Inside TSL: The Covers
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com
TSL Extra, Issue #20

I recently got into a message board conversation about one of the TSL Extra covers (I don’t remember which one), and there turned out to be an interesting story behind it, depending upon how you define "interesting."

"Crimson Hokie," a regular on the boards, said, "That's neat stuff. You should write a behind-the-scenes TSLX article sometime with little tidbits like that. I love that kind of stuff."

Crimson freely admitted shortly thereafter to being "kind of weird," but if he is, then so am I, because I thought it might be a good idea to list all 20 TSL Extra covers and tell the story behind each one.

(Pause.)

Okay, for those of you who are still here and have an interest in this topic, first let me tell you a little bit about how the covers are done.

The TSLX covers are done in Adobe Photoshop. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Photoshop, it's a graphics editing program that allows you to combine pictures, graphics, and text to create a single image. You can stack items in the picture (in other words, put your text on top of your pictures and vice versa), resize items, and do all sorts of things.

I've got a master template that I use that contains the TSL Extra logo, the issue number, date, and a few orange lines, plus the cover caption. Each month, all I really have to do is drop a new cover photo into the template, change the issue number, date, and caption, and I'm ready to go. Sometimes I have to resize text or change the color of the logo to make it blend in with the picture better, but at the core, it's a pretty simple process.

TSLX Cover Trivia

Here are some miscellaneous facts about the 20 TSLX covers produced so far:

  • Cover photos shot by Mike Ingalls of TheSabre.com: 9 (Michael Vick on cover #1, Michael Vick and Tony Dobbins on cover #8, Kevin Jones on cover #13, Frank Beamer on cover #14, Mike Daniels on cover #15, Marcus Vick on cover #16, Marcus Vick on cover #17, Keith Willis on cover #18, and Ben Taylor on cover #19).
  • Cover photos shot by Will Stewart of TechSideline.com: 1 (cover #12, picture of Kevin Jones shaking hands with the crowd after the 2001 WVU game).
  • Covers featuring football players: 17.
  • Covers featuring football coaches: 1 (Frank Beamer, cover #14).
  • Covers featuring football stadiums: 1 (Lane Stadium, cover #20).
  • Covers featuring dollar signs: 1 (cover #6).
  • Covers featuring basketball players: 1 (cover #8, Tony Dobbins).
  • Covers utilizing free photographs: 17.
  • Covers utilizing photos we had to pay for: 3 (cover #7, Bryan Randall; cover #9, Montavis Pitts; cover #11, Noland Burchette).
  • Most frequent cover subject: Kevin Jones (4 times -- cover #4, #5, #12, and #13).

Stories Behind the Covers

Each cover has a story behind it. Some stories are more interesting than others. Judge for yourself.

Cover #1 (Michael Vick setting up to pass): This photograph was shot by Mike Ingalls prior to the 1999 Tech/UVa game in Charlottesville. It was taken during pre-game warmups, during which Virginia fans serenaded Vick with taunts of being the second-best quarterback in the state in high school (behind Ronald Curry). Vick promptly went out and torched Virginia for 222 yards passing and 1 TD, completing 7-9 passes. This cover was the template for all other TSLX covers to follow, created by Ingalls in Photoshop.

 

Cover #2 (Justin Hamilton flying in the air in front of Clintwood High School cheerleaders): This photo was taken by Ron Skeber of Coalfield Progress. Skeber took the photo of Hamilton as Hamilton was jumping up and down on a trampoline. No slouch with Photoshop himself, Skeber later superimposed Hamilton over a photo he took of the Clintwood cheerleaders spelling "CHS" with their pom-poms. That's right -- the cheerleaders weren't actually in the original picture.

 

Cover #3 (Will Hunt scrambling): This photo was taken by J.T. Wampler of the Morning News of Northwest Arkansas. The original photo was closely cropped to the top of Hunt's head, so I had to use Photoshop to "clone" sections of the stands behind him so I would have a place to put the TSL Extra logo.

 

Cover #4 (collage of 2001 recruits): This was the TSLX's first recruiting issue, and I was a little confounded as to what recruit should be featured on the cover. Kevin Jones seemed like a natural fit, but then one day, message board poster RUHokie posted a killer jigsaw-puzzle collage of 2001 recruits, and I immediately asked him if I could use it as a TSLX cover. I love it when TSLX covers fall into my lap.

RUHokie's collage featured 19 recruits and a shot of the Sears national championship trophy. Tech had 22 recruits in 2001, and the ones not included in the cover are Reggie Butler, Chris Pannell, and of course Jordan Trott (who signed with VT after the issue came out).

RUHokie's original collage was titled "Pieces of a Championship," but I scratched that and added the caption, "Hokies Piece Together Best-Ever Class." Reeeaaaalll clever, I know.

 

Cover 5 (Kevin Jones): This was the issue that sold an amazing 223 copies, doubling the TSLX's "circulation" at the time. The cover shot of KJ is by George Zurick of pasportsfever.com, a web site that I believe was part of the Rivals.com network at the time. Pasportsfever.com covers high school sports in Pennsylvania, and one of their writers, Gorden Blain, was the writer who "broke" the story that KJ was leaning to Tech because the Hokies' strength and conditioning program was superior, in the opinion of KJ and his father Thomas, to Penn State's.

Jeff Ouellet, an attorney who would later write an article called "Agents and Athletes" for issue #6, had written some stuff for pasportsfever and hooked me up with Gorden and the photographer, George Zurick. George sent me two photos, and in retrospect, given another chance, I would use the other one for the cover.

The only interesting nugget about this cover is that I "tilted" the original image slightly so the crowd in the background would be level, making a nice backdrop for the TSL Extra logo.

 

Cover 6 (A dollar sign for the "Money-Makers" series of articles): Without a doubt, the worst TSLX cover ever (just imagine the Comic Book Guy on the Simpsons saying "Worst cover ever"). Facing a deadline and short on photos, I copped out and created a big white dollar sign on a maroon background. Yeesh. This issue sold only 75 copies, beginning a six-month quagmire of sales that would see us average just 50 subscriptions a month. The three-month "Money-Makers" was just too detailed and too unwieldy a series of articles, and it impacted sales negatively for a long time. I see this dollar-sign cover, and I shudder.

 

Cover 7 (Bryan Randall): This is a very mediocre cover for a very mediocre issue. I bought the photograph from the Newport News Daily Press sight-unseen. After a painful email exchange in which I explained who I was and what I wanted the picture for, I was called by someone in their photography department who dug up a couple of photos of Bryan by doing a search on "Bryan Randall."

The young lady I spoke with on the phone knew nothing about graphics images and had no idea how to send me a scan so I could take a look at the photo. She knew nothing about football and wasn't even aware that Randall was wearing a practice jersey instead of a game jersey in the photo. I thought I was getting a cool shot of Randall jogging onto the field before a game, but instead, I got a picture taken from a Bruton practice … with Bryan's face mask nicely shielding his eyes. Argh. By the time I got the photo, which I had paid $150 for, it was too late to try anything different, so I went with it.

One interesting factoid is that the original photo didn't have the black background at the top -- I added that for the TSLX logo. Hey, if it works once and nobody notices it…

 

Cover 8 (Michael Vick and Tony Dobbins): Another copout cover. "Hey, this month's installment of the Money-Makers series compares basketball revenue to football revenue -- let's put pictures of a basketball player and a football player on the cover!" I rummaged through my pile of Mike Ingalls photos and came up with those two.

In retrospect, the cover makes a subtle point: Football revenue is to basketball revenue what Michael Vick is to Tony Dobbins. Get it? Okay, the subtle point it really makes is that the TSL webmaster is hurting for TSLX cover material.

 

Cover 9 (Montavis Pitts): This is a great cover. I got the photo from the Birmingham (AL) Post-Herald, and it's a winner. Clear, sharp, and intense. The photo was taken at the famous high school football combine where Pitts ran his 4.29 forty, turning him into a recruiting megastar and making it impossible for the Hokies to hold on to his soft commitment, which they had received only a week earlier.

The Post-Herald did a great job of covering the combine, and after Pitts ran his 4.29, they made sure to get some good pictures of him. This was the best one. We paid $150 for the rights to use it, and it was easily worth it.

Oh, by the way, you'll never believe this, but the picture was cropped too close to his head, and I cloned sections of the stands and copied them at the top of the picture to create enough space for the TSL Extra logo (are you sensing a pattern here?).

 

Cover 10 (Brandon Gore): This would have been a better cover if the photo was clearer, but I can't complain. It was taken by Karl Pittelkau of the Fauquier Citizen, and Karl let me have the rights to the photo for free, telling me, "Just send us a copy of the article. We like to keep track of our boys here." You got it, Karl.

 

Cover 11 (Noland Burchette): I bought this photo from the Richmond Times-Dispatch, for something like $75. They were very helpful, and unlike the Newport News Daily Press and the Bryan Randall photo, the RT-D's photo department rep. was computer-savvy enough to send me a sample so I could preview it before I bought it!

It's not the greatest photo -- Burchette looks a little awkward and skinny running the tire drill, and man, take a good look at that chunky dude behind him! -- but I was able to give it a little "pop" by cloning Burchette's head and placing it over the TSL Extra logo to make him stand out. That was the first time I ever tried that in Photoshop, and I have used that technique several times since then.

Add a single word ("Transformed") and you've got a decent cover. Not a hall-of-famer, but decent.

 

Cover 12 (Kevin Jones and VT fans): This is one of my favorite covers, because I took the photo myself, with my own lousy digital camera. The WVU Sports Information Department, God love 'em, grants media access to web sites, and I attended the 2001 WVU game as working media. The media leaves the press box halfway through the fourth quarter and goes down on the sidelines, where they can catch the last few minutes of the game and then follow the players into the media area for post-game interviews.

While on the field, I took several pictures with my rinky-dink digital camera, and for some reason, with the lighting conditions that day, they turned out pretty good. After the game, as the players were walking off the field, some VT fans clamored for Kevin Jones, and he trotted over to them, reached up, and shook hands with some of them. I was quick to recognize the photo-op, and I snapped what I think is an excellent picture. I actually wrote the cover article (an analysis of the future of Tech football) because of the cover photo, a rare instance of the tail wagging the dog.

 

Cover 13 (Kevin Jones vs. UVa): This photo of KJ scoring a TD against Virginia in the 2001 game in Charlottesville was taken by Mike Ingalls. Ingalls shot about five rolls of film for TSL that day, which is why many recent TSLX covers have featured Hokies in their white road uniforms.

 

Cover 14 (Frank Beamer and bowl paraphernalia): If I had to pick a favorite TSLX cover, this would probably be it. This was one of the TSLX's weakest issues ever, in my opinion, but the cover was kick-butt. The picture was taken by Mike Ingalls during warmups for the UVa game, and it's almost as if Beamer was posing and trying to look like a bad-ass.

The bowl memorabilia in the background of the cover -- game tickets, buttons, and newspapers -- all belong to me. I scanned them in and sent the images to Ingalls, who created the cover by meshing all the images together. He sent the cover concept back to me, and I modified it a little by fading the background and placing a subtle white glow around Beamer to make him stand out. All in all, a very cool cover.

 

Cover 15 (Mike Daniels): Another photo taken by Mike Ingalls during the 2001 Tech/UVa game.

 

Cover 16 (collage of 2002 recruits): Another great effort by RUHokie. Quite a few of the 2002 recruits are missing from the cover, and there's a story behind that. The original concept by RUHokie included a picture of Coach Beamer, plus pictures of a number of recruits that had been "borrowed" from BeamerBall.com.

I asked the BeamerBall folks if we could use the pictures, and their answer was kind of complicated. They were willing to let us use the pics, but they pointed out that they had asked each and every recruit if they could use their pictures on BeamerBall.com, and that we should do the same if we planned on using their pics on the TSLX cover. Not to mention that it was a good idea to ask Beamer if we could use his picture as well.

It was too close to press time, and there was not enough time to contact all those recruits, plus Coach Beamer. So we scrapped the BeamerBall.com pictures, removed Beamer's likeness from the collage, and went with it.

 

Cover 17 (Marcus Vick): This is a good cover. We featured Vick in an article in this issue, and I borrowed a photo that Mike Ingalls had taken at a Warwick High School game the previous fall. Ingalls had a number of good shots of Marcus, and this was the best one.

 

Cover 18 (Keith Willis): This issue featured an "Inside the Numbers" article on tight end usage (or the lack thereof) by VT. I went through my stack of Mike Ingalls VT/UVa 2001 photos and came up with this very cool picture of tight end Keith Willis. This is another one of my favorite covers, because Willis looks bad to the bone with his game-face stare.

 

Cover 19 (Ben Taylor): Repeat after me: This is a photo taken by … Mike Ingalls … during the … 2001 VT/UVa game.

 

Cover 20 (Lane Stadium under construction aerial view): Message board poster Hokie02 took to the skies over Blacksburg recently and got some outstanding shots of the campus, including two pics of Lane Stadium. I found myself thinking about writing some articles related to Lane Stadium and its expansion, and snagging his aerial photo of Lane seemed like a perfect fit. It's an unconventional and (I think) impressive cover.

 

There you go, folks. If you're still here, then it's a wrap. I hope you have enjoyed this little article that gives you waaaaay too much information about the TSL Extra's 20 covers.

What's Your Favorite Cover?

Since you've got all 20 covers in view in this article, I thought I would ask: what's your favorite cover? Make your selection, and click "Submit." You'll be able to see the poll results right away.

Note that due to polling software restrictions, we could only give you ten choices. I've picked what I think are the 9 best covers, plus I've got an "Other" selection. (Please note that at press time, we were experiencing some technical difficulties related to Netscape browsers, so if you can't vote, try Internet Explorer to see if it works.)

If your selection is "Other," send me a quick email saying what other cover you liked and why. Just drop a line to will@techsideline.com

TSL Extra Cover Poll

See you next month.

 

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