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Mark Schlabach’s first newspaper job came when he was just nine years old, in the small town of Culver, Ind., where he grew up. Schlabach worked as a delivery boy for the South Bend Tribune for about three years.

On Sunday’s, this proved to be a bit of a problem for subscribers who wanted their papers. As a sports and Notre Dame football fan – Culver sits about an hour south of campus – Schlabach would get the Sunday papers he was supposed to deliver and read the sports section himself first.

“The subscribers would call every Sunday asking where their newspaper was, and my dad would go outside and I’d be sitting on the front porch reading the sports section,” Schlabach said.

Schlabach’s youthful passion for sports and sports journalism has blossomed into that of a sportswriter, and a highly talented one at that. Since his time at the University of Georgia, Schlabach has worked for respected media outlets such as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Washington Post, and he currently covers college football and college athletics for ESPN, including a featured column for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. He has also authored nearly a dozen books, with subjects covering the Heisman Trophy’s namesake to the wildly popular books he has co-authored with the Duck Dynasty family.

Though he graduated from University of Georgia, Schlabach was convinced he would to transfer schools after his freshman year in Athens.

“After about two quarters, I was convinced I was going to transfer to Indiana,” Schlabach said. “I knew they had a good journalism department, and I didn’t know much about Georgia’s journalism department at the time. So I was convinced I was going to transfer to Indiana.”

Because he thought he was going to switch colleges, Schlabach did not seek out Georgia’s Greek life. He did, however, spend his freshman year living with two Sigma Nus, and through his roommates he got to meet a lot of the brothers, going to the chapter house on Saturdays to watch Georgia football and attending a few recruitment events. Schlabach wound up staying at Georgia and pledged the Mu Chapter his sophomore year.

Schlabach quickly began working his way up in the local sports scene starting as a part-time high school sports reporter with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC). Before long, the AJC had Schlabach writing sidebars and practice coverage on the University of Georgia football team.

“I was a 22-year-old covering a major college football team for one of the best sports sections in the country while living in the Sigma Nu house. It was an unbelievable break for me.”

The following year – Schlabach’s senior year – the AJC reporter covering the Georgia football team left the paper in the middle of college football season. As this happened, Schlabach got a call saying he had been promoted to lead beat writer of one of the most popular teams in the state. Schlabach was also serving as acting Commander of Mu chapter at the time. All this, in just his senior year of college.

“I was living in the Sigma Nu house, covering the University of Georgia football team full time while taking classes, finishing up my degree. And then Ray Goff was fired,” Schlabach recalls. “I was a 22-year-old covering a major college football team for one of the best sports sections in the country while living in the Sigma Nu house. It was an unbelievable break for me.”

Schlabach continued to work at the AJC for eight more years, covering Georgia and SEC football, NASCAR, NFL, and the Olympics. College football was, and still is, his passion.

Through the years Schlabach has witnessed some of college football’s most defining moments, from myriad BCS championship games and other bowl games to a plethora of high-profile upsets. But none stick out in his mind more than the 1997 Kentucky vs. Georgia game.

It was early October in Athens and Schlabach was in his usual perch from the Sanford Stadium pressbox. The game was much hyped with both teams getting into conference play and future NFL No. 1 overall pick Tim Couch under center as UK’s quarterback. But the play proved dull on this particular day, and rainy weather only added to a relatively boring game.

As the game clock ticked down in the second quarter, stadium officials let in the UGA marching band for its halftime performance. That was when Schlabach witnessed something he’ll never forget. “I was sitting there, writing something and my eyes dropped,” Schlabach said, “and all of a sudden the crowd starts going nuts.”

A chocolate Labrador had found its way inside the stadium and onto the field. Schlabach peered down from his view on press row, trying to get a make on the animal. That’s when he realized – it was his dog.

“I was white as a ghost,” he recalls.

His dog had escaped from his house, which sat about six blocks from Sanford Stadium. His dog discovered a hole in a chain link fence and walked right onto the field on national television. Schlabach said they had to stop the game for around ten minutes because they couldn’t catch his dog. He remembers Georgia’s iconic radio announcer Larry Munson calling the chase on air.

“He took off running down the sidelines, and the crowd was cheering,” he said. “They thought he was going to score a touchdown.”

Schlabach’s brown lab ended up getting detained by local police, and a few weeks later Schlabach had to appear in court. The presiding judge dropped the charges.

“It was a SportsCenter play of the day,” Schlabach said. “My dog made the Washington Post before I did.

Since his time at the University of Georgia, Schlabach has worked for respected media outlets such as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Washington Post. He currently covers college football and college athletics for ESPN, including a featured column for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. Photo by Bryan Harris/Jackson Spalding.

After nearly a decade at the AJC, Schlabach, encouraged by some of his coworkers, sought out a bigger market to cover sports outside the Atlanta area.

Schlabach sent his resume to some contacts at The Washington Post, where the sports editor said that he had been on their radar. Schlabach was soon hired to cover local colleges, including Howard and Georgetown football along with George Mason and George Washington basketball. He would go on to cover the Virginia and Virginia Tech football teams and the NFL, doing so while he and his wife and three children resided in Madison, Ga. Schlabach put over 27,000 miles on a rental car he used during the season, making the trip from Atlanta to Blacksburg, Va., twice a week.

Schlabach continued to work at the Post for about two years. “It was one of the best jobs you could ever want. It was a place that really cared about good journalism and they would give you the time and resources to cover important stories.”

On the sports desk at the Post, Schlabach worked alongside Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, the hosts of the ESPN show ‘Pardon The Interruption,’ and John Feinstein, author of “Season on the Brink,” the bestselling sports book of all time, to just name a few.

Schlabach also got to experience one of journalism’s most exciting days firsthand: he was in the Post’s newsroom when Deep Throat – the inside source that helped Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein break the Watergate story – was revealed.

“If you’re in the newsroom when history was being made, that’s an experience you’ll never forget,” he recalls.

In 2005, ESPN caught word that CBS was courting Schlabach, and the ‘Worldwide leader in sports’ made the smart move to pick up the talented writer who would become one of the network’s signature columnists.

Schlabach has been with ESPN and its website since then. When The Delta spoke with Schlabach, in the fall of 2013, he was busy working on a series of articles on Baylor University’s head football coach, Art Briles.

Schlabach began with ESPN.com as someone who broke news; it was what he had done at the AJC and Post, and what he continued to do for his first years at ESPN. Now, Schlabach works mostly on profiles, trend pieces, and columns, and he still gets to as many college football games and venues as he can. Schlabach said he’s out on the road at a game four out of every five weekends, leaving on a Friday and returning home on Sunday.

But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t break news anymore. Early in his career, when he was with the AJC, Schlabach was the first to report the hirings and firings of Georgia football coaches. At the Post, he did an investigative look at the legitimacy of some of the nation’s preparatory schools. Schlabach spent a month in Philadelphia, knocking on doors in rough neighborhoods and flying to AAU Tournaments around the country. The findings of his investigative reporting included a school in Philadelphia with no books or classrooms yet with credentials still recognized by the NCAA. Schlabach’s story published before the New York Times ran its similar story, and his article moved the NCAA to change and implement new rules regarding prep schools and their accreditation standards.

“They (Auburn fans) were booing me and heckling me. Security ended up pulling me out of Auburn and escorting me back to my car and then to the interstate to get out of Auburn.”

Other big stories included the hiring of Charlie Weiss at Notre Dame and Bobby Bowden’s departure from Florida State.

During the 2010 college football season, Schlabach – along with colleague Pat Forde – broke arguably the biggest story of the year in college football.

Schlabach got a tip that the father of college football’s best player that year – QB Cam Newton of the Auburn Tigers – had solicited money from other colleges for the opportunity to have his son play for them.

Schlabach drove to the Newton’s Atlanta house unannounced and spoke with them for half an hour. Two hours later the story was up on ESPN.com.

Though the majority of his work is seen online, in the past Schlabach has done TV spots for ESPN. He said he “was a deer in headlights” when he first started, but after two years of TV appearances he finally became comfortable in front of a camera. So, in the wake of the Newton story, ESPN asked Schlabach to go to Auburn, Ala., to do a live report during its Saturday college football pregame show, College Gameday.

As Schlabach remembers, someone in the crowd of fans recognized him, and then “it turned nasty fast.”

“They (Auburn fans) were booing me and heckling me. Security ended up pulling me out of Auburn and escorting me back to my car and then to the interstate to get out of Auburn.”

“It’s died down,” Schlabach said of the initial vitriol. “The hard part was we never reported that Cam Newton took money. We only reported that his father was out soliciting money from schools, which the NCAA ruled to be true and his dad was disassociated from the program.”

Besides his busy schedule covering college football on a national scale, he has also delved into book writing, penning and co-penning 12 books in all. His first book, “Destiny’s Dogs: Georgia’s Championship Season,” published in 2003 after Georgia won the Sugar Bowl.

Since then, Schlabach has gone on to co-author books about some of college football’s finest programs: Florida, Florida State, Georgia and Virginia Tech. He also co-authored legendary FSU football coach Bobby Bowden’s memoir, “Called to Coach: Reflections on Faith, Family and Football.”

A day after “Heisman: The Man Behind the Trophy,” published, on Oct. 2, 2012, Schlabach got a call from his editor. She asked him if he had ever been duck hunting before. He had, he told her, but duck hunting season always corresponded with college football, so he never got to go much.

That night, Schlabach happened to be watching TV when the Robertson family appeared on screen. The show “Duck Dynasty” was making its debut the next night. The following day, Schlabach called his editor back. “I don’t care if I don’t duck hunt or not,” he said to her. “I want that book.”

A month later, Schlabach was in West Monroe, La., meeting with Willie and Korie Robertson. That meeting resulted in the first of five collaborations with the Robertson family, titled “The Duck Commander Family: How Faith, Family, and Ducks Built a Dynasty.”

During his time with Willie and Korie, Schlabach got to meet the patriarch of the Robertson family, Phil, who told him, “Well, if Willie trusts ya, I trust ya. You can do my book.”

After co-authoring Phil’s first book, which released on May 7, 2013, Schlabach co-wrote Uncle Si’s (Si-cology 1: Tales and Wisdom from Duck Dynasty’s Favorite Uncle; Sep. 3, 2013) and Jase’s (Good Call: Reflections on Faith, Family, and Fowl; May 6, 2014) books. On Sep. 2, 2014, a second book with Phil will come out, titled “unPHILtered: The Way I See It.”

“I thought it would be a one-book deal,” Schlabach said. “It’s been absolutely incredible to watch the phenomenon. I’ll be forever grateful to the Robertson family for giving me the opportunity to help share their story.”

Over a million copies have been sold of each book (spare the yet to be released second Phil book), and at one point in time, three of the books were in the top ten New York Times Bestsellers list.

In preparation for each of the Duck Dynasty books, Schlabach would visit their Louisiana home and spend two or three days there, talking with the subject of the book for eight to ten hours in a single day. After that, he would take four to five weeks to write the book, working from 10 p.m. until 3 a.m., after he put his children to bed.

Schlabach’s chance encounter with Tom Johnson is like something out of a movie – the young student journalist meets the industry titan.

The Robertson family, despite the success and ensuing fame from their television show, has not changed them at all, Schlabach observes. “What you see on television is what you get,” he said. “The fame, the fortune, the celebrity, has not affected them one bit.”

In his career as a sportswriter, Schlabach has embraced the ebbs and flows of the profession. He has a big following on Twitter, and he continues to do television work for ESPN. Schlabach, as with other sportswriters, has also had to take on some of the current challenges, such as sorting through Twitter and other social media “tips.” He said trying to get information on these tips, which 90% of the time aren’t factual, takes up a lot of his time that could be spent working on other things. “That, and the death of newspapers,” Schlabach adds.

Despite this, Schlabach loves his job, and says, “Basically, if you put me in any college town for the weekend, I’m in heaven.” Some of his favorite places to visit are Athens, Ga., Oxford, Miss., Baton Rouge, La., and Eugene, Ore., whose Autzen Stadium, where the University of Oregon plays, is “probably one of the loudest in the country.”

He still lives in Madison, Ga., with his family – his wife Heather (an AOII from University of Georgia), and their three children, Caroline, Jane, and Jack. Schlabach also keeps in touch with his Mu Chapter brothers: “They’re still my best friends,” he says.

As a former Commander, Schlabach likes to stay connected with Sigma Nu, attending the annual Mu Chapter Commanders Dinner held in Atlanta each year and dropping by the new fraternity house on River Road when he’s covering UGA football games.

Schlabach’s favorite memory from his time as a collegiate brother involved holding a piece of history in his hands.

“This guy shows up on a Friday afternoon – older guy – and he asks if the Commander is there,” Schlabach recalls. The Commander wasn’t home at the time and Schlabach offered to relay the man’s message.

“So I went and got him a piece of paper. He hands me a pen and I start writing down his name and his number. I put the pen in my pocket by mistake and he said, ‘I’ll need that pen back. That’s the pen Mikhail Gorbachev used to tear down the Berlin Wall.’”

The visitor turned out to be Tom Johnson, the president of CNN and fellow Mu Chapter brother. Johnson and Schlabach talked for a half hour on the back porch of the Sigma Nu house that day, an experience Schlabach says he’ll never forget.

Schlabach’s chance encounter with Tom Johnson is like something out of a movie – the young student journalist meets the industry titan. For Schlabach this foreshadowing was another formidable experience that solidified his decision to pursue the journalism bug he caught as a kid reading the South Bend Tribune.

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