Once you get past Sioux City, it’s all out in the open.

The grass spreads, the sky widens, the highway flattens and the vehicles speed up. The speed limit on the straight-as-an-arrow South Dakota stretch of Interstate 29 is 80 miles per hour, but you can be pushing 100 and it will still feel like 60.

I made that drive two weekends ago, after driving 10 hours from Norman, Oklahoma with a late-night stop in Iowa for just the tiniest bit of rest. At 6 A.M., me and my dad got back in the car that contained most of my life inside it and continued north.

Now, this wasn’t the main thing I was thinking about as I was driving … but looking back on it, maybe there’s a half-decent analogy to be had.

I was driving north to take a job — my first real, full-time job as an adult. In Crookston, Minnesota, as the sports editor of the Crookston Times. A town of 7,891 an hour and a half south of Canada. A town I had barely heard of. A paper I had never heard of until I applied for the job.

Fresh out of college. No professional journalism experience — just three years as an editor at my student newspaper. No experience living in a town close to that small. No friends within 14 hours. No family within 15.

An hour and a half into South Dakota, the sky began to change. The night gave way to a soft blue dawn streaked with pink and orange, illuminating the far-reaching yellowish-green prairies on every side of me.

Aside from the occasional billboards or mile signs, there were no obstructions, no blemishes, no indication that anything could have ever happened here.

It was as if I was driving onto a blank slate.

And, well, that’s exactly what Crookston is for me.

I applied to at least 25 jobs before I came across the Crookston posting. I heard back from a handful — a couple to set up interviews, a couple after the fact to tell me they’d found a candidate already. Most of the places I applied to were jobs covering bigger teams in bigger college towns and some pro cities. Jobs I was probably underqualified for anyway.

Maybe that was a blessing in disguise.

At Michigan, I covered a nationally ranked baseball team, a hockey team that nearly made the national championship game and a men’s basketball team that won 30 games and made the Sweet Sixteen. Three highly successful teams at a program steeped in history and intrigue everywhere you look. I shared press boxes and media rooms with writers from the Detroit Free Press, The Athletic, ESPN, Sports Illustrated and more.

Me? I was just a kid, writing research papers in addition to gamers.

Sometimes I wrote killer stories and felt on top of the world. Sometimes I felt like I had no idea what on earth I was doing. In all of those moments, though, I recognized that what I had was a unique experience; one I wouldn’t ever get again anywhere else.

And the more I considered the Crookston job, the more I realized that the same was true here as well.

Here, the Times is the only newspaper, and one of two media outlets of any kind. It’s a newspaper not for a wide, wide world of fans and alums, but a newspaper for a town and its populace. It’s a place where you get recognized by the people you cover; a place where you can go anywhere and really see, in-person, the impact of your journalism and how much people value your coverage.

To clarify, it’s not the local celebrity-lite aspect of the job that interested me the most — although it was certainly nice to be recognized and wished well by multiple Crookston football parents at the first event I covered, a playoff game in Warroad two hours away. It was the chance to step out of my comfort zone, get my boots dirty, take the skills I learned in college and apply them somewhere completely foreign.

Would I enjoy the rush of covering big-name players and teams? Would I enjoy competing for coverage in a major metropolitan area? Yes, and hopefully I’ll get the chance someday. But I can’t see those hypothetical jobs teaching me what I’ll learn here in Crookston.

Not just about covering sports, but covering a community.

I’ve been here just 11 days so far, but I’ve already covered Minnesota Crookston football, basketball and soccer games in addition to Crookston High School football, swimming, volleyball and tennis. And it’s a guarantee you’ll see me at many more games this year, probably running around hunting for a good photo or pounding away on my laptop on the sideline. Between the Pirates’ girls’ basketball team coming off a near-appearance at state, the Golden Eagles’ men’s basketball team having set a program-record for wins last year and more, this winter should be one of the most intriguing in recent Crookston history, and I can’t wait to dive in in full.

I’ve been given a completely blank slate to start my career, and I couldn’t think of a better place to take advantage of it. I couldn’t be more excited for what lies ahead, and if you’re reading this now, I hope you feel the same.

Let’s get to work.