How did McDonogh quarterback Bobby Sabelhaus go from being the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the country to a man who runs an independent film production company in California?
It’s been a long trip with many painful twists and turns before Sabelhaus found his way. Now 43, he loves his job and loves his life. He lives in West Hollywood with his wife, enjoying how it all turned out.
In the fall of 1994, the 6-foot-5 Sabelhaus had an arm that made coaches drool. He could throw long, short, anywhere and everywhere. Plus, he had the kind of size coaches love. He broke 25-year-old state passing yardage and completion records at McDonogh. His final two college choices were between Florida and Michigan. He picked the Gators, and the Michigan coaches were disappointed but said they’d give the scholarship to this kid from California they liked.
His name was Tom Brady.
Sabelhaus went to Florida to work under head coach Steve Spurrier in 1995. The match did not work out well. Spurrier tried to change the way Sabelhaus threw the ball, and that affected the teenager. Sabelhaus threw with a three-quarters delivery most of the time, but Spurrier wanted Sabelhaus to throw with a consistent over-the-top motion.
“I think what happened is when I got there and he started messing with my mechanics, I started losing confidence,” Sabelhaus said. “I think I always had an underlying anxiety but football was my outlet. Playing at Florida, I lost confidence, and that’s when the depression came in. I just wasn’t able to perform.”
Sabelhaus said Spurrier took the one thing he really had confidence in — his throwing — and stripped it from him. That unleashed other difficulties, like anxiety and depression. Sabelhaus walked away from the Gators after his freshman year — they redshirted him — for a physical and mental reset. Sabelhaus began therapy, something he’s done periodically ever since.
After leaving Florida, Sabelhaus went out West. Though UCLA recruited him, he didn’t feel ready to get back on to the field. He enrolled at Pierce College, a junior college in California, just as a student and got his AA degree in one year. West Virginia then offered him a scholarship, and he came back East for the fall of 1997.
“I still had that desire to chase that dream,” Sabelhaus said.
But he struggled at West Virginia, too, and his mechanics remained a mess. After the summer and the first few days of camp, the coaches said they weren’t going to put him at quarterback and wondered if he’d consider playing tight end. Sabelhaus didn’t want to do that and left.
Sabelhaus’ mother knew NFL draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. and contacted him for help. Kiper suggested meeting and working with Steve Clarkson, a coach in California. For four to five months, Sabelhaus trained with him and regained his confidence. San Jose State offered him a scholarship to play.
Sabelhaus was ready to go and played spring football in 1998, competing for the starting job. But then the depression and anxiety resurfaced that fall. He was the third-string quarterback for the opener against Stanford. He remembers standing on the field and realizing it was time to walk away.
“I looked up in the stands, and I said I don’t want to do this anymore,” Sabelhaus said. “I’ve chased this long enough. I have to put my mental health first.”
That’s when he talked with his family and decided to return home. He enrolled at the University of Maryland in the spring of 1999 and finished his sociology degree in 2001. As a senior, Sabelhaus realized he enjoyed working in movies and had some interest about producing.
He knew an actor from his days in Los Angeles and went to Rhode Island to see a film festival which had a movie the man was in. While there, Sabelhaus talked with a producer and asked about what the job entailed and felt that would fit him well.
Sabelhaus then moved to Los Angeles and began networking. His father had a colleague who knew Alan Horn, the president and COO of Warner Brothers. After talking, Horn helped network him to Village Roadshow Pictures, where Sabelhaus served as a full-time intern for eight months, reading a lot of scripts and learning plenty about the business.
He then found a job at The Donners’ Company, working as an assistant to Lauren Shuler Donner, a prolific producer. Sabelhaus stayed there for four years and learned how to develop screenplays and even was able to go on set and location for movies like “X-Men: The Last Stand,” “Constantine,” and “She’s The Man.”
“It was just great,” Sabelhaus said. “I think I found a new passion, something else I could get really excited about, something that could make a real difference.”
Then, he opened his own company in 2010. Officially, he’s the founder and president of feature film production at FilmHaus. He began by developing scripts with up-and-coming writers. Sabelhaus found a partner, developed material and was able to sell a script to Warner Brothers in 2011. They soon sold a few scripts and were on their way.
After that, they shifted into helping A-list producers find financing for projects and then come on as a producer. One project that went back to his Baltimore roots was “Baltimore Boys,” a 2017 film that was part of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series. The film was a documentary about the legendary Dunbar boys’ basketball teams from 1981-1983. Sabelhaus was executive producer on the project and enjoyed working on it.
“I loved being a Baltimore kid being able to tell a Baltimore story,” Sabelhaus said.
As for now, Sabelhaus has his hands in a number of different projects. He said he’d love to tell Kiper’s story since it’s such an unusual one. Kiper, a Baltimore native and Calvert Hall graduate, revolutionized draft coverage in the early 1980s before he was even 25 years old and has been at ESPN since 1984. Sabelhaus would like it to be an unscripted, documentary-style series.
The best part of Sabelhaus’ story, though, may be the ending. A top-notch high school quarterback struggles at the college level, walks away from the game he loves to deal with anxiety and depression and finds major success in another area.
Sabelhaus said he’s doing better now with the mental health difficulties and is happy with where he is right now.
“I’m one of the fortunate ones that has come out on the opposite end and was thriving,” he said. “I found something in film that I’m equally as passionate about; it’s something that drives me. It drives me every day, and it’s something I’m excited about.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Bobby Sabelhaus