Bobby Sabelhaus was The Sun's Offensive Player of the Year at McDonogh in 1994. He battled depression in college but is now working as a film producer in Los Angeles.
Bobby Sabelhaus was The Sun's Offensive Player of the Year at McDonogh in 1994. He battled depression in college but is now working as a film producer in Los Angeles. (Baltimore Sun photo by Gene Sweeney Jr.)
The pictures come clearly into the mind of Bob Sabelhaus Sr., as he is driving to New York for Thanksgiving and talking on his cell phone about his son Bobby, who in 1995 was the nation's top-rated quarterback prospect during his senior year at McDonogh.

The pictures are like flashcards: Bobby, The Sun's Offensive Player of the Year at McDonogh ... His son struggling in Florida coach Steve Spurrier's sink-or-swim system, so unlike McDonogh, where coaches were nurturing ... The diagnosis that his son had bipolar II disorder, clinical depression ... and, finally, the phone call from San Jose State, where Bobby had been trying to re-establish his football career.

"He called us one day in the fall and said, 'I can't do it.' " said Sabelhaus Sr. "We knew what he meant, and we went out to get him. We picked him up and drove down to Carmel and spent the night. The next day we sat on the beach, and he said it was time to give it up. To give up his dream.

"My whole life, even before Bobby was born, I loved college football. Then to have a son with all the major league attributes, it was a dream come true. When he told us it was time to give it up, it was a big disappointment for the family - he had the makings of a pro - like Tom Brady and Joe Flacco. It was a big disappointment. My wife and I still talk about it sometimes in the kitchen at night - but it was an even bigger disappointment for Bobby."

But strengthened by his ability to cope with dyslexia, the work ethic he developed in the McDonogh athletic programs and the support of his family, Sabelhaus, now 33 and a 2001 University of Maryland graduate with a degree in sociology, has been able to move on.

He is a movie producer in Los Angeles, happy with his work. But he has no trouble remembering how hard it was to give up football.

From the time Sabelhaus was able to hold a football, he was able to throw it.

He was a side-armed, 6-foot-5, 220-pound success story. "Mr Athlete," said his father, thinking of the days his son starred in both football and basketball for the Eagles. He was going to be a sure-fire success. Recruited by nearly every major college football program in the country - Michigan eventually offered his scholarship to the New England Patriots' Brady - Bobby Sabelhaus couldn't miss.

"Those days at McDonogh were special days," Sabelhaus said. "I never thought I was cocky, but I was a confident kid. I loved playing football and dreamed about it. Even today, I wish I had had a shot at fulfilling it. But I found out I was equipped to handle life."

Once at Florida, with the pressure mounting, things going badly and Spurrier starting to suggest changes to his throwing style, Sabelhaus' confidence began to slip.

"The only one, real gift I had was my ability to throw the football," Sabelhaus said from the L.A. office of Momentum Productions, which he co-owns. "When I started to lose that, I didn't feel comfortable and became apprehensive. And the one thing I didn't want was for others to perceive me as a failure.

"I had so much pride. I felt like I wasn't just letting myself down, but the people of Baltimore, McDonogh, my family and friends."

After being diagnosed with depression and leaving Florida, Sabelhaus went through a period of denial but eventually came to terms with the illness. After telling his dad his football dream was over because he was going to "put myself first and get healthy," he found a regimen that worked for him.

"You have to make [the illness] a priority to overcome it," Sabelhaus said. "It's a tough decision. Out here people drink, but I don't. It's not a right fit for me. I feel much better without it."

He is no longer on medication to control his depression, but depends on a healthy lifestyle: good nutrition, exercise (he ran the Los Angeles Marathon last year), and no alcohol. He moved to Los Angeles after graduating from Maryland to begin building the career he discovered while accompanying an actor friend to a film festival. He laughs and says he never had to park cars in Hollywood, "but certainly I did get people coffee" as part of his movie learning experience.

For about 3 1/2 years, he worked for Village Roadshow Pictures, at first reading and evaluating scripts and then as assistant to Lauren Shuler Donner, producer of the "X-Men" movies. During that time, he was on the sets of "X-Men III" with Hugh Jackman, "She's the Man" with Amanda Bynes and "Constantine" with Keanu Reeves.

"I got to read some pretty terrific scripts and was exposed to great talent," Sabelhaus said. "Then I went to work for a film financier, Chris Daniel, for a year and realized I wanted to go out on my own."

That's where Sabelhaus is now, thoroughly enjoying the pursuit of his new dream. He has a number of projects in development and one, an action movie, has been attached to director McG - who directed the last "Terminator" film and the two "Charlie's Angels" movies - and is being considered by several major studios.

"We hire the writer, come up with an idea and write the screenplay," Sabelhaus explained. "Then we go through the draft process and finally attach a director or actor to it. Then we take it to the studios. If they decide to make the film, we are there all the way through development, casting, production, post-production and release of the movie."

There is excitement in Sabelhaus' voice. Anticipation of what could come.

"Life is an evolution," he said. "I'm glad I went through the process as a football player because I'm not afraid to fail anymore. I had great success at 18 and a lot of failure at 19 and in my early 20s. Now, in my early 30s, I feel I'm able to handle anything thrown at me."

Alumni Report
Each Friday, The Baltimore Sun will catch up with a former area high school sports figure. In the spotlight today is former McDonogh quarterback Bobby Sabelhaus. To suggest former athletes or coaches to be considered for Alumni Report, please e-mail sports@baltsun.com.

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