GAINESVILLE, FLA. — GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Bobby Sabelhaus stands close to
greatness these days. To the coach who could lead his team to a national championship. To the quarterback who could make a late-season rush for the Heisman Trophy.
Then there's Sabelhaus, who might be the biggest, if not the best, at what he does. Certainly first-team, if not an All-American. It's a thankless job, but somebody has to do it.
Meet the signal blocker for the nation's No. 2 college football team.
"He's a pretty good signal blocker," Florida coach Steve Spurrier said with a laugh earlier this week. "He's 6-6, close to 240. Florida State knows our signals, and I don't think they got any [in Saturday's 35-24 win]."
That's the role the freshman redshirt from Baltimore is playing this season for the undefeated Gators, who meet Arkansas on Saturday at the Georgia Dome for the Southeastern Conference championship. Barring an upset, Florida is expected to play No. 1 Nebraska on Jan. 2 for the national championship at the Fiesta Bowl.
For Sabelhaus, it's pretty heady stuff, even though he probably won't be asked to use his head -- or his arm -- on the field for another two years. Such is life for quarterbacks when they come here. Nearly all of them have waited their turn, including the current star, redshirt junior Danny Wuerffel.
"When I came here, I knew what to expect," Sabelhaus said in the team's locker room after the Florida State game. "I don't think it would be beneficial for me to step in as a freshman. I hTC don't think I would be mature enough to do that. You really need time to learn. But after two years, I'll be ready. I'll be more than ready."
There are no guarantees that the job will belong to Sabelhaus after Wuerffel and another redshirt junior, Eric Kresser, are gone. This is the place where the most talented high school quarterbacks want to come and learn from Spurrier, the only Heisman Tropy winner in Florida history.
Though Sabelhaus has no other quarterbacks in his class, the Gators are recruiting Kentucky high school phenom and recent Sports Illustrated cover boy Tim Couch. It doesn't seem to faze Sabelhaus or his father.
"Bobby's not afraid of competition," said Robert Sabelhaus Sr., director of national sales for Legg Mason. "Whoever comes in, Bobby will have had an extra year learning the offense."
For now, the only chance Sabelhaus has at running the most explosive passing offense in the country comes at a practice among the redshirted and other little-used players Monday night. They call it "Monday Night Football," though Al, Dan and Frank are not there to provide the commentary.
"It's been kind of on and off," Sabelhaus said of his performance. "I think I'm doing pretty well now. In the beginning, it was kind of hard. My parents kept asking me, 'Are you OK?' They asked if I regretted coming here and not playing. I'm not bitter or disappointed at all. In a way, I didn't want to play this year."
A first-team Parade All-American and The Baltimore Sun Player of the Year as a senior at McDonogh, Sabelhaus was considered by many the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the country. Some even labeled him the No. 1 high school player last season.
Recruited by most of the nation's Division I-A powers, including Florida State, Notre Dame and Michigan, Sabelhaus says he has made the right choice. Just look at the kind of year Wuerffel is having or that Kresser threw for the school record in his only start.
"What quarterback," said Sabelhaus, "wouldn't want to come here?"
It is difficult to measure his progress, because most of the snaps Sabelhaus takes against the first-team defense come in imitating opposing quarterbacks as a member of the scout team. Spurrier noncommittal about a quarterback who is at least two years away from playing in a game.
"Bobby's done some good things, but he's a long way from being ready," said Spurrier. "He doesn't know the offense yet. But he's done a good job."
There's his signal blocking, which involves positioning himself so opposing coaches can't see backup quarterback Brian Schottenheimer flash the plays to Wuerffel. Then there are his Brady Anderson sideburns.
"They're undefeated," he said. "I had them my junior year in high school, and we went undefeated. I shaved them my senior year, and we went 6-3. So I grew them back, and we're 11-0."
So far, Sabelhaus has enjoyed being a normal college student. He's taking a bunch of liberal arts courses and hopes to attend law school one day. He's gotten over the homesickness he had last summer, when he was living in a room under the stadium.
And, of course, he's dreaming of the day that the offense will be his to run.
For now, he is happy standing close to greatness, hoping that some of it rubs off.