to today's Buckshots.
JASON: Yeah, a nice and quick del.icio.us integration.
CHRIS: Then, we formed an LLC on the 15th of that month, becoming Eleven Warriors, LLC. There were only three of us at the time, as members, and since we weren't making any real money, we actually had dues to help fund operations.
JASON: Yes. The lesson here is to form a company whenever your annual revenue tops three figures.
CHRIS: But yeah, we used the money from dues to fund contests, purchase stickers – our first batch of stickers were hilariously awful, with the scarlet more like a dark maroon – and things like that.
Interestingly, our most viewed post of 2007 came in January with a piece on quarterback Todd Boeckman dating Jim Heacock's daughter, complete with a pretty juvenile title.
JASON: Only the most sophisticated content back then.
CHRIS: And then in February, we doubled down on Erin Andrews photos. We actually had a photo gallery of her because we miraculously obtained basketball press passes back then.
RAMZY: Sounds like Barstool Sports back then.
CHRIS: It very much was so.
February also provided the third-most trafficked article of the year, about an internet rumor where Jerome Bettis had told an Ohio State fan on a plane that Charlie Batch had told him that Terrelle Pryor was going to sign with Michigan so basically the worst game of recruiting telephone possible. But Jason posted it at 2 a.m. the morning of National Signing Day.
JASON: Fuck you, Jerome Bettis.
CHRIS: In a sign of things to come, March saw seven hours of downtime in a single day when our server was crushed. What were we paying for hosting back then?
JASON: $5 a month. I'd kill to pay that again for hosting.
CHRIS: At the time, we also worked really hard to cultivate relationships with traditional media. We didn't despise them, like a lot of other blogs did and we built relationships with guys like Ken Gordon of the Columbus Dispatch. And to his credit, he was welcoming.
JASON: Ken was always really decent to us. Always a really good dude, and he didn't have to be, considering we were competitors in a sense.
JOHNNY: Yes, he was.
CHRIS: Funny story from March. We all went to Vegas for March Madness, so we basically put up a notice on the site saying, “We're not going to post anything for the next three days,” and we didn't. And then later, of course, Ohio State captured the NIT powered by tourney MVP Kosta Koufos.
RAMZY: Raise that banner, baby!
CHRIS: In June, we worked with Maple Street Press to publish a preseason magazine, which was a cool experience to be able to go into book stores and grocery stores around Ohio and see our names on print bylines.
JASON: That was really neat. Our grandparents and less internet savvy members of the family could get the magazine and see the payoff from the work we were putting in.
CHRIS: I remember driving around town and stuffing 11W stickers into everyone magazine I could find for sale. And we introduced the magazine on the site by saying something about being colleagues with Jack Park now.
JOHNNY: And the preview magazine is something we did annually.
JASON: Compare how excited we were for that to what happened earlier this summer when Lindy's asked if we wanted to do another magazine and we were like, “Nah, we're too busy.”
CHRIS: In August, we turned two and at that point had just shy of 1,000 posts published to date.
Heading into football season, our coverage was essentially a preview, a recap and then Five Things with Jason and I splitting duties on those. That year saw USC gash the Buckeyes in Los Angeles, 35–3.
VICO: I think Ohio State opened the scoring and then USC's response was a fullback wheel route for a touchdown and then you knew.
RAMZY: The USC game was the final capstone on Ohio State having to try something different at quarterback.
VICO: 2008 was the year that collectively, fans really started to dislike what Jim Bollman was doing.
CHRIS: On to better topics, we held our first site meet up at Casey Moran's in Wrigleyville ahead of the Northwestern game in October. There were probably more drink specials than attendees, but we were on the board with an event!
Corey spearheaded a marketing effort by mailing 11W stickers to anyone who wanted one and we received some great photos in return. An NCO in the Army sent a photo of one of our stickers on a Humvee in Kuwait, which was pretty cool.
JASON: That was a cool idea to do that. Corey was awesome.
JOHNNY: Thoughts on Pryor that year?
RAMZY: He was a cheat code on 3rd-and-10, which was a big play in Bollman's offense.
VICO: Dave, Dave, Cheat Code.
CHRIS: Tressel won his fifth-straight over Michigan that November in a weird one starring Rich Rodriguez in his first season on Michigan's sideline. Ohio State completed just eight passes, but put up 42 points thanks to big plays.
That same month, Maria Durant from ABC 6 did a story on Ohio State blogs, which was our first mention or appearance on television. We were celebrities for 14 seconds.
Looking through some of the top moments for the year, they weren't as notable as the previous year, but as a site, we had momentum.
JASON: We finished the year with 877,000 pageviews, with a high month of October and 121,000 pageviews, so about three times the traffic of 2007. On the revenue front, we made $316 that year. So, 29 months in, we had earned about $400.
CHRIS: Don't start a blog, kids!
JASON: I think a lot of times we looked more successful than we actually were because we had a good design and simply showed up, which is most of it.
2009 Staff Moves
CHRIS: 2009 started with Ohio State losing another heartbreaker in a bowl game, falling to Texas, 24–21 in the Fiesta Bowl when Quan Crosby slipped by Anderson Russell for a touchdown at the end of the game.
RAMZY: The most frustrating part of that sequence was Tressel throwing a challenge flag on the play before for a spot, giving Texas time to come up with the winning play. Like that's when Tressel finally discovered the challenge flag. He could have erased Illinois' first touchdown in 2007 had he found it sooner.
CHRIS: That month also saw the birth of the Eleven Warriors Twitter account, and here we are, seven years and nearly 140,000 followers later.
We handed out an annual award for the Buckeye NFLer of the week – which we had renamed “The Houndie” – and Antoine Winfield won that.
JASON: That name was the result of an unfortunate typo of mine. I'd meant to type “out of hand” but published a story with “out of hound” in it and the commenters really clowned on me for a couple of days. This was back when you could comment under any name that you wanted to and there's nothing quite like reading comments from “you” making fun of yourself.
CHRIS: The basketball team was pretty bad that spring, with Siena knocking them out of the tournament in the opening round, although Byron Mullens did provide one of the greatest quotes in the history of this website, “I can get compared to Kevin Garnett, his inside game. Outside game, Dirk Nowitzki, explosive like Amar'e Stoudemire. Those three guys I like to compare myself to and mix them all together and to a little bit of the triple threat.”
JASON: Incredible. That was his pre-draft pitch to NBA teams.
CHRIS: Alex Gleitman joined the staff in February, coming over from a site he had started with several of his friends at Ohio State. He'd later start a series called “Catching Up” in which he spoke with Ohio State commits or prospects on the Buckeyes' radar.
JASON: He was great for us. He established a consistent recruiting presence for us as a site.
CHRIS: Yeah he spoke to Carlos Hyde, Jordan Hall, Johnny Simon and several other prospects right out of the gate. He really gave us something we didn't have before.
In April, we held a Spring Game Social at Park Street Tavern, benefiting the Mid-Ohio Foodbank. It was the first of many times we'd end the night buzzed and wondering how to get 100 pounds of canned goods out of a venue.
JASON: Joe Beale came on in May, focusing on historical pieces and really adding another dimension to our coverage.
RAMZY: Little known fact: Joe was the first Lebanese staff member at Eleven Warriors.
JOHNNY: That's right.
RAMZY: I can't win fucking anything.
CHRIS: The 2009 offseason was actually eventful. Jeff Boals joined Matta's staff in May, Chris Spielman entered the College Football Hall of Fame, Jaamal Berry was arrested and Ray Small ran into academic woes.
JASON: Luke Zimmermann came on as our sixth writer in June of that year, and again, he really gave us something we didn't have in the sense that he was younger than most of us and really got the web and trends.
CHRIS: In July, Jason attended Big Ten Football Media Days in Chicago. That was the first time we'd ever attended a league event.
JASON: I was such a fanboy at that event. I remember being like, “Oh my God, there's Joe Paterno,” you know, standing three feet away from him. I didn't do anything to embarrass the site, but I was more fan than media at that point, for sure.
Another fanboy highlight from later that year is when we scored press passes for a couple of football games – this as before we had a beat writer – I went to the Shoe to cover a game and actually urinated next to Lee Corso in the Ohio Stadium press box bathroom, which, you know, if you have to pee next to someone, might as well be a legend.
RAMZY: I'd like to point out that Jason wrote an article in April 2009 titled “Like Kryptonite for Line Talent,” which I believe is the first time anyone had called out Jim Bollman.
He closed the piece with: “One thing is for sure. If the line doesn't step up its play this season after going head-to-head with a dominant defensive front every day in practice, something has to change. There's just too much talent going to waste as it stands right now.”
And Jim Bollman's grave and epitaph were written that day.
JASON: Not quite “The Walrus,” but we were on to something.
CHRIS: Later that summer, B.J. Mullens announced that he'd like to be called Byron going forward. I'd probably try to change my name, too, after that ludicrous quote he gave ahead of the draft.
JOHNNY: That wasn't me. That was some clown named B.J.
CHRIS: As Jason touched on, we picked up our first football credential that fall. Certainly not for the entire season, but we were making headway after having a men's basketball credential the year before. Corey and I attended every football practice open to the media that year, as well as the jersey scrimmage at the Shoe, which was really cool.
Another win that year was breaking the news and first visuals for the “Pro Combat” uniforms Ohio State would wear that season, the first time the team had worn alternate uniforms for a game.
RAMZY: We published a late-summer post called “Thank You, Urban,” about James Louis verbaling to Ohio State. Louis wanted to verbal to Florida, but Meyer told him not to tell anyone, and he then missed UF's Friday Night Lights and started to receive a bunch of other offers.
JOHNNY: Of all of the players who didn't really contribute on the field, James Louis is my favorite. For the first four months on Twitter, he only tweeted in caps. Like, that's all he did. And then they would just be the most random things, like “I LOVE CEREAL WITH WATER.”
RAMZY: "I JUST FARTED AND IT SMELLS LIKE DOG BISCUITS."
JOHNNY: Louis to me was the cat on the keyboard making beautiful music. He shuttered his account a year ago and the world is less for it.
RAMZY: And he entered our lives because of Urban Meyer.
JASON: Thank you, based Nike source. But yeah, we kind of began transitioning from aggregating to generating more of our own content.
CHRIS: Yeah, if you look back at August of that year, we have breakdowns of each practice—I can remember seeing Bradley Roby during practice as a freshman and writing that he probably won't play, but he already looks like one of the best DBs out there.
And then, during the season, Alex attended every one of Tressel's weekly pressers for us and that was the first time we covered those consistently.
JASON: We had some really cool merch at the time. The Skull Session tee and the Buckeye Stormtrooper tee were both beautiful, but as it turns out, people don't like it when you skate too close to their intellectual property.
We also produced a “Lebron in Cleats” tee, kind of riding the athletic talent of Terrelle Pryor. We thought it was cool at the time, but I look back on it as a pretty shitty concept, especially after Pryor arm-punted through the loss against USC in Ohio Stadium.
CHRIS: And then six games later came “Purdue Harbor,” which is what we coined the debacle in West Lafayette.
CHRIS: November saw the rise of Evan Turner after he recorded two triple-doubles within a week. And then, later that month, Matta inked a class with Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas, Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith in it.
JOHNNY: What a class.
CHRIS: To the football team's credit, they rebounded to beat Iowa at home in overtime and clinch a trip to the Rose Bowl. Before the Rose Bowl, Tressel dispatched Michigan again, and that was the game that featured the “Hey Coach Rodriguez, We Love You” banner – at Michigan Stadium, no less.
RAMZY: That was the year Tate Forcier had four picks and a fumble.
JOHNNY: The matchup of Rodriguez vs. Tressel was the most lopsided in the history of the rivalry.
JASON: it was like big brother holding little brother's head and daring him to hit him. Remember when they thought Mike Barwis was a program-changer?
CHRIS: The top moments of 2009 featured a great run by the men's tennis team and Alex Wimmers tossing the first nine-inning no-hitter in 126 seasons of Ohio State baseball.
JASON: On the growth front we doubled what we did in 2008 with nearly 1.6 million pageviews on the year. We broke 200,000 in a month for the first time in September and finished November with 236,000. We still weren't making any money, though – just $500 for the year. So, if you're keeping score at home, we're 41 months into this with just $900 to show for it.
2010 Growth Amid Scandal
JOHNNY: As we get into 2010 I want to touch on one of the cooler things we used to do: victory songs. We first used “Takin' a Ride” from the Heavy Metal soundtrack, and then graduated to “Ohio.”
RAMZY: Akron's own The Black Keys!
JASON: We were starting to have fun with YouTube videos in 2009. Who can forget “Brianrolled?”
JOHNNY: I miss those victory songs. We had a Matta-themed video for basketball and then, when Urban Meyer was hired, we remastered “Ohio” to feature him.
In April, we interviewed Aaron Craft after he signed with Ohio State, which was significant because not only was their the drama with the Tennessee situation surrounding him, but it was an interview with a guy who would go on to become a huge factor in Ohio State fandom for years to come.
JASON: In April SB Nation reached out and made an offer to buy the site. They're innovative, have a lot of great people and do things really well, but they wanted to own the domain forever and what they offered wasn't in line with what we would expect, given what we had built at the time.
Making the move to SBN would have prevented us from doing some of the things we did later, like hiring a full-time beat writer and things like that, so in hindsight we made the right call.
JOHNNY: On a personal note, I started writing for the site in May 2010. I was living in Japan at the time and I wrote about a football team that I met in Kyoto and talked with their coach, who had gone to a football clinic in Oklahoma, so he loved Bob Stoops and was actually wearing a full-body Oklahoma jumpsuit when I talked to him.
I remember the there was an open call for a new writer to join the site and I was bored at my desk and I wrote a post on my iPhone about Brian Rolle and I sent it to you guys and I didn't think anything would come of it. And then you guys got back to me and said I was in.
JASON: Yeah, I went to bat for you, but Chris was dead set against it.
RAMZY: I wasn't part of the crew in 2010 but I would have totally blocked it.
JOHNNY: Yeah, that's understandable.
JOHNNY: That year we were all about looking to broaden what we were doing, so we launched a tailgate and, called Eat Too, Brutus. The first year was so low rent, but it was amazing. We brokered the use of a tailgate bus and our friends from Land-Grant Brewing Company, who were really just two guys working out of their homes at the time, hooked us up with a couple of kegs of signature beer.
JASON: We held it the Saturday of Miami's visit to the Horseshoe and had a lot of fun. Walt and Adam had just started the concept of what would become Land-Grant Brewing.
RAMZY: That was my first Eleven Warriors meet up. I was still writing at Bucknuts but 11W had a banger with kegs, Hoggy's, stickers and readers so I showed up. I loved the customer engagement you had that day. It felt very authentic.
CHRIS: The Land-Grant guys brewed up Eleventh Warrior IPA for the event.
JASON: It was a blast. But Ohio State didn't like the fact that we were using the name “Brutus” so we had to change the name of the event a few years later.
JOHNNY: We entered football season with momentum, thanks to a site upgrade, a long interview with Kirk Herstreit and breaking the news about Ohio State's alternate uniforms for the second year in a row.
CHRIS: And if you read that interview, it's lengthy. Herbie took the time to give us great answers. He was fantastic.
JASON: He's a fan of the site and even provided a testimonial for us recently. Obviously when someone of his stature says nice things about what you're doing, that means a lot.
With the site upgrade, we launched Eleven Warriors 3.0 on the Drupal platform. The first version being Blogspot and then v2 being WordPress. It wasn't what we have now with all of the advanced features we have on the backend, but it brought a lot new things to the table, like user registration, forums, polls now had comments, which is something people wanted for a long time, and of course, “11W Lite,” long ago renamed “Good Shizzy,” landed on its current name, ”Buckshots.”
RAMZY: Rest in peace, Good Shizzy.
JASON: Another small step on our path to respectability.
RAMZY: It sounded like something out of Mallrats.
JASON: Thankfully, because we decided to keep the theme and look of the site consistent for the upgrade, we didn't face much of a backlash when it launched.
JOHNNY: In the meantime, we're still working hard to obtain football credentials. I think we got passes for three games that season.
CHRIS: Basketball credentials were so much easier to get, but football was a different beast.
JOHNNY: In early December 2010, Urban Meyer stepped down at Florida and looking back through some of the comments on the site, you see some “I want no part of him at Ohio State.”
Legends & Leaders
JOHNNY: On December 13, the Big Ten announced “Legends & Leaders.” Was there ever really a good name for the divisions?
VICO: Yeah, “East and West.”
JOHNNY: But they're not truly east and west.
VICO: “Corn and Rust.”
RAMZY: “Barbasol and RoTel.”
JOHNNY: The first episode of the Eleven Dubcast aired on December 17. Luke did most of the early legwork, but it's something we're still doing and is going strong.
Four days later, everything went to hell.
We reported on rumors of NCAA violations within the Ohio State football team. A day later, we confirmed impermissible benefits to certain players and then the following day, that's when everything just went crazy.
JASON: We were only getting bits of what was happening and did most of our reporting via Twitter, but early on, we were saying suspensions were coming and we took some heat from one particular Ohio State “insider,” who said, “If they are speculating about sanctions and suspensions then they are hacks...and clearly out of the loop.”
JOHNNY: And that just speaks to a lot of people a) not wanting to admit that they were scooped and b) a “blog” can do their jobs better than they can do.
And it all came to a head quickly. Shortly before Christmas, Jason wrote an article titled “The Banhammer has Dropped,” announcing the punishment for the players, and that piece did 285 comments, which was unheard of for us at the time. And of course, he closed with “Merry Christmas” which was good.
JASON: We didn't have a full-time reporter at the time, so we were scrambling and trying to publish what we were hearing while holding down our day jobs.
JOHNNY: From a fan perspective, this was the worst time to be writing for the site. But for traffic and publicity, it was great for the site.
2011 The Year that Changed Everything
JOHNNY: Simply put, Eleven Warriors is not the site it is today without 2011. The site, over the course of 12 months, completely changed. Ramzy, you wrote your first piece for us in January. Why did you decide to join this ship of fools?
JASON: It was a Kevin Durant move.
RAMZY: It was a total Kevin Durant move. Following the Sugar Bowl – which Ohio State was predicted to lose – Herbstreit dropped the Buckeyes three spots on his AP Poll ballot for winning the game. And he was piling on Tressel, Pryor and the whole program, while Ohio State was at a low point. So I wrote a story called “Herbie the Impaler” for Bucknuts.
So I filed it and...it didn't run. I talked to the publisher and he had concerns about running it. Bucknuts is based in Dayton. Herbie's from Centerville. He was worried the piece would upset Herbstreit, so I pinged Jason and said, ”Here, do what you want with this.” And he ran it, and it performed because it resonated with a lot of people who couldn't fully articulate why Herbstreit was pissing them off at the time.
Perhaps it's because we pay so much attention to Ohio State at a microscopic level, but we know what's fair and unfair. We're not homers. We are just informed. I don't think Herbstreit was “hating” on Ohio State – that's stupid – he was doing a poor job as an analyst which was out of character because he's generally terrific.
And that column ran on 11W because Bucknuts didn't want it. It was the first time they rejected my content. I ran a sequel in May where I gently reminded readers that nobody was a bigger fan of recruiting Terrelle Pryor than Kirk Herbstreit, who was now loudly commandeering the "Ohio State Needs To Stop Recruiting Players Like Terrelle Pryor" bus.
JOHNNY: You did a lot of heavy lifting when it came to the end of the Tressel era. You wrote a series of posts that I think were incredibly influential about the scandal, even coining the expression “Tatgate,” and that was really important.
JASON: Ramzy did a great job. It was tough for everyone, but it was stuff that had to be written and the way he tackled it – particularly the piece that remembered Tressel for all of the great things he did – really resonated with fans and readers. You know, people who understand that Tressel was a good man who made a mistake.
JOHNNY: Right. And when the Yahoo! report came out in March, there was a lot of room for error on our part. We could have gone “Tress Ride or Die” and really dug in, defending his job, but we took a reasoned approach and it was a pretty unified voice, saying, “If he committed these NCAA violations, then yes, he should be fired.”
JASON: And that's important.
JOHNNY: That's extremely important. I'm really proud of how we handled that situation. If you look at a lot of other team sites, they retreat and dispute things.
RAMZY: Eleven Warriors was the informed response to a media that was trying its hardest to create more interest and programming for the Tressel/Ohio State scandal narrative. Journalists were relying on sources like Sports by Brooks, who "reported" Jim Delany was negotiating with the NCAA to have Ohio State lose non-conference games to avoid a television ban. Actual journalists fucking ran with that. They made it the core of their reporting. Ohio State was going to play an abbreviated nine-game schedule. And they built their takes from that.
JASON: It was insane. Rigged raffles, “How Deep it Went” on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Miami, Penn State and Baylor were just blips on the horizon at the time.
JOHNNY: Dennis Dodd published something saying the Buckeyes might have received the death penalty had things gone a different way, which is hilarious and so Dodd.
RAMZY: If you were to replay what happened during the summer of 2011 and compare it to the way we sort of casually dismiss all of this stuff now – it doesn't feel like five years ago. It feels like 50.
Can we also mention that Tyvis Powell committed to Ohio State the week Jim Tressel resigned?
CHRIS: He had to go to school to get a good job to support his son, Cardale.
JASON: 2011 was also big for us on the staff front. That summer, D.J., Sarah Hardy and Elika Sadeghi joined the staff in consecutive months. D.J., of course, is a national treasure and is still with us today, but all three are tremendously talented and helped make the site better.
JOHNNY: Sarah's footnotes were unrivaled.
JASON: And of course Elika is doing big things now, appearing on ESPN as part of their college football coverage.
JOHNNY: Heading into the football season, Ramzy, I'm going to praise you and then I'm going to tear you down a little bit. You had a tremendous post about 9/11 – it was a really well-received piece. It was another solid post that continued to legitimize the site.
However, something that you wrote shortly after that—
RAMZY: Hold on. At the time it was true.
JOHNNY: In “The Return of Good Throw Joe,” I'm just going to quote you: “However, if he continues to establish himself as an efficient and qualified commander as this long-anticipated season progresses, Bauserman will have done the unthinkable: he will have shifted Ohio State's once precarious quarterback situation from being the problem that nobody wanted to the situation everyone wishes they had.”
RAMZY: THEY WON 48 TO NOTHING THAT DAY!
JASON: It's funny because...
JOHNNY: It's funny because Joe Basuerman is bad. That's why it's funny.
JASON: Ramzy's work is 99.9% great, but then there's that Bauserman fart in there.
RAMZY: Let's recap for a second. “Ramzy, you had a really good 9/11 post. And almost worse than 9/11 was when you praised Joe Bauserman.”
JOHNNY: The best part is that you compared him to Joe Germaine and said that was his ceiling.
RAMZY: Which is still true.
JASON: Someone get me his passing chart for the Nebraska game.
JASON: I'm not sure what's funnier, that chart or the “Ask Bollman” GIF a commenter made.
JOHNNY: That was such an angst-ridden season, save for the one special night against Wisconsin.
JASON: That was the game for Eat Too, Brutus II. We were in the RV lot that year. Mark Titus and Greg Oden stopped by and Titus gave us a game-worn sock to auction off for charity. Our tailgate is still undefeated to this date.
RAMZY: And Braxton Miller is still undefeated against Russell Wilson.
JOHNNY: Around that time, the Columbia Journalism Review did a profile of Eleven Warriors, which was cool, and then the Meyer thing hit. It started with a tweet that went out on Nov. 17 and then a follow-up article outlining what we knew the next day.
We are 99.7% sure Urban Meyer has agreed to a deal to become the next coach of Ohio State. Solid sources. Plural.— Eleven Warriors (@11W) November 18, 2011
JASON: We had a source in the athletic department and one outside of the department who corroborated it. And then, a few days prior, a site member had tracked a private plane from Gainesville to Don Scott Field, the university's airport. You know, there aren't too many people taking private jets from Gainesville to Columbus.
So I felt good about it when I sent that tweet. I couched it a bit, which I regret, but we'd never broken anything nearly as big as that before.
JOHNNY: I don't want to undersell this. It's probably the biggest piece of news that we've ever broken. It was a huge deal.
JASON: Yeah, if you look at our traffic, our trajectory, we were growing well, certainly after Ramzy came on, but there are two eras for Eleven Warriors: pre-Nov. 18 and post Nov. 18.
JOHNNY: And the Dispatch was not happy. One of their columnists, Bob Hunter wrote this salty piece two days later where he goes on to say that ESPN reported that Meyer and Ohio State had mutual interest and, “That's not quite the same thing as a blogger with a brother who has a friend who once played football with Meyer in high school, reporting from a laptop in his basement.”
Which is hilarious because we have connected sources and we've scooped the Dispatch and they're not happy about it.
JASON: I didn't even really get mad about that. I honestly didn't. When stuff like that happens, you know you've won. We did use that passage as a rallying cry, however.
JOHNNY: And the next month, we announced the “Respect the Basement” fundraiser to raise money to hire a full-time writer and I love how we appropriated that diss. Scott Van Pelt, Richard Deitsch, everyone is giving us credit for that scoop, except the local paper.
CHRIS: Beau Bishop, then at 10TV, was great about it, too. He hosted a special on how the media reported on the hire.
JASON: Meyer's introductory presser was a week after the news broke and we had to have somebody there. Again, we don't have a full-time writer and we all have jobs, so D.J. was our point man and he went and came back with four videos of the event.
JOHNNY: My favorite part about all of this came in early December when the editor of the Dispatch, Benjamin Marrison, wrote an op-ed explaining why they were beat on the Meyer news. He wrote, “Our story didn't create a distraction, although it might have added clarity to the existing one.”
2012 Basement Respected
RAMZY: No postseason in 2012, which makes the beginning of 2012 the start of the longest anticipatory period in Ohio State history, because you’re not just waiting for football season like you do every year, you’re waiting for 2013 when they have a shot of actually being eligible for something.
JASON: It was tough. But we were grooving as a site. We topped a million pageviews in November of 2011 for the first time, and then again in December. In January, with a trash Taxslayer Bowl on the docket, we topped two million for the month.
We needed to take the next step and hire a full-time beat writer. The Respect the Basement initiative in early 2012 was huge for us.
RAMZY: The readership really came through.
JASON: They certainly did. And we were able to hire Kyle Rowland that June as our first full-time writer.
“Working at Eleven Warriors was like sitting at the cool kid table in high school. We did things differently and at a faster pace than most media outlets. It was new and fresh.”– Kyle Rowland, The Toledo Blade
JOHNNY: We didn’t put up 15 more ads and just do it; we told the readers that if you want to support us and elevate the site, this is what we need. I was skeptical at first but it turned out amazingly well. It just shows how amazing our community is as well as how quickly the site was growing. And Kyle was great for us.
JASON: We received a couple dozen resumes, had a final four and they were all very good candidates. They're all still in the business. Kyle ended up being the selection and he started for us in June.
CHRIS: That took us to the next level. Having a guy in the press box for every game.
JASON: After the Tressel/Meyer transition and Ohio State cleaning house a little bit, Shelley Poe – the SID for Tressel – left for Auburn and Jerry Emig took over. And he didn't know us, so he completely froze us out. We couldn't get credentials for 2011, he removed us from the email release lists.
CHRIS: After the Kyle hire we met with Jerry for an hour to kind of explain who we were, what we wanted to do.
JASON: Ohio State's threshold for press passes was having someone covering the team full-time. So that's why Kyle's hire was so big for us. But we still couldn't get photo passes for home games. That's why all of our early photos are from road games with Ohio State wearing white.
RAMZY: No respect for the basement.
JASON: And we were getting to be pretty big by then. Every small time paper in the state could get credentials, but we had to fight for ours.
JOHNNY: When I covered games before we hired Kyle, I was sitting between a radio station from south of Mansfield and another guy who left after the 2nd quarter. Just the struggle to get recognition – even after the other stuff we did – that was frustrating.
JASON: So Kyle was huge for us, particularly legitimizing us with the powers-that-be at Ohio State. And being our first real hire, we had to nail it and he came through. He was solid, smart and dependable. Just one of those guys you never had to worry about.
At around the same time, Luke left us to start an Ohio State site for SB Nation. It's always frustrating to lose good people who then implement parts or most of your playbook to compete against you – says every business owner ever – but Luke was smart and worked hard and made us compete harder.
But we added fantastic members to the team that year, as well. Ross Fulton came on in January and gave us schematic articles that helped differentiate Eleven Warriors from other Ohio State sites. Brandon Dobyns, our general counsel, assumed his role the same month. And then, in May, Walt Keys joined as Art Director.
“I first becAme aware of Eleven Warriors in 2008 during the recruitment of Terrelle Pryor. I was living in New York away from my friends for the first time. One of my buddies hipped me to 11W, and I've essentially been reading ever since.”– Walt Keys, Eleven Warriors Art Director
CHRIS: His work was huge in making us who we are today. It gave us a professional look, even if we weren't always professional with the other things we were doing.
RAMZY: I like the museum poster – the one of the Nittany Lion skeleton, extinct.
JOHNNY: I have the one from UAB game framed in my living room.
JASON: Yeah, he rolled out his first official game poster for us for Urban Meyer's first game at Ohio State that year and they've been tremendous. The Blue Jackets essentially aped his concept – while giving as little credit as possible to Walt – and he's doing posters for the Crew now, as well.
CHRIS: That NCAA tournament run in 2012 was special. I feel like… was that the year Amir Williams stepped up against Syracuse for a couple of minutes?
RAMZY: He shut down Rakeem Christmas for 10 minutes. We were like, “Oh my God, we’ve got Amir for FOUR YEARS.”
JOHNNY: At the same time you’ve got Aaron Craft.
CHRIS: Sullinger, Deshaun, Buford, Craft, Lenzelle, Thompson, Ravenel, great role guys on that team. That Kansas game in the Final Four was a two-point game. Sully didn’t have a great night but it was a two-point loss.
JASON: We did a live blog for Signing Day that year and it was insane. The Urban Meyer Experience was here and recruiting went to 100. We set a (now eclipsed) record with 172,724 pageviews that day. We ended up having to upgrade our servers four times in 2012 alone.
RAMZY: I think the Don't Tweet at Recruits initiative began in earnest with BDubsTriviaGuru, this squat little balding guy in photographs with hulking high school kids, just the juxtaposition of those two types I think started to really freak people out and the pathogenesis of getting to that point was tweeting at recruits. A child predator in a photograph with kids visiting the university.
JOHNNY: Yes. Don't do it.
RAMZY: Before Urban got familiar with his roster we were all making parallels to what he had at Florida, and Johnny Simon emerged as his Tebow that year.
JOHNNY: By the way my crowning achievement that year was “El Guapo.” I ran a poll on the site in late 2011 about who the toughest cage match would be on the team and I gave Carlos Hyde the name “El Guapo.” So every time I discussed Hyde, I'd use “El Guapo” and he ends up making it his Twitter handle. I was proud of that.
JASON: And it's still his Twitter handle.
JOHNNY: Still hasn't shouted me out.
JASON: He gave an interview to a San Francisco paper where he credited it to "some Ohio State site."
RAMZY: The team goes 12–0 that year, despite the great Pee-N-Flee scandal from that summer. And then dealing with no postseason was just weird.
Eat Too, Brutus for 2012 was the Nebraska night game, the largest event we ever had at that point. It was held sort of behind the VC on Norwich and it benefited DownSyndrome Achieves. City Barbeque, Cheryl's Cookies, Columbus Distributing – we had 8 different types of beer on tap because when you know the people who make the beer you get hookups. We raised five figures that day and that ended up funding the first-ever Biobank in Down Syndrome research history.
JOHNNY: That's right.
RAMZY: Ohio State beat Nebraska that night. Ohio State could beat the 2000 Baltimore Ravens if we held a tailgate before the game. Mark Titus signed some compression shorts, continuing the tradition of him donating signed worn clothing.
JASON: Despite the postseason ban, 2012 was a fun year. As a site, we ended the year with 32 million pageviews after having logged seven million in 2011.
2012 also saw the rollout of our comment voting system, Helmet Stickers.
RAMZY: If you are – I think this is the technical term – a shitlord, and you make bad comments you can be downvoted into oblivion. This didn't allow the community to police itself so much as it did guide the conversation in a pragmatic direction.
JASON: They've certainly taken on a life of their own and helped us keep somewhat of a handle on a gigantic community.
RAMZY: You come out of 2012 and there are nine months to talk about something – there tends to be a central theme with every offseason. Coming out of a 12-0 season into 2013 with Braxton Miller, Carlos Hyde, the OL and receivers all returning, defense largely intact, getting what should be a healthier defensive backfield – we were talking about running the table again. For nine months.
JOHNNY: Urban Meyer. That was the magical elixir, what a lot of people expected.
CHRIS: And the schedule was set up for a run. Only two ranked teams until the B1G championship.
RAMZY: They did run the table for the second year in a row. And that was just “meeting expectations.” The 2013 class - and we can now talk about this with hindsight – is arguably the greatest recruiting class in Ohio State history.
CHRIS: Apple, Barrett, Bosa, Marcus Baugh, Vonn Bell, Gareon Conley, Zeke obviously, Darron Lee, Tyquan Lewis, Jalin Marshall, Billy Price, Corey Smith, Grown n' Sexy, Dontre and Worley. Just stacked.
RAMZY: Ohio State lost its president to a Catholic joke that year. I think that was an important part of the historiography where 11W is concerned. D.J. had a viral story, “Good Riddance to the Horrible E. Gordon Gee.”
DJ: I did. I remember that was one of the first paychecks I earned. I was still part-time then.
RAMZY: It basically went through what he had accomplished to elevate the university. Ohio State, when I went there, I got in because I filled out the application correctly and I was from Ohio. That was it. I don't think Chris and I could get into Ohio State right now.
RAMZY: We finally convinced Vico to join the staff in January 2013.
VICO: I had operated Our Honor Defend since January 2008 which took off for reasons unbeknownst to me; right place/right time with decent intellect, but it got to the point of doing that and juggling my professional priorities I couldn't keep doing it and as a stop-gap. I think the first time I met Jason I was in Chicago for a conference and staying at a hotel that was probably two blocks from where he worked in the Loop, and I asked him if he wanted to meet for drinks. It was there that Jason broached the idea of joining 11W as early as 2011. I didn't think I could make such a commitment.
Near the end of 2012, Michael Citro told me he was going to join Eleven Warriors and was joining for reasons that were entirely fair. OHD couldn't provide for him the platform 11W could. We didn't have commenters or forums or the means for feedback. We didn't have the visibility of Eleven Warriors and at the time Michael wanted that. Around that time Jason reached out to me as well and asked if I was interested and I felt this was the right time professionally and personally, knowing I couldn't keep running the show myself.
JASON: Vico was not only a great writer, but the work he was doing on YouTube was phenomenal.
RAMZY: First YouTube channel I ever subscribed to. Vico's Drive-Thrus.
VICO: I remember I debuted that knowing USC had just beaten the everloving shit out of us. The first full-fledged Drive-Thru was the 1969 Rose Bowl against O.J. Simpson's USC Trojans. The Trojans went up 10-0 and then the Buckeyes ate their lunch.
JASON: Alex left the site in March, in what had become a theme of competitors attempting to poach – sometimes successfully – talent from Eleven Warriors, hoping to capture a little bit of what we were doing. Jeremy Birmingham quickly filled in for him, and to his credit, he took our already stellar recruiting coverage to another level.
JOHNNY: He was really innovative with some of his features and had a really soft touch when it came to interacting with prospects, or the families of prospects.
CHRIS: And then Mike Young joined the team in May, and gave us something we were missing. Closed a hole in our basketball recruiting coverage.
JASON: And not long after that, Curt Heinrichs started covering wrestling and Aubrey Nelson picked up hockey coverage for us, again, giving us something we previously didn't have.
I've always felt like we've been fortunate to have worked with so many outstanding and committed writers. I don't know if its culture on our side or that we're just extremely lucky in finding the right people.
JOHNNY: It's probably a little bit of both.
JASON: Another milestone was we sent Kyle to the US Army All-American Bowl. He had been on the job for about six months at that point. Things like that only bolstered our recruiting coverage.
RAMZY: His “Pride of Ohio” series that summer was fantastic.
JASON: Yeah, that was a great idea. Great execution.
RAMZY: What you saw from a traffic standpoint was, like, when you did Pride of Ohio: St. Henry you would get every St. Henry stakeholder to read and share it. We started to raise awareness with the site county by county and school by school. I remember seeing Pride of Ohio: Upper Arlington, which is where I grew up, show up on my feed with people asking me, "Have you read this?" And I remember thinking, "Yes, I edited it, thanks."
JASON: Vico brought his Better Know a Buckeye series over that year too.
VICO: It's actually easier to write given how Eleven Warriors has moved out to do multiple things on our platform. I would go to Buckeye Planet before. Now I can get almost all of those things from 11W. We didn't used to have them; now we do.
The Null Session
JASON: 2013 also gave us the “Null Session.”
JASON: It's coming out. You can't hide from the Null Session. There's this post on the site from March 26 called, “An Apology” by Johnny Ginter.
RAMZY: The screenshot became someone's avatar.
JASON: Johnny claimed he hadn't slept in days.
JOHNNY: That is true.
JASON: Johnny was writing one of our morning Skull Sessions and so he passed out in the middle of writing it—after he had already scheduled it for publishing!
RAMZY: I woke up and saw it with basically the template for the pice and I see 36 comments. I just thought, “Fuck, man.”
JOHNNY: I deleted it immediately. I didn't look at the comments.
RAMZY: It's the quintessential blogger story. Mom fails to wake up blogger slumbering in basement. Come on, mom.
JASON: March also saw the introduction of Photoshop Phridays which is something I stole from Something Awful, one of Web 1.0's greatest websites. And they've been fun and good and our community obviously has a lot of gifted photoshoppers and GIF artists. You saw the one of Meyer blocking Saban at the rim when Wyatt Davis committed? The double-boom? These great Ohio State GIFs are coming from Eleven Warriors readers.
JASON: March also brought us the infamous Kerry Coombs "We're Stretching, and You're a Kicker!" Which is a tagline at the bottom of the site.
JOHNNY: That's how I knew the Tressel Era was truly dead.
JASON: Kyle got footage of Coombs saying that at practice and it kind of blew up. National outlets like ESPN and Fox Sports ran it on TV.
RAMZY: On the team front, the beginning of the end for Ohio State's big rival was Urban's arrival. Brady Hoke won his debut against Ohio State, then loses when a full-time coach is in place and the trend for Michigan – mostly self-inflicted – begins in earnest in 2013. We covered a lot of that. You keep an eye on your biggest enemy. As an Ohio State site our job wasn't to rip the cover off of it, but to at least acknowledge it was happening.
JOHNNY: I started The B1G List in July. It was a dozen or so incredibly sarcastic lists ranking state mottos, birds, trees, flags, TV shows and I basically just wanted to make people mad. There was no objectivity to it whatsoever and I put Ohio No. 1 on every single list. Ohio does not have a state fish, which made me mad so I made a Vine of me rolling down High Street and yelling, "We need a state fish!" at the state capital.
JASON: I think I may have been The B1G List's biggest fan. We brought on Matt Pence as a designer in August. He's done a lot of stuff for us, including the Statagrams, which are beautiful.
RAMZY: The football team ran the table for the second year in a row and we'd still not covered an Urban Meyer loss as a site heading into December. The Big Ten Championship appearance that year was Ohio State's first, which is weird because it seemed like a birthright when it was announced. So you've got the Buckeyes in Indy finally and they just didn't get it done.
Before the arrival of Urban Meyer, we'd post “vent threads” on the site after losses, where we'd get something up quickly and let the community, well... vent. You'd have to go back to 2011 for the last one, so this was somewhat unexpected territory again. As a site, we were now past those, publishing “Instacaps” following games, win or loss. But we had to cover two losses in a row after winning 24-straight games.
JASON: We really ramped up our post-game coverage that year. Previously we'd do a recap, maybe the aforementioned vent thread and then Five Things, but in 2013 we added quotebooks, notebooks and some other elements that really broadened our coverage and that was driven by Kyle in his role.
RAMZY: We held the first Gold Pants Social that year.
JASON: Which was amazing. We partnered with Matt Finkes, Jim Lachey and the Gold Pants Club to host an event at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center to raise money for the club, and of course that money went directly towards purchasing the charms players received for beating Michigan.
JOHNNY: I was geeking out. I walked in there and I was like ho-lee crap.
JASON: We've held one every year since and they've all been great, giving donors a chance to tour the locker room and the facility, eating and drinking in the players' lounge and an opportunity to meet former greats.
RAMZY: Another milestone that year, for the first time, Eleven Warriors passed MGoBlog in traffic – and that's still the case. That made the site the No. 1 college sports team site on the planet. This is known as the “Tressel Moment” in our history.
JASON: 2014 started in crisis mode. Ohio State had denied us basketball credentials in late 2013. We had them for football season but were denied for hoops and in real danger of not getting them for the following football season.
At first we couldn't get any answers from them, but then found out that they wanted us to stop doing some things—
RAMZY: And this wasn't the first time they'd taken issue with us. They had already attempted to seize our domain name but by then we already had “Eleven Warriors” trademarked and had been using it as a business for years. They abandoned that claim.
JASON: This round, they wanted us to change the name of our tailgate because we were using “Brutus” in it, which, you know, that's fine. So, we agreed and changed the name to “The Eleven Dubgate,” which I honestly think is a better name, anyway. They wanted us to stop using “Gold Pants” in the name of the fundraiser we were holding for the Gold Pants Club. That's where things get interesting because Ohio State is merely a custodian of that trademark for the club. They don't actually own the rights to that name – the club does, and we had permission from the club to use it for this event.
CHRIS: We're going to Finkes and Lachey and saying, “What's the deal here?” And they were puzzled, too, because they'd given us permission, but we agreed to stop using the name.
JASON: Which Finkes was able to overturn for us later. They also wanted us to stop infringing on their marks on things in our store, which we weren't doing at the time and so we said fine to that as well. You'll notice our shirts steer very, very clear of Ohio State trademarks and we were careful about that. They asked us to change our tagline at the time, which was “Scarlet and Gray, every day,” because they had a trademark on “Scarlet and Gray.” Okay, that's valid. Finally, they asked that we take down a page on the site that featured digital wallpapers, so we did that.
It was all kind of frustrating because with some of these demands, we didn't believe they would hold up in court, but Ohio State didn't have to meet a legal bar. They could just deny us credentials.
So we agreed to comply with their demands and Kyle received basketball credentials again. We would launch a site refresh a month later and I can remember people asking why it was heavy on the color black instead of scarlet and the reason for that was because Ohio State had pummeled us and we were trying to avoid any trouble.
VICO: January was eventful on the football front. Of course the loss to Clemson sticks out and then the departures of Mike Vrabel and Everett Withers. Meyer replaced those two with Larry Johnson and Chris Ash – and with the Ash hire, there are few things Ohio State fans enjoy more than sticking a finger in Bert's eye.
And then on Feb. 7, we launched “Tatum,” which is the site that readers know now.
JASON: What were we doing launching so close to signing day?
VICO: Good question. But we now had a responsive site that would work well on laptops, tablets and mobile. It also brought a richer editor with important fields and better taxonomy support.
JASON: Yeah, we basically upgraded from Drupal 6 to 7 and wrote a ton of custom code, hired a professional designer and worked on it for probably a good seven, eight months in 2013.
The new site had a lot of things that we wanted to do for a long time and we were finally able to do. It had better social media integration – previously, we had to manually tweet out articles and I can't tell you how much of a pain in the ass that was, given our volume.
And then, of course whenever you launch something, there are bugs, so it was a busy couple of weeks for us then. With any big redesign, you're going to have people who don't like it and we certainly had many of those people. But we knew that would be coming and I always felt like if it was a good product and you believed in the design and layout, you kind of just have to weather the storm. If you roll out a disaster and it's a bad site, you have to take aggressive action, but I thought it was a good site, so we just kind of had to kill bugs and wait things out.
CHRIS: The new backend editor definitely challenges you more because on top of the article you have fields for short titles, social stuff, so you have to be cognizant of all of that.
JASON: A lot more fields.
JOHNNY: A lot more to screw up.
VICO: And we could now feature articles in the “cover” at the top of the site.
JASON: It's good that you brought that up because you could write a really good story on the old site, and then, like three hours later it would be five miles down the page. And the new site with the three stories that are featured on the cover there we're able to—
JOHNNY: It's a great addition to the site and I agree because I would spend hours on a story, really working hard on it and then news would break.
RAMZY: Your story that you sweated over is featured atop the site for four glorious minutes and then Timmy McProspect narrows his list down to 12 schools and you're bumped.
JASON: Exactly. So that was the old world and the new site solved that.
VICO: Tatum also allowed us to take things that would otherwise become Buckshots, nice Ohio State items, things that should be promoted, that would otherwise be hidden to the side in Buckshots and now toss those on the front page.
VICO: It allowed us to become the comprehensive site that it is now and Tatum is a big part of that. It certainly kind of helped, I believe, the visibility, or the readability of Eleven Warriors in multiple ways.
One major change we had in March was D.J. took over Skull Sessions full time. It used to be a rotation among writers, but he took them all on and hasn't looked back.
CHRIS: The Skullmaster.
VICO: And he has an incredible voice for these things and can really get our readers talking in the morning.
JASON: He's slayed that series.
VICO: In other football news from that winter, Ray Small, a, umm, long "friend of the program", pleading guilty to drug trafficking charges, was another big story.
RAMZY: Did you just call Ray Small a "friend of the program"?
VICO: We start to see in 2014 a drop in interest for the men's basketball program. It's really even after a disappointing end to the 2013 season, football increasingly becomes the off-season discussion and there is less of a room for basketball. A lot of that's demand for football. A lot of that is a lack of supply of good basketball for the men.
VICO: We produced cool journalism that summer – I love that we sent Kyle on that road trip through the Eastern Corridor to interview Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech, since the Buckeyes were planning to host Virginia Tech that year. We also sent him on a trip to Annapolis to get a view of the Midshipmen football program. That is not, without aggrandizing ourselves too much, I still think it's important to say that is not the type of in-depth coverage Ohio State football would get at another Ohio State football website.
JASON: And it's legitimacy too. We have Kyle sitting down in Frank Beamer's office, you know. That's pretty cool.
VICO: Speaking of Kyle, he took a job with the Fort Worth Gazette in late July and of course he's now the Michigan beat writer for the Toledo Blade. We hired Patrick Maks to replace him.
JASON: Patrick had been doing some freelance work for us here and there and really stepped into the role and killed it for us that season, which we needed because that season turned out epic.
“I covered a really remarkable, roller coaster of a season that ended in a national championship. We broke a lot of news, wrote so many cool stories and made sense of some ridiculous games.”– Patrick Maks, Cleveland Browns
VICO: We already had the wheels in motion to hire a second beat writer, even before Kyle's departure, and Tim Shoemaker filled that role for us in early August.
JASON: Tim came from the Ashland Times-Gazette.
VICO: He was hired as our basketball beat writer but as we all know, football is king in Columbus, so he writes a lot of football stuff for us, too.
JASON: It's tough for one guy to cover both.
RAMZY: Fun fact: Tim's first day was the day Braxton Miller injured his shoulder and was lost for the season.
JASON: He still brings that up. Welcome to the show! But, like Patrick, he really owned it that season. He actually didn't have a place to live in Columbus when he first started with us, so he was waking up off a friend's couch every day hustling the beat.
JOHNNY: That's crazy.
VICO: To help make this staff expansion possible was the dividends received from the launch of Tatum and our stellar coverage of Tressel's departure and Meyer's arrival before that, and then in August, we re-launched Eleven Warriors Dry Goods, and the first new tee in the line was the 11W track tee, my favorite shirt of ours was “That's Ohio's Moon.”
Speaking of coverage, Kyle Jones joined the team just before the start of the 2014 season and just gave us more of a competitive advantage over our peers because we then had Ross and Kyle breaking down scheme and killing it. And if I recall correctly, he was the only one of us who called the Virginia Tech loss that season.
JOHNNY: He did. He cursed the team.
VICO: In August, our most viewed post was a hype video, “The One Who Knocks,” and this would be the first time that a video was the No. 1 viewed article in a month for us. In September, we used our sources to report that Noah Spence failed a drug test and his status was in jeopardy for the 2014 season. In October, we broke the news that Rod Smith had been dismissed from Ohio State, our most viewed article from October 2014.
And then we hosted Dubgate V in September, which again, was the first time we used the new name for the event.
RAMZY: And we really took things to the next level that year, raising over $12,000 for our friends at DownSyndrome Achieves.
JOHNNY: And this was the first time that the parents of the players showed up to one of these.
JASON: The Ambassador was there. He's everywhere.
JOHNNY: J.T. Barrett's dad spilled barbecue on me.
RAMZY: And Mrs. Bosa confirmed to us that Nick would be attending Ohio State.
VICO: The game that year for the Dubgate – the Cincinnati game – gave us the debut of ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Joey Bosa to start the 2014 season had taken to a post-sack shrug to announce his big play. Our own Mike Young was the first one to make the connection. Even Bosa had not commented about it because it really wasn't anything other than something Bosa started doing after a big play. But Mike was on it and it became something that general media, other media outlets reported. And Bosa shrugged at the White House and that's something neat that kind of gained momentum at Eleven Warriors.
JASON: Can we talk about Slack? We started using that in 2014.
JOHNNY: Wow. I'm surprised it was that long ago. I mean it completely changed how we communicated with each other on the site.
JASON: What were the old days like?
DJ: Before Slack, I had to hit Kyle up on like five different streams for breaking news coverage. We did like Gmail, Twitter DM, text, those were the main three. And even sometimes, you know, you get him on the horn and sometimes there's something breaking, there's a couple time we each published a piece. It was a nightmare. I honestly don't know how we functioned as a business before Slack. It's definitely streamlined it; made everything way easier.
CHRIS: I really like it because as we got bigger and had so many writers, just to be able to organize what we're going to write about is huge. Before the arrival of Slack, Kyle and I were both working on something on Carlos Hyde. I was finishing mine and he's like "I already published this." I just basically had to throw it away.
RAMZY: That's why I always have a running topic. I'm going to write about Ohio State football.
VICO: We have to talk about the complete destruction of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship. I remember Jason, you got tickets and asked if I could go and I couldn't. A couple of you went. I kind of wish I could've gone.
JASON: For those of us not in the box covering the game, we had good seats, like 20-25, lower bowl. And it was really neat because it was one of those games where, like in the second quarter you could just relax. You get a beer and kick your feet up.
DJ: We had great-ass celebrations.
2015 High Expectations
VICO: Obviously, 2015 was a huge year for not just Eleven Warriors but Ohio State fans in general. and D.J., who played an outsized role in the Sugar Bowl, and especially given the sloppy way Ohio State played in the national championship game against Oregon, who quite conspicuously took to Twitter with the foresight of Nostradamus, who just kind of knew ahead of time that Ohio State wasn't losing those games.
I think most of us, and certainly putting myself into this conversation, just kind of feared what would happen against Alabama. But not D.J – he knew better. How did you know?
DJ: It was a supreme faith in Urban Meyer, his talent, and his system. I remember when Braxton Miller got hurt and thinking, “Oh my god, that just sunk the season.” I have a stake in Ohio State's success now. You know, I mean, shit, I'm about to get laid off. What's about to happen here?
But as the season progressed, I had faith in what Tom Herman and Meyer were doing with first J.T. and then Cardale Jones. Maybe I was too ignorant not to know better.
JOHNNY: Look, I give D.J. credit for that.
JASON: I didn't think Ohio State would win the Wisconsin or Alabama games, but it was fun playing with house money.
CHRIS: You have a built-in fall guy. It's not like the other losses.
VICO: I can remember thinking we might as well get this over with especially when Ohio State is down 21-6 in the Alabama game.
JASON: And then to win that game and beat Oregon...We created a breaking news banner at the top of the site following the Oregon win. I just typed the first thing that came to mind.
DJ: I predicted a 17-point win for Ohio State over Alabama. And Jason flamed me in Slack for basically being a homer.
JASON: Well, it wasn't based on logic. It wasn't.
DJ: It was based on reality, Jason.
JASON: Nine-and-a-half point underdog.
DJ: Ohio State should've smashed them. Without that first quarter, they would've smashed them. They dominated that game.
JASON: Stop. Stop. If Kiffin doesn't abandon Henry, Ohio State probably loses that game.
VICO: I'll give it to D.J.. He was closer to what actually happened than my prediction would've been.
RAMZY: Let's go to the Eleven Warriors roundtable for the Alabama game. Chris had Ohio State 31, Alabama 30. Final score was 42-35, right? Birm went with Alabama 34-28. I went with 35-31, Ohio State.
VICO: Given the opponent, that win against Alabama was cathartic. It was just unbelievable.
JASON: It was nine years in the making.
VICO: And in their goddamn backyard! What about our coverage of that game?
JASON: We were all over it. Again, we added to our postgame coverage for that season, thanks to the new site.
VICO: It was all hands on deck following those wins.
JASON: The end result: in January we had 14.9 million page views. 1.4 million unique visitors.
JOHNNY: That's a lot.
JASON: The Pew Research Center, journalism.org, named us one of the 50-largest digitally-native news operations in the United States, thanks in large part to our coverage that month.
Remember when we were doing 20 posts a month in 2007 when it was just Chris and me? We published 422 posts to the front page of the site that January as Ohio State was making its championship run. And we weren't content farming. There were that many things to cover.
DJ: The other thing I remember about that game is my days always start by scooping cat shit out of a box and reading internet comments. That's how it starts. Every day.
I remember waking up and seeing a video from an Alabama fan cussing me out and telling me to suck on his “Alabama nutsack.” He called me a “Chump-ass yankee.”
VICO: That was amazing.
DJ: Chump-ass yankee. I remember sitting there and thinking, “Oh my god,” and hysterically laughing and my girlfriend, Whitney, asking what I was laughing at. And I was like, “There's a man in Alabama with a YouTube account and he is very upset with me.”
CHRIS: What about the “85 Yards Through the Heart of the South” tee?
JASON: A lot of people think that reference was for Alabama, but the original inspiration for “South” in the phrase was just the Sugar Bowl. You know, the SEC's Rose Bowl, right in their backyard. Kyle Jones drew up the play diagram and then a designer put the finishing touches on it. It's just an idea I had and then Kyle and the designer took the concept and made it great.
And that shirt sells bananas compared to the rest of our shirts, even to this day. And to see Ezekiel Elliott's mother wearing the shirt on ESPN was a real thrill.
VICO: So you have the “Walrus,” “Bert,” “El Guapo,” the “Bosa Shrug,” that shirt and many others that have originated at Eleven Warriors.
JASON: Heading into the championship game, I can remember Maks and Tim saying they knew Ohio State would win that game because they saw how small Oregon's players were at media day, particularly compared to the size Alabama had.
VICO: Ohio State was, what, -4 in turnovers in that game?
JOHNNY: Effectively -3 because of the interception at the end.
JASON: Maks – who's now writing for the Cleveland Browns – eventually left us that year for a job at a paper in Florida that March. We were lucky to scoop up Eric Seger, former Lantern Sports Editor and he stepped right in without missing a beat.
“I first learned about Eleven Warriors my freshman year in 2010 when I walked into my best friend’s dorm room and saw him giggling. I asked him about the site and the first thing he showed me was Johnny’s Big Ten weekly review where he would just make fun of Bert Bielema and Barry Alvarez. Five minutes later, we both were crying laughing on his floor.”– Eric Seger, Football Beat Writer
VICO: Moving on to the 2015 season, Eleven Warriors coverage is in many ways a function of what the football team is doing and I'd be remiss if I did not talk about J.T. Barrett's OVI arrest during a bye week. That individual article pulled 622,451 views.
JOHNNY: That's pretty good.
VICO: That was amazing, actually. That was approximately five percent of our overall traffic for that month in that one article. All because we broke the news.
And likewise, in terms of overall traffic, I want to mention another article, in June, if I can go back a little bit, by far our biggest of the month, saying “bon voyage” to Mark May.
JASON: We knew ESPN would be making that move, but our tipster asked us not to say anything about it. So we just prepped that piece to fire when the news broke and DJ put together a fantastic highlight reel of his jackassery.
VICO: We rolled out the 12th Warrior program on Aug. 12 that year. It was a way for some of our more dedicated readers to feel like they're a little bit closer, that their participation, influence, and investment was certainly going to be appreciated.
JASON: We were having problems with our server going down a lot because of traffic. Heck, I don't know, we probably upgraded servers 10 times through the years to larger and larger servers and then, finally, to multiple servers. We used to pay $5 a month back in the day for hosting and we now basically pay a mortgage for our servers each month. It's gotten pretty crazy.
So, that would help with that, it would help us retain staff. It'd help us grow. It would ensure that we'd remain free for everybody. It was big that we didn't have any paywall. That's always been important to us.
“11W was cool without being cheesy. They weren’t just a news source, they were a culture.”– Kevin Harrish, Staff Writer
DJ: Who remembers “Ten Star Wednesday?”
RAMZY: Two five-star prospects, Jashon Cornell and Justin Hilliard, both committed on the same day in July and the server just melted.
JASON: Here's why that stunk. I was with my family at the United States Air Force Museum in Dayton.
JOHNNY: Quality museum.
JASON: I love it. Great museum. But I had a phone with one bar of service and the site's down for hours.
DJ: I remember freaking out trying to get you on the horn about that.
JASON: It was a tough day. But ever since the launch of the 12th Warrior program, we've had zero downtime. No server issues. So thank you, 12th Warriors!
CHRIS: Before that do you remember trying to post things after the Alabama game and the site was getting hammered so badly, you couldn't even save articles?
VICO: Oh god yes.
JASON: 12th Warrior has been tremendous for us. Servers, growth, sending staff to events.
RAMZY: Keeping writers out in front of pay walls basically guaranteeing that you're paying forward for people who don't want to subscribe for “premium” content and the feeling of being exclusive is that you're paying for everybody. And that's what contributes to the community being less provincial, more open, more welcoming, and not so much snippy.
JASON: Managing a growing community, particularly one that's our size, is tough. I'm so proud of a lot of things from our community. You can't find a pedophile-shower joke about Penn State on our site. Our mods nuke it.
DJ: Our commenters, every day I literally start my day reading internet comments. You know, it's encouraging that people care about it and read it. I couldn't imagine going to a site and writing something and having it get zero comments. I respect our comments as a whole and I think it's a reflection on the work..
JASON: And a nod to the mod team too. We got a really good moderator team and that's a largely thankless job. We've had a great run with interns as well. Kevin Harrish came on as an intern in April 2013 and we've had other interns before, but he's been phenomenal for us. He's long since shed his intern hat and is now a features writer.
JOHNNY: Andrew Ellis came on in 2015, too, and just broadened what we were able to offer on the recruiting coverage front.
JASON: Yes. We domesticated a wild troll!
“I used to get all of my Buckeye news from the Scout message boards. After Meyer was hired, I started to read 11W daily because the articles were so much better – and different – than the other sites.”– Andrew Ellis, Eleven Warriors Recruiting Analyst
VICO: One setback we experienced in 2015 happened to be the Eleven Dubgate VI. We lost our location behind the Varsity Club.
RAMZY: Tailgate neighbors, who we did not like very much at the past Dubgates, angered the police by moving the barrier for their tailgate into the street. They were told not to do that. So there was construction over the summer and the Columbus city ordinance was written to screw them. You couldn't be more than X-number of feet from the street. That ordinance essentially eliminated our spot.
What ended up happening was we had a reader, Matt, who owns Hampton's on King and he offered to hold it there. He has a patio, a functioning bar, insulated us from a lot of the work we had to do normally procuring liquor licenses and liability insurance because it's covered by the bar.
So, while it was significantly scaled down, we still raised almost $4,000 for DownSyndrome Achieves. We had a good time there with games on so we watched Michigan blowing the punt against Michigan State, which we would've had at the Dubgate, but we were all in a bar so it was more intimate. But I think the recovery, the community saved the event, which we called “The Black Saturday Banger,” that year.
JASON: Matt was clutch.
CHRIS: What did we do from a traffic perspective in 2015?
JASON: For the year, we did 149 million page views.
2016 The Now
DJ: 2016 has largely been more of the same from us. We started the year off with the execution of Notre Dame, which is always delicious.
CHRIS: That was fun.
DJ: We rolled out longform features this year and have published some really amazing pieces through that format.
VICO: We have some really gifted writers. People who are well-trained, and that's a testament to the intellect – the kind of braintrust we have at Eleven Warriors – to really make the most of the longforms.
DJ: We were credentialed for the NFL Combine and NFL Draft for the first time and Eric really crushed our coverage of both of those events.
JASON: He did. He was a machine and he had to be because those were Ohio State parties.
DJ: The basketball team sucked.
RAMZY: That's a good recap of the season.
DJ: How do you guys see the site growing? What kind of long-term goals do we have as a site?
JOHNNY: I think there are a lot of sites that want to be sensational. Others want to be serious. And I don't know that either way is particularly sustainable longterm. I want to be able to show people you can be an independent site, not charge for information that people can generally find in multiple places, and still give them stories that rewards them for coming back over and over, and doesn't pander to them at the same time.
JASON: I think we have a good mix. But yeah, we'll continue to keep working hard, keep the level of expectations high, and remain hungry and innovative, which I think is tougher the older you get.
VICO: I like that we expanded coverage to more wrestling, more hockey and last year, women's basketball. Women's basketball will never be football, but they're a damn fine team and Kevin really took coverage of the sport to a place we'd never been before.
JOHNNY: Shout out to Tim and Eric, too.
VICO: Awesome show!
JOHNNY: I'm impressed with the work they've done and as accessible as they've been. I think we're really lucky with the people that we have to help forge what we're trying to get accomplished.
RAMZY: There are other sites that have "Skull Sessions" now. The newest site on the block is aping our exact editorial calendar. Being original is hard, apparently.
DJ: I know Cleveland.com tried to come at my throne with their Buckeye Breakfast.
JASON: It was so insular, though. It was just a collection of links back to their own stuff, which doesn't play on the web today. I like that our Skull Session links to other outlets, even competitors. We're comfortable enough with our own work to be able to do that. Others, not so much.
JOHNNY: What is the thing you've written or done for 11W you're most proud of?
JASON: That's a good question.
CHRIS: Not being a trained journalist, I really enjoyed putting basketball on the Eleven Warriors map, especially when we got credentials and I could go to the games. I'm proud of, especially in the early going, that coverage, being committed. Like Jason talks about, you know, keeping our heads down and working hard and not getting caught up in the site sniping that can go on from time to time and other dumb shit.
VICO: Two things come to mind. One, Big Ten programs weren't recruiting as well in their footprint as Kentucky was at that particular point. And it was in large part that my interests are Ohio State, but to move that to the side and talk about the bigger picture. But again, ultimately, it's just a thing about telling Purdue to get off its ass. And then, meeting J.T. Barrett's parents at the Dubgate and discussing the Better Know a Buckeye feature I had written on him. That was just neat.
RAMZY: One thing I take very seriously is our impact on the culture of Ohio State fandom and how it bleeds into other circles. We have created things that end up becoming part of people's language and dogma – they've been discussed throughout this whole exercise; the shrug, El Guapo, Walrusball, Tatgate, the list is impressive.
On Wednesdays at 1:15 a lot of our readers are returning from lunch with their weekend nowhere in sight. There is a shit-ton of email to get through. There are conference calls. Everyone has all of this mundane work crap to deal with on Wednesdays. I think about that reader who sneaks peeks at 11W and tries to escape from where they are to just look what's going on anywhere on the internet.
And as our audience has gotten bigger and more loyal, I hear from people a lot saying, "Hey thanks for making Wednesday afternoon a little less shitty." Over the past three or four years, I have thought more about that reader than I ever did over the first 14. It is a privilege to have this kind of a platform with a following like ours.
JOHNNY: What about you, Jason?
JASON: I've written less over the years, but I like that we're objectively good. I like hearing people appreciate the stuff that's written. I like breaking news because I know the readers don't care about who broke what, but it's still somewhat of a scorecard in our industry. I like the fact we haven't been wrong – we don't break false news. We may follow some fake Twitter accounts now and then, but we don't really break anything that is wrong. I like that we're not thirsty, tagging half the football team on tweets. I just like what we've become.
I like that we're an Ohio company, paying Ohio taxes, unlike many of our competitors, whether they're in New York, Atlanta or Washington DC. That's important to me.
I really feel fortunate having a good team, good, smart people, who are committed. I like that we're not a content farm. You see other sites, especially now, they're like, “Player X is one of 92 players on Award Y's watch list.” We don't even publish watch list stuff in the summer because it's garbage and what's the point? But for some sites, that's their model.
RAMZY: They write without any soul. It's content for content's sake. Passionless.
JASON: Running things like "Pundit X has Ohio State in his playoff field.” Or “Ranking the Coaches in the Big Ten East.” It's like, c'mon.
RAMZY: You'll Never Believe How Buckeye Players Reacted to the new Doritos Locos Taco. It's a slideshow of tweets that they've placed behind a fucking paywall. Or tweeting a screenshot of a video with the play button as part of the photo. Please click me pleeeeeeeease.
JOHNNY: It's just the worst kind of like, naked, capitalist-like, "Fuck these guys!" And I hate it.
JASON: I would certainly be wealthier if we did things like that.
JOHNNY: Sure, but it's not honest.
JASON: And I wouldn't be able to look at myself in the mirror. The internet is kind of a dumpster right now, but you try not be a part of that. I like that we don't do that stuff.
DJ: I'm most proud of, uh, my PBR chalice over here.
JASON: We haven't determined, does he get to keep that or do we take it back next year to stencil names all over it?
DJ: Uh, that's fine.
RAMZY: DJ is referring to his Founder's Award for 2016. Which, you know, is a cup we drank PBR out of.
CHRIS: You keep the base. We'll take the cup.
RAMZY: We're taking the cup.
DJ: Yeah, I'm most proud of that. Because like, I don't... my friends are, some of them are successful and stuff, but we're from Marion so that comes with the flaws. And uh, working at 11W, my first contributor contract was $35 dollars a month.
JASON: Let's go back to that.
DJ: I was living on an inflatable mattress, had a girlfriend amazingly, really didn't have shit going on in my life. I was in a very bad place. I've risen from that to full-time status, by hook and by Marionaire crook, and I haven't been fired yet. And just working—you know, I'm not a trained journalist. I'm a college drop out.
JASON: Just like Kanye.
DJ: I, you know, working with—you guys have taught me so much. I would never be able to sit in a circle with an academic, a Johnson & Johnson executive, a teacher, a blog kingpin... this is a circle I don't get to see often. And I've been working hard. It sounds fun writing about college sports from your couch, but it's hard. It's hard, putting out the river of content. In 2015, I worked hard... had some flaws, but just knowing you guys appreciated it and taking me here, I'll never forget this trip for as long as I live. And "Bonjour!" will definitely be on my tombstone.
DJ: So I just wanted to say thank you for that, and I will cherish this award for a very long time.
JASON: Sure, but it's important to clarify though that you earned it.
JOHNNY: Yeah, no shit.
JASON: This isn't a charity, a free trip. You definitely put in the work to get here.
VICO: Few people move the needle like you.
JOHNNY: Honest to God, I have been around very few people who are as capable with the words of the English language as you and Ramzy. Like, I don't know any other better writers. I don't. And that's just the facts.
DJ: Well, you know, I like that it's different. Everybody has their own swagger. There's no—there's some overlap, but it's all defined, and it's a wide breadth. You know, compare the sites. The evidence speaks for itself. You compare it to MGoBlog, and they're running Big Ten Media Days recaps two weeks into camp. 11W is just an excellent site. I hear all the time from commenters. Anytime I meet an Ohio State fan, "Do you read 11W?" They could be lying, but 9 out of 10 times it's, "Yeah I know 11W." Then they ask me if I'm Ramzy. And I say, "Yes."
VICO: The one thing I found interesting. My parents are originally from Los Angeles, and they always wanted to move to Ohio and the finally did. And they have a farm—
DJ: That might've been the first Los Agelinos to say that.
VICO: Yeah, but they have a farm in Wooster. My mom's gets her meat cuts at Buehler's, a super local grocery chain. And one thing leads to another, she's talking Ohio State football. My mom, at least four, maybe five times, has told me that she had the opportunity to announce to some Ohio State fan who reads 11W that she's Vico's mom. And one of the people who cuts her cold cuts at Buehler's, takes all the Better Know Buckeyes I have—and by the way, let this show what Wooster is like—prints them out and them uses that as kind of a guide for when he's watching the season.
RAMZY: I thought you were going to say they wrapped the coldcuts in them.
VICO: I wish Better Know a Buckeyes were that cool.
JOHNNY: I wanted to write for 11W because I wanted to have a creative outlet and I'm not like, you know, I can't sing. My family is musical. My sister is a great singer and a piano player. I've got friends who are artists who do incredibly creative things. I always got down on myself about that. Like, you know, I'm a dude who reads history. But I felt I could be creative in some way. And I am eternally grateful for this website not just like, to not just be involved in this insane thing, but also because I was able to prove to myself that I could do something interesting.
We owe what we've become to more people than we can probably mention, but we wanted to thank the following for their support, help and kindness through the years: Grant Edgell, Matt Gutridge, Matt Finkes, Jim Lachey, Nicholas Jervey, Beau Bishop, Mark Titus, Lori Schmidt, Aloiya Earl, Jonathan Stephanson, Grant Miller, John Brandon, Andrew Lind, Magee Sprague, Nate Maag, Alex Ranttila, Sean Neugebauer, Kristin Conrad, Kade Jetland, Dan Wallenberg, Adam Widman, Jerry Emig and Shelly Poe.