I wanted to be the next Nick Gholson.

That's what I told people a couple of years ago, at the time a grunt-level staff reporter at the Times Record News.

Certainly a little skinnier and with a fuller head of hair. But I wanted Nick's career, especially the respect he overwhelmingly garnered himself in this city, one we both loved dearly.

Who wouldn't?

Olympic Games. Super Bowls. Simple yet masterfully crafted columns worthy of national syndication.

It didn't end up that way, of course. I left the paper not long after.

It's clear now why that was a dream destined for failure. Because there will never be another Nick Gholson. Not for those of us who grew up reading what he thought daily in the local sports pages.

I was a dime-a-dozen writer with more arrogance than talent. Anybody with an internet connection and word processor could do what I did.

Nick was a journalist in the truest sense of the word. His natural flare with the written word is something you can't teach in a classroom. His tell-it-like-it-is style was unique because he had the knowledge and the balls to back up everything he wrote.

Nick gave me my first big break on his staff, something I will be eternally grateful for. As my editor, he let me know on occasions when I did something he liked. He was just as quick to tell me when I turned in something not worth the paper it was printed on.

And that's what I appreciated most about him. He told you what he really thought. No sugarcoating necessary.

It was because he cared so greatly about the quality of our publication. He wanted us not to think of the opportunity as a job, but a privilege.

He was living his dream. We should all be so lucky.

Even now as I type this I wonder, "What would Nick think?"

He'd probably rewrite my lead, rearrange some graphs and cut all the flowery words. Then we'd both reread it and agree.

Yep, that's a hell of a lot better.

I won't ever be the writer Nick was. Probably never half as good.

But I'll always take to heart the conversation we had during my last employee evaluation. He told me I was doing a good job and that he thought I was too hard on myself. In time, I would get better. And that all he asked is that I gave my best every day.

Here's my best, Nick. It's not you, but then again...who is?