A dream becoming reality

By Maddie Binning

Maddie Binning is a senior at Minnehaha Academy and Editor in Chief of the Talon Newspaper. Maddie has worked on the Talon for four years and hopes to study journalism in university. When she isn't working on the paper, Maddie is both a freelance photographer and a photographer at Lifetouch Portrait Studios. She also has a passion for reading, music and traveling.

Posted: September 18, 2014

With hard work and passion, Shawn Zobel’s love for football became a lifestyle

“Harris shows the natural vision needed to dart in and out of traffic,” said Shawn Zobel (’08) of his 28th cornerback pick Cliff Harris in his 2007 draft preview. “However he also displays unique anticipation and awareness to hesitate and allow for his blocks to develop before following them down the field. He has enough speed to take the ball the distance if he finds an opening, however he does his most damage in short areas where he has quick-twitch fibers, agility, and burst needed to evade and player in the country.”

Zobel’s analysis of Harris makes up only a fraction of the book compiled by Zobel in his free time.

“He wrote these books over spring break.” said Kyle Johnson (’08), a friend and classmate of Zobel. “While we were all on baseball trips or hanging out with our families, he was writing scouting reports for 12 or 14 hours a day to get these things all together.”

Zobel’s extremely accurate draft predictions show just a portion of his involvement in football. Many positions from coaching to scouting fill Zobel’s resume. He even played MA football when they won the conference championship in 2007. From the field to the office, Zobel worked his way up the ladder from a self-proclaimed draft analyst to an National Football League (NFL) employee.

Zobel gets a picture with NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers in a New York City restaurant after attending the draft. Photo courtesy of Shawn Zobel.

“As long as I can remember I had a passion for the sport of football and for the NFL specifically,” said Zobel. “In addition, I loved watching the pageantry of college football. It was natural for me to fall in love with the NFL Draft, as every year you’d see the top collegiate players enter the NFL.”

As a junior in high school, Zobel created his own company by the name of Draft Headquarters, releasing his own draft predictions. Due to the accuracy of his predictions, Zobel caught the eyes of many, including assistant athletic director Josh Thurow.

“I liked what he was doing at Draft Headquarters,” said Thurow. “I looked forward to seeing his preview that he did every year. It was really outstanding work. He was getting known throughout the nation.”

Part of becoming known throughout the nation was being featured by the media, such as the Star Tribune.

“Up until that point I was searching for what I wanted to do with my life and when it happened in 2007 it felt like the light went on,” said Zobel about his Star Tribune coverage. “It opened me up to a lot of opportunities that I wouldn’t have otherwise had if I hadn’t gained that exposure. It was humbling and a great honor for them to write about me and it is one of the single biggest reasons why I’m at where I am today.”

And where he is today is the Player Personnel department at the NFL league office, facilitating transactions and contracts which allow players to be cut, traded and signed. After running Draft Headquarters, working for the NFL network, and working for Eden Prairie and University of Minnesota football teams, he now works for the NFL in New York City. Reaching his current position took him on a road that wasn’t always easy.

Zobel began his involvement with the NFL quite young, but his age and the criticism he received didn’t stop him from trying.

“Over time I learned to embrace the fact that I was younger and was going to have more of a challenge than others because of my lack of age,” said Zobel. “I had to learn how to ‘come out of my shell’ as well as develop thick skin. Overall, I wouldn’t have changed anything because I grew up quickly and learned a ton along the way.”

Thurow has kept in contact with Zobel and seen his effort along the way, noting his perseverance.

“He had an idea of what he wanted to be and he wouldn’t give up on it,” said Thurow. “There were a lot of setbacks, but he stayed with it and was mentally tough.”

With his strong mindedness also came a devotion to his work, as shown by the time he’s been putting in for years.

“The amount of work he put into it was staggering,” said Johnson. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone work that hard on anything. With how many times he got rejected and how qualified he is, it’s incredible for him to finally get a job that he is excited about and that is going to launch him some place he wants to be.”

Getting to his current position took a lot of work, which in turn gained him credibility.

“Every year since 2007 my goal has been to improve on the last year and do at least one or two new things to continue to add to my resume and develop my credibility,” he said.

The skills Zobel has developed through his work also serve as foundational elements to breaking into any business.

“It was difficult when I first started, but persistence and keeping your head down and letting your work speak for itself goes a long way,” said Zobel. “As I got older and developed more connections in the business, the credibility began to take care of itself.”

As these connections grow more and more, Thurow can see Zobel building his career in football.

“He can have his entire career as an adult with the NFL and that’s an exciting thing,” said Thurow. “I’m really impressed by how quickly he’s gotten to the point he’s gotten to.”

Johnson agrees, even offering a prediction for Zobel’s future.

“His dream is to be a [general manager],” explained Johnson, “and at the rate he’s going, I’d be shocked if he didn’t get there.”

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