When asked of Tennessee athletics during their time as a student, most people in my graduating class won't have many fond memories.

My time on Rocky Top began the same year as Derek Dooley's — enough said for the football program.

Donnie Tyndall is the third men's basketball head coach the Vols have had in those four years. There was a Sweet 16 sprinkled in there, but that sweet turned sour awfully quick.

The baseball team is 30-76 in the SEC since I got here. Get the trend?

But at least for me, it's been different. Working in sports journalism for the past four years, especially this year with The Daily Beacon, has been an unforgettable experience I've been incredibly lucky to have.

I spent my first three years with the Tennessee Journalist. Working my way up there into the sports editor's role allowed me all sorts of awesome opportunities and taught me lesson after lesson on what goes into covering a collegiate athletics program.

Going into my senior year, though, something was missing.

I had not written for the Beacon.

The first words of advice I received as a freshman from a UT graduate sports journalist, was, "If you aren't working with the Beacon by your sophomore year, change your major." Of course, he was around long before TNJN and other programs existed for journalism majors. But the Beacon's more than 100-year-old reputation is unmistakable, as are the rewards of working for a daily newspaper.

Thankfully, I had made friends with then-soon-to-be Beacon Sports Editor David Cobb in journalism class. When I randomly emailed him late in the spring 2013 semester, I didn't expect much.

He answered back and said I could join the sports staff and cover whatever I wanted— football, basketball, baseball, intramural floor hockey, whatever. I could also copy edit the paper a few days a week.

When I met the rest of the staff, it was more of the same. I came in not knowing practically anyone and not knowing the first thing about how a newspaper works, but I immediately felt at home and quickly became familiar.

I've covered stuff like the NCAA tournament, road football games, SEC tournaments and SEC football media days. I've been able to put my microphone in the face of Johnny Manziel, John Calipari and countless other famous people. Those will probably be the things I brag about most from my days as a student reporter at UT.

But what I will remember most are the people who helped me become who I am now— a driven, soon-to-be graduate with quality experience and a firm grasp on the sports journalism industry (did I mention I'm humble, too?).

So here goes a long and arduous list of thank you's to those people.

To Clay Seal, Austin Bornheim and Steven Harris, for allowing me to climb the ranks at TNJN and for being great sportswriter role models early on.

To Victoria Wright, R.J. Vogt and Melodi Erdogan, for weaning me into life as a Beaconite last summer when I was new and wet behind the ears.

To Gage Arnold, for practically running the Beacon at times this year and making me feel worthless by comparison. And for stealing my scoops — you know what I'm talking about.

To Troy Provost-Heron and Dargan Southard, for running a fantastic sports section this semester and continuing to give me an integral role— even though I'm older and thus better than both of you.

To all the other Beacon superstars, for helping make my articles less terrible and for making me incredibly proud to be a small part of the paper this year. ?

And lastly to David Cobb, for turning a shot-in-the-dark email into my job at the Beacon— the best experience of my college career.

Phew, now that's over. I feel like I just won an Oscar or something.

But seriously, all of these people— and many more I surely left out—have made covering collegiate sports as a student more awesome than it already was.

Many people in my graduating class will cringe at the thought of the UT athletics program from 2010-14 and request a do-over. And rightfully so, considering the results.

But with the memories I've made, I wouldn't have had it any other way.

Steven Cook is graduating summer 2014 with a degree in journalism and electronic media. He can be reached at stevencook21@gmail.com or on Twitter @steventerrycook.

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