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Steve Sabo Director of College Scouting

By Matthew Tabeek

"To have the collaboration that we have, the bond that we have that Thomas and Dan have set up – it’s so genuine and special. It’s so enlightening to be in this system right now, to be a Falcon right now."

There are different paths to the National Football League, and then there is the one Steve Sabo has taken. And for Sabo, the Atlanta Falcons director of college scouting, the road began at an early age while growing up in Willingboro, New Jersey.

There just happened to be an independent scouting service located nearby and Sabo’s father, who played college football at Tennessee Tech and spent his entire career working for a publishing company, ended up doing some side work for them.

“My father always had a love and passion for team building, draft, evaluating players and so when he found out about the scouting service, he volunteered,” Sabo said.

And Sabo went right along with his father, even though he was only in fourth grade at the time. From his elementary school days on, Sabo learned the nuances of the game from his father and other scouts.

“Each year, I did more – through the rest of grade school, high school and college,” Sabo said. “It gave me a foundation of how to evaluate players, how to track players, reading information, simple database work. You have a blank piece of paper and you have 11 guys you’re trying to figure out and, for me, it was a challenge.

“You’re just starting from scratch, you’re trying to listen to everybody you can and reading everything you can to try and get a foundation to evaluate players.”

Sabo started going on the road with his father when he was a junior in high school and stayed with it through his college days at Kutztown University. He also made trips with his father to games like the Senior Bowl and the now-discontinued Blue-Gray Football Classic, where he “listened, watched and tried to soak everything in.”

Sabo’s road to the NFL passes through NFL Films

Sabo used his early scouting experiences and connections through Kutztown to land an internship at NFL Films, located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, which eventually led to a full-time position there after graduation in 1993.

The job also proved advantageous for Sabo because NFL Films was the home of what is known as the “dub center.” To avoid sending tapes to every NFL team, colleges would send their tapes to NFL Films and the center would make copies of each tape and distribute them to each team. It made things much easier for scouts at the time – and Sabo had access to all of it.

“I’d do my job and then I’d break off and had a chance to watch real coaching style college video,” said Sabo, who knew then that he wanted to work in the NFL. “So, I had a chance to keep my foot on the pedal. I also had access to all the pro video, too.”

Sabo then put together a resume book of his evaluations, database work, an NFL roster program and sent it out to NFL teams in 1994. The New Orleans Saints called him for an interview and he landed a job as a personnel assistant that same year.

His foot was finally in the door of an NFL team.

Two years later, Sabo was a pro scout with the Saints – a job he held from 1996-98. From there he would go on to work for the Cleveland Browns – then an expansion team – for 12 seasons and held a number of different roles, including the team’s pro scout (1998-2006), director of pro personnel (2007-08) and senior director of pro personnel (2009). Sabo was responsible for scouting NFL teams while assisting with advance scouting of the Browns’ upcoming opponents.

It was also in Cleveland where Sabo formed a relationship with Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, who had come over from the Detroit Lions as a scout.

After his run with the Browns, Sabo was presented with a new challenge, this time in Atlanta and back with Dimitroff. While all of Sabo’s experience to that point in his career had been on the pro side of personnel, Dimitroff offered him an opportunity in college scouting.

“I thought it would be exciting to combine both sides of scouting – pro and now college – and so I took on the challenge here in Atlanta,” Sabo said. “It’s not often you get to do that.”

Sabo spent his first two seasons with the Falcons scouting prospects the Midwest area for the team, while scouting the Southeast in 2012. Then he was promoted to the director of college scouting, where he has spent the last five seasons.

‘So enlightening to be in this system, to be a Falcon’

Atlanta is unlike any other place, Sabo says, largely because of the relationship between Dimitroff and Falcons coach Dan Quinn.

“For me, it’s been so beneficial to see how the relationship between Thomas, the general manager, and Dan, the head coach, function and work so well together,” Sabo said. “I’ve been in places where there’s no communication between personnel and coaching. To have the collaboration that we have, the bond that we have that Thomas and Dan have set up – it’s so genuine and special. It’s so enlightening to be in this system right now, to be a Falcon right now.”

As the director of college scouting, Sabo works and constantly communicates with 11 different people – six area scouts, three regional scouts, and two national scouts – on a weekly basis. He says the Falcons coaching staff has given the scouts a blueprint at every position so that they know exactly what they’re looking for and, Sabo adds, “there is no gray area.”

“I think the chance that we have to have productive player acquisition through pro and college is the fact that Dan and Thomas collaborate really, really well,” Sabo said. “And I think that’s what our recent drafts have shown – that we can get guys on the field quicker because they fit what we’re looking for and I’m not trying to push a player on to the coaches that they don’t have any interest in, or vice versa. We are on the same page.”

And after working 16 years in the NFL, that was the first time Sabo had ever experienced something like that. And that, he says, is what sets the Falcons apart from any other organization.

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