- Thursday, October 15, 2009 7:07 PM
- Written By: SportsFanLive Reports
Bobby Sabelhaus was the nation's top-rated quarterback prospect in 1995. He signed with Florida and coach Steve Spurrier but never played a down for the Gators. This weekend, Sabelhaus returns to Gainesville
for the first time in 13 years, and in this exclusive to SportsFanLive.com, he shares the details of his recruitment, his struggles and his eventual departure from Florida. Honest, unvarnished and unfiltered ... Sabelhaus gives us an unprecedented look inside the high-stakes world of big-time college athletics. Here is Part One: The Recruiting Process.
By Bobby Sabelhaus
A few months ago my old fraternity brother, Heath Randolph, from the University of Florida invited me to the Gator homecoming game against Arkansas this Saturday. It has been a long time since I’d been back to Gainesville. In fact, I hadn’t been back since I asked for my release from the storied football program, and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to return to Gainesville after all these years. I took some time to mull it over, but after a few days I decided it was finally time to return to the school that offered me a scholarship to play quarterback in 1995.
It has been 13 years since I left the University of Florida, so why am I choosing to write about my experience now? There are a several reasons. I’m writing this for the highly recruited high school athlete who’s having a difficult time dealing with the pressures that come with playing for a major college football program. I’m writing this for the passionate football fan that is curious about the recruiting process. And I’m writing it for me.
I’ve never had the opportunity to publicly talk about my journey through the recruiting process, my experience as a Gator and what valuable lessons I learned along the way. You see, my story’s always been told by someone else: Reporters, bloggers, even rabid fans on their chat boards. To my surprise, without fail, every year around national signing day there is some mention of my name. Usually it involves reporters predicting the fate of some young quarterback recruit: Will he be the next Tim Tebow in the making or yours truly?
It seems that a lot of people have had an opinion as to why I didn’t live up to the lofty expectations that were placed on me before attending UF. Now it’s time that I set the record straight, and not to sound melodramatic, but maybe I need to make peace with the place and have some closure once and for all. And who am I kidding? I’m also going back to Gainesville to have a good time! Catching up with old friends, watching the game and stopping by The Swamp Restaurant for old times sake.
During summer two-a-days before my senior year in high school at McDonogh, a small prep school in suburban Baltimore, a bunch of my teammates and I were sitting around before practice, when one them brought out a recruiting magazine. I think it was Super Prep Magazine. At the time Super Prep was a popular recruiting publication for coaches and recruiting enthusiasts. All of these Internet recruiting sites like Rivals.com didn’t exist back then. I began leafing through the magazine and found that my teammate Dwayne Stukes had been ranked as one of the top defensive backs in the country. Dwayne was an outstanding player, he ended up getting a scholarship to the University of Virginia and went on to play in the NFL. So you can imagine, I was proud of him.
But I won’t lie, I couldn’t help but wish my name was on one of those lists too. When I didn’t find it, I didn’t give it much thought really. I put the magazine down and continued suiting up. But then one of my buddies called over to me saying he found my name; I must have missed it. To my surprise it was on the first page, listing me as the Top Quarterback prospect in the entire nation. From there, my name started popping up in various magazines. Max Emfinger's National Blue Chips and Tom Lemming's Football Report both had me ranked as the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the country, while some others had me in their top five.
Then after the season, the coveted Parade Magazine’s All-American honors were announced and I made it on their list along with future NFL stars Randy Moss, Charles Woodson, Shaun Alexander and Kevin Faulk. That's when I felt like I might really have a chance to take my love for football to the next level. My childhood idols Dan Marino and John Elway had made that list in high school so I felt
like I was in pretty good company. I looked at all these accolades as an opportunity to live out my childhood dream of playing college football.
I was having the time of life during the recruiting process! To grow up following teams like Michigan, Florida State, Florida, Miami, Ohio State, Boston College, Notre Dame and then in turn to get recruited by them was surreal. I remember checking the mail one day and getting an envelope with a gold helmet in the left hand corner; it was from Notre Dame! Lou Holtz called me to ask if I could run the option and I told him he had the wrong guy. So even though I wasn’t a good fit to play for the Fighting Irish, it didn’t matter to me, I was just as pumped to get a letter from them. As the recruiting process continued, I began to get calls from head coaches like Steve Spurrier, Bobby Bowden, Phillip Fulmer, Gary Moeller, Barry Alvarez, John Cooper and even Bill Walsh on his second tour as the head coach for Stanford.
Coach Walsh questioned my “C” in biology and wanted me to write a college essay. I explained to him that no other college program had asked me to do that but he said they required it! I didn’t ever write that essay, and I didn’t make a visit out to the Golden State but either way it was awesome speaking with the legendary Bill Walsh. Dan Henning, who at the time was the Boston College head coach and is now the offensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins, told my family while sitting in our living room that I was the first recruit he had visited in 25 years.
My whole family couldn’t help but get swept up in the excitement, especially my father, who was an avid college football fan. He got to meet some of the greatest football coaches in America. One memory stands out in particular. My parents accompanied me on my official visit to Michigan where Gary Moeller was coaching at the time. Michigan was very high on my list of potential schools because of its rich tradition and long history of having big pro-style quarterbacks. Guys like Elvis Grbac, Todd Collins and Jim Harbaugh all fit the mold of a Wolverine signal caller. As we were touring the football facility, one of the assistant coaches introduced my family to the legendary former head coach Bo Schembechler. My father, being from Ohio, had grown up watching Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler battle it out in the “Ten-Year War” between Ohio State and Michigan. (A sidenote for the Buckeye fans out there, I regret not taking one of my official visits to Ohio State, I chose Duke instead, even after being on Kirk Herbstreit’s Columbus sports radio show).
Needless to say, Michigan was a fun visit. They did a great job of wooing me by taking me into the stadium where my jersey and number were hanging in the locker. Seeing the name “Sabelhaus” with the number “16” on it is something I will never forget. After this official visit, Moeller came to my house in Baltimore to convince me to commit to the Wolverines. I can vividly remember him putting his hand on my knee and asking, “What is it going to take for me to get you to play for Michigan?” I replied, “You’re going to have to throw it more coach.” He responded, “If you come here, we will.” From here on out my mother blared the Michigan fight song from our stereo system when I got home from school ... there was no question where she wanted me to go. It was the toughest decision I ever had to make but when I didn’t commit to Michigan, it ended up offering my scholarship to a future NFL Hall of Fame quarterback. Guy named Tom Brady. Maybe you’ve heard of him. You’re welcome, Tom.
My next official visit was to Florida State, and it came after I had just broken the 25-year-old Maryland state passing record. It was a Friday night and FSU quarterback coach Mark Richt, the current Georgia head coach, was in the bleachers watching the game. We were scheduled to jump on a commercial flight together to Tallahassee that night but there weren’t any flights available so Coach Richt and I hitched a ride on former Florida Governor Lawton Chiles’s state jet. It was a true “Johnny Be Good” moment! Just Coach Richt and I talking X’s & O’s the whole way down to FSU. It didn’t get much cooler than that.
On my visit I got to spend some time with coach Bowden. I recall sitting outside his office and I could hear an assistant coach prepping him. I could hear him say to Bowden, “You’re about to meet Bobby Sabelhaus, a quarterback recruit from Baltimore, Maryland. He’s a Christian and his family is originally from Ohio.” Funny to think Bowden was getting briefed for our meeting!
Part Two: Bobby looks back at why he chose Florida and how he started drowning in Steve Spurrier’s sink-or-swim coaching tactics.
Part Three: Life after Gainesville.