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Illinois State alum takes a Lambeau Leap into NFL beat reporting

Josh Tolentino ’17 is ready to begin his career as a beat reporter for one of the cornerstone teams of the NFL. Tolentino is quick to say he couldn’t have landed the job without Illinois State.

Tolentino was recently hired by The Athletic, a newly launched subscription-based sports journalism site, as one of two beat writers for the Green Bay Packers. At Illinois State, he was sports editor for The Vidette for two years, covering everything from women’s soccer to the Redbird football team. He was able to cover Redbirds athletics during a successful era for many of the teams. He speaks fondly of covering the 2016–2017 Redbirds men’s basketball squad that went 17-1 in the Missouri Valley Conference.

“It was great to talk to all of the guys on that team and to be around Coach (Dan) Muller,” he said.

However, one of the most important events Tolentino covered took place outside of the field of play. On April 7, 2015, a twin-engine Cessna returning from the NCAA Championship game in Indianapolis crashed outside of Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington. All seven passengers including an Illinois State Athletics administrator, a men’s basketball assistant coach, and Athletics donors died in the crash.

“It was really meaningful for me to cover that story,” Tolentino said. “It was a big story in the community and it was important to honor the lives lost in the accident.”

He points to Vidette General Manager John Plevka as a major mentor of his, even now as he works as a professional. Plevka said Tolentino was dedicated to The Vidette and to bettering himself as a journalist from day one.

“As a journalism student, he was off the chart,” Plevka said. “He was a sponge when he was in here.”

The stories Tolentino wrote for The Vidette launched his career. He was able to land several internships covering several professional sports teams during his college years. In 2016 as a sports intern for the Chicago Sun-Times, he followed the Chicago Cubs as they won their first World Series in 108 years. In 2017 he interned for The Kansas City Star, where he covered the Chiefs and Royals. He also wrote a piece on Chiefs quarterback of the future Patrick Mahomes, which led to Tolentino facing off with the young star in a one-on-one basketball game.

Even though he says basketball is his favorite sport to watch and play, football has always had strong appeal for him as a journalist.

“There are just more stories available,” Tolentino said. “It is just math. There are more stories to tell with 53 players on a roster compared to the 15 or so guys on an NBA team.”

The first game Tolentino covered at Lambeau Field was a thriller in which the Packers came back from 20 down to beat their archrival Chicago Bears 24-23.

Tolentino said there is a learning curve that comes along with covering the Packers, but he is ready to meet the challenge.

“It is certainly different from covering college sports or even some of what I was doing when I covered the Cubs,” Tolentino said. “The Packers are a team that plays in a small market but have international appeal. It was a big step to take in my career, but thanks to my experiences, including those at Illinois State, it is a step I am prepared for.”

Tolentino has simple advice for Redbirds who are looking to get into a career in journalism: Get involved.

“Illinois State was able to provide me the same caliber of opportunities to advance my career as a journalist compared to other schools traditionally known for journalism,” he said. “But I wouldn’t have known that without joining The Vidette, writing stories, and building my network.”

You can keep up with Josh Tolentino’s work by following him on Twitter.

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