Will Eagles' Sabelhaus stand tall? 6-6 junior QB hones skills, faces big expectations

September 05, 1993|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,Staff Writer

Bobby Sabelhaus stood an even 6 feet and could palm a basketball as a seventh-grader.

Four years later, the 6-6, second-team All-Metro quarterback is 2 inches taller than the Miami Dolphins' Dan Marino, his NFL idol. The McDonogh junior began this year's football practice weighing 225 -- one pound more than Marino, whose framed, life-size poster graces a wall of Sabelhaus' bedroom.

"We lived in Miami for three years until Bobby was 8, and he grew up loving Marino, the Miami Hurricanes and the Dolphins," said Robert Sabelhaus Sr. "From then on, he's wanted to be a quarterback. But the first time he went out for a little league team, they made him a tackle."

Because of his size, Sabelhaus didn't play football again until his freshman season at McDonogh, when he led the Eagles' junior varsity to its first winning season (5-4) in the Maryland Scholastic Association's A Conference.

"I've never felt self-conscious about being big," said Sabelhaus. "I even eat like a horse to get bigger."

Neighbors in Florida called the Sabelhauses "the giant family," with Robert Sr. (6-2, 235 pounds) and his wife Melanie (5-11) -- both former athletes -- and Bobby's 12-year-old sister, Alexa (5-9), being a three-sport athlete.

"We recognized that he was raw material years ago, but didn't know if he could make that material into what he wanted to be," said Robert Sr.

Basketball was the first love of Sabelhaus Jr., who also has a life-size poster of Michael Jordan over his bed. He averaged 25 points as the center on his junior high basketball team, leading his squad through a 14-0 season.

"He was always too big to play little league football, but he went to a lot of quarterbacks camps," said Robert Sr. "Once, when he was 12, he met Boomer Esiason. Bobby was an inch shorter than Boomer at the time, so when Bobby tells Boomer how old he is, Boomer says, 'Are you sure?' "

Sabelhaus is sure of a couple of things, most notably his improved abilities. But he nearly chose St. Paul's over McDonogh, knowing nothing about the Eagles' football program.

Coach Mike Working is glad he chose McDonogh.

"I think we can even expand the offense a little bit because the receivers and Sabelhaus have more of an understanding," said Working, whose Eagles' run-and-shoot led to last year's 7-3 record and a No. 14 ranking. "I guess you can say we're taking the reins off."

But after completing 117 of 209 passes for 1,925 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, what can Sabelhaus do for an encore?

"Personally, I don't feel pressure to prove myself because we're more team-oriented this year. But I think you'll see more quickness from me, getting back and set [to pass]," said Sabelhaus, a B average student. "I'm a lot quicker since I spent the spring doing all sorts of agility drills with Coach Working."

In one drill Sabelhaus -- standing 30 yards from a goal post -- lofted passes over the goal.

"I've really improved my touch, I think. I can throw the ball about 60 or 65 yards, and I'm pretty accurate over 50 yards," said Sabelhaus. "If not, I've worked on getting the receivers to come back for the ball. And I've lifted weights constantly, working chest and legs for power on the option. So I have more confidence that I can run if I have to."

Second-team All-Metro teammate Dennis Badham, a wide receiver for the Eagles, can attest to Sabelhaus' accuracy. Badham caught 42 passes last year for 893 yards and nine touchdowns, including receptions of 90 and 40 yards in last-second victories over Mount St. Joseph (15-14) and Forest Park (7-3).

"It's no secret that we're supposed to do well this year, and Bobby knows we're going to face a lot of pressure," said Badham, a first-team All-City selection last year. "But I think he's going to have a good relationship with his receivers and handle it well."

At least a lot better than he handled the pressure last season, says Sabelhaus.

"After a bad play, I'd come back to the huddle mad, with my head down and my feet shuffling around. That didn't help my teammates," said Sabelhaus. "This year, I don't want to get rattled. Coach wants me to have a poker face. If I throw a bad pass, I'll just erase it, go back and get the next one right."

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