Big Country Preps is the brainchild of former Abilene Reporter-News sports writers Evan Ren and Daniel Youngblood, who left the newspaper in April of 2018 after 12 and 11 years there, respectively.
Passionate as ever about Big Country athletics, the pair set out to create an outlet that would bring sports coverage in Abilene and the surrounding area back to its local roots and place the emphasis back where it belongs: on the kids playing the games and the fans who love to follow them.
With those goals guiding the planning and decision-making processes, BigCountryPreps.com was born. And those same principles will dictate the site’s direction in the future.
With extensive experience in and expertise on the Big Country market, Ren and Youngblood are committed to building a unique online community and a first-rate user experience for high school sports fans in all corners of their truly special coverage area.
All Big Country. All high school. All the time.
More about Evan
A winner of 18 Associated Press writing awards in a 17-year career, Evan Ren’s road into journalism was an improbable one, beginning on an Arizona construction site nearly 20 years ago.
In fact, until August of 2000, he was literally swinging a sledgehammer for a living, working as a land surveyor in Tucson — a job he despised.
During this time, he wrote multiple letters to local sports editors, getting a positive reaction from friends and family who noticed he had a flair for the written word. But it wasn’t until an afternoon in 1999 when Ren finally had a moment of clarity.
While cleaning out his storeroom, he discovered his old high school yearbook, in which he found a note from his journalism teacher on the inside cover: “Evan, I hope someday, somewhere, someone will understand you or impress you enough to take your obvious talent and head it into the great directions it could go. … Send me a bylined story someday and I’ll edit it or improve it.”
It was at that moment that the age of 34, something clicked.
Ren realized the dream he held of being a sports writer as a high school student could still be pursued. And with a little added coaxing from his wife, Kristyl, he soon approached the local afternoon paper, the Tucson Citizen, for a tryout as a correspondent.
To his surprise, the Citizen staff not only praised his work, but put him at the top of their correspondent rotation — assigning him to major-and minor-league baseball, professional boxing and multiple front-page features.
During spring training in 2000, Chicago AP came calling, using Ren a correspondent to cover the White Sox during their month-long stay in Tucson.
“It was surreal,” Ren said. “For a time, I was working on construction sites during the day, and covering the Chicago White Sox by night.
“I’d go to work the next day and tell the guys ‘Hey, I got to interview Harold Baines and Frank Thomas last night,’ and nobody would believe me.”
The dual existence was short-lived.
A little more than a year after beginning his work as a correspondent, Ren quit his day job as a surveyor and boosted his part-time schedule of college courses to a full-time slate.
By June of 2001, he had landed his first full-time newspaper gig with the Killeen Daily Herald, where he would remain for five years before receiving a job offer from the Abilene Reporter-News.
Since putting the sledgehammer down for good, Evan has collected 13 Associated Press Managing Editors writing awards, four Southwest Associated Press Sports Editors regional awards and an APSE national honorable mention.
His feature work has appeared in publications such as “Baseball America,” “Military Times” and “Dave Campbell’s Texas Football” magazine.
He now joins Daniel Youngblood at BigCountryPreps.com for “one of the most exciting projects of my life.”
In his spare time, Ren is currently working on a book project that “I’ve been sitting on for the last 20 years and finally have the opportunity to write.” He is also an avid NHL hockey fan.
He and Kristyl will celebrate their 31st wedding anniversary on Dec. 19, 2018. They enjoy travel (recently accomplishing a long-stated goal of going to New York City), barbecuing and fighting over the remote control.
More about Daniel
Daniel Youngblood’s path toward a career in sports journalism was set in high school, when — as a 5-foot-5 freshman — he realized he wouldn’t likely be hearing his name called in the 2003 Major League Baseball draft.
Growing up to stories from his father and grandfather — both former sports writers — on the fun they had in various press boxes and newsrooms, Youngblood knew from an early age he wanted to make a living covering sports. From that point, it was just a matter of finding the right market.
After graduating from Haltom High School in the Fort Worth suburb of Haltom City, he went on to Baylor University, where he spent two years covering BU athletics for the school’s student newspaper before graduating with a journalism degree in May of 2007.
Upon graduation, the Shreveport, Louisiana, native who had spent most of his life in the Fort Worth area was tasked with finding his first professional newspaper job — a chore for which he had done precious little legwork. He ended up lucking into a post that June as the Wylie High School and Hardin-Simmons University beat writer for the Abilene Reporter-News, which allowed him to start his career within driving distance of his parents and then-fiancé, Jessica.
Originally planning to stay in Abilene for a couple of years before moving on to the next challenge, Youngblood fell in love with the Big Country and its sports scene. After marrying Jessica in 2008, he spent 4½ more years covering the Bulldogs and Cowboys, before be being promoted to sports editor in fall of 2012.
He held that job through the end of his tenure with the Reporter-News, adding Abilene High and McMurry University beat coverage duties his final school year there.
Youngblood, who won two Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence awards and two Texas Intercollegiate Press Association awards during his time at Baylor, added three Associated Press Managing Editors writing awards while with the ARN.
But he’s far more proud of his two children: 7-year-old son Gavin, who has inherited his father’s love for sports (especially baseball), and 3-year-old daughter Nevaeh Grace, an adventurous future athlete with boundless energy.
Daniel and Jessica, an elementary school teacher in Abilene Independent School District, celebrated 10 years of marriage on June 28, 2018. They spend most of their free time at home with their kids and two pets, a 100-pound hound dog named Albus and an orange tabby cat named Nigel, squeezing in Netflix “dates” when possible.