Ten years ago, I was a pimply faced kid sitting in a high school Internet class. It was my senior year, so I decided to take an easy class that I could breeze through and get an easy A.
It was a good idea - I failed English that year (I stopped showing up after the end of March after getting into a verbal fight with my teacher) - so I needed the GPA boost. Luckily, I was a product of the Philadelphia Public School System, so they were just glad I graduated knowing how to read, write, add and subtract. I was not a failure!
Another reason I'm fortunate I took that class - it's where this Web site was born.
Our teacher, Mr. Rosen, spent the first month and a half instructing us how to build Web sites. We designed simple pages with tables, lists, etc. in HTML. Finally, in the middle of October, he gave us our first major project. He told us to build a Web site to incorporate something we like.
As a 17-year-old, I was a football junkie who was developing into quite a degenerate gambler. I liked picking NFL games against the spread. I wasn't very good at the time, but I've always been an eager learner.
So, I built this Web site. Well, not this Web site. The one I constructed had the same football field background and some of the current code in it, but understandably appeared a lot different than what you're looking at right now. There were archaic buttons on the left, an animation of Brett Favre throwing to Mark Chmura at the very top, and cluttered images elsewhere.
All the site was comprised of was a home page, an NFL picks page, a power rankings page, and several links to NFL.com. That's it. No NFL Mock Draft (that came in 2001). No Fantasy Football Rankings (2002). No Emmitt on the Brink (2008). I didn't even make fun of fat coaches.
The site launched on Nov. 4, 1999. The URL was http://centralhigh.net/~wcherep/football.html (going there won't work now). Imagine if you had to type that out now instead of just "walterfootball.com." Oh, and by the way, I went just 4-9 against the spread in my first week ever. Fail.
I got an A on the project, and even though the class moved on to other things, I continued to update this site. I labored over it from home instead of doing homework. I worked on it during class instead of starting up a new assignment. In fact, during the final months of school, this was one of two classes I attended. I loved updating the site and talking football with my friend Kenny, who sat next to me. Coincidentally, Kenny now runs the company that hosts this site.
I graduated high school and went to Penn State's main campus in the fall of 2000. My roommate Dennis (who designed DraftDebacled.com) loved football, and would always argue my picks and guess my power rankings. Unlike my senior year of high school, I had to try hard at Penn State because I was a computer science major. Still, I would often update on the site before doing homework and projects. My 2.7 GPA after my first semester reflected that (though I eventually finished with a 3.2 - thank you, cheating!)
In the fall of 2001, my friend NCAA Dan, whom I met in a geography class I was BSing through, became this Web site's college football writer (I was mostly just an NFL guy.) For this 10-year anniversary, he submitted some content that you can read on the 10-Year Anniversary Home Page.
In the spring of 2004, I was finally fed up with computer science. The tipping point came one evening when I was part of a group that met at a computer lab. I was in way over my head and didn't understand the material. My two partners were chicks who knew more than I did, but the three of us couldn't figure out how to do the project. Hell, I didn't even know how to use the Unix computers in the lab. Think I was in the wrong major?
We got to the lab around 8 p.m. Ten hours later, we were still there and we saw the sun rise. At that point I said, "Guys, my brain is fried. I'm going to sleep." The two chicks thought this was a good idea and decided that we should reconvene at noon. I wanted to debacle myself.
I went back to my single dorm and passed out. I woke up at noon, thought about getting up, said "f*** that," and went back to sleep. I dropped the class five hours later.
I knew I had to change my major. One of my computer science professors once said, "You know your calling if you're actually doing the work in your spare time." He said this when he was praising two of my classmates who designed some revolutionary software. I didn't know what it was, nor did I care; I was trying to figure out who would cover the Patriots-Browns game (New England covered the -4.5 by winning 9-3).
So, I took my old professor's advice and decided to change my major to journalism. I went to the counselor's office and announced that I wanted to switch my major. When she asked whether I was a sophomore or junior, I told her I was a senior. She looked at me quizzically and asked, "Aren't you supposed to be graduating in a few weeks?"
That was when I begun taking this site seriously. Before then, it was just a hobby. Starting in Spring 2004, it was something that would be going on my resume.
Right before starting up at Penn State in the fall of 2004, there was a problem. I was still running my site on the centralhigh.net server, and one afternoon, the site disappeared. I thought it was a glitch, so I uploaded everything again. An hour later, it was erased again.
I contacted the guy in charge of Central's Web domain - some geeky kid, naturally - and he told me the school board wanted my site shut down because it had "gambling content." I was enraged. Thinking irrationally, I sent this guy's e-mail to a bunch of my friends, asking them to blast him with hate mail. I know he was just following orders, but he could have sent me a warning in advance so I could save all of my files. Easily the Jerk of the Year in 2004.
As you can guess, this is when I bought the domain name WalterFootball.com. I contacted Kenny for hosting, and we've been working together ever since.
Majoring in sports journalism really helped this site. I learned how to write from Bill Reed, who was taking some time off from the Philadelphia Inquirer to teach at Penn State.
A year later, Mike Poorman, the professor of the sports writing class, allowed me to enroll despite the fact that I was too late in signing up for the Penn State sports journalism program. The class was full, and Mike could have simply turned me away because I wasn't part of the program, but he was great enough to permit me to sit in and take full credit for the course. I was very grateful for that, as I learned a ton about covering games and writing about sports.
Thanks to this Web site and professor Reed's good word, I landed a part-time job as a columnist for the Centre Daily Times' Blue section. The paper allowed me to write about whatever I wanted (unfortunately, they took out most of my fat jokes). But best of all, they listed this Web site in the byline. Back in 1999, I never thought I'd see my Web site's URL in print.
Professor Reed also helped me land an internship at the West Chester Daily Local, where I covered high school sports in the summer of 2005. And to think, Penn State's school newspaper, The Collegian, rejected me when I tried out. Easily the Jerks of the Year in 2005.
My final semester at Penn State was Spring 2006. I was concerned as to what I was going to do for a living. Newspapers just weren't hiring because they were losing tons of money. In fact, Mike introduced me and a few others to several sports editors from various large newspapers on the East Coast. One of the guys gave me a cold shoulder. After checking to see if I had any boogers on my face, I brought it up to Mike, who wasn't surprised. "Yeah, that paper just had to lay off about 70 workers," Mike told me. Yikes. How was I going to land a job?
I actually had a few offers from small newspapers in central Pennsylvania, but I was not interested in covering high school sports. When I worked for the West Chester Daily Local, I was furious that I couldn't write about the Donovan McNabb-Terrell Owens feud that was going on. Instead, I was reporting that Downingtown East beat Downingtown West in a legion baseball game. Zzzzz, I know.
Of course, I continued to work on this site, and as of January 2007, I was getting about 10,000 page views (i.e. hits) a day. For that, Google was paying me $3-$10. Great success!
With no job, I worked at my dad's dollar store. I was eventually hired by a mortgage company, where I was forced to lie to people on the phone that they could afford a new mortgage, just so I could get their social security number, look up their horrible credit score, and then tell them there was nothing we could do for them. I seriously had nightmares about this job on the weekends.
On Feb. 13, 2007, I planned on quiting. Unfortunately, I never got the chance. The boss came down during lunch and told me that he had to let me go. I never had a brighter smile.
After thinking about things that night, I decided that I would work on this site as hard as possible. Something good had to come of it. I logged 60-80 hours a week on it, putting in new features like the mock draft database. I studied how to drive traffic to a Web site, and when I had mono that summer, I spent the little energy I had implementing those changes. I hired Matt McGuire as another voice, and he's obviously been a big part of this site's success.
At the end of September 2007, Fantasy Sports Ventures approached me with an advertising contract. This Web site officially became my full-time job.
Since then, I've added even more features, like Emmitt on the Brink, Jerks of the Week and Fantasy Football Weekly Rankings. This site's traffic went from 50 page views a week back in 1999 (probably all from my mom) to 728,000 on April 26. FSV also helped me land a small column in the USA Today Sports Weekly.
So, to wrap up a long, boring and self-absorbed article, I want to thank you for visiting the site and taking the time to read my incoherent rants. To those of you who have e-mailed me with kind words, I really appreciate it. To those of you who are active members on the forum, you guys are awesome. And to those who e-mail me to tell me my picks are terrible and that my mock draft stinks, suck it :-)
In all seriousness, if you're reading this, I hope you keep coming back. We'll always continue to add new stuff, and DraftDebacled.com, WalterFootball.com's sister site, is just in its infancy.
There's only one negative to all of this - there will another long, drawn-out synopsis for this Web site's 20th anniversary in 2019.