Offensive Line, 1997-2002
Ben Sobieski knows the value of hard work.
The Iowa offensive lineman from 1997-2002 saw significant game action as a freshman and sophomore, then injuries sidelined him for the 1999, 2000, and 2001 campaigns.
Walking away from the sport would have been easy and totally understandable, but he kept fighting to get back on the field. He played in all 13 games in the 2002 season, earning team Co-MVP honors and helping Iowa reach the Orange Bowl.
That hard-working attitude eventually propelled him to the NFL, and that same mentality has continued to help him run a successful business in his home state of Minnesota.
Sobieski, 37, is co-owner of Heritage Embroidery and Design — an embroidery and screen-printing business in Stillwater, Minnesota. The business was started by Sobieski’s in-laws, and is now operated by the former Hawkeye and his wife Richelle.
He joined the business six years ago to help boost sales at a time when the custom apparel industry was struggling. Since then, profits and revenue have grown each year, and the business now employs around 30 people.
“Every year has gotten better financially and it’s become more of a fun place every year,” Sobieski said. “We have some really big goals for the future. We were scraping by for a while and it’s all been worth it.”
Heritage Embroidery has a retail space with high school apparel, University of Minnesota gear, and a “tiny Iowa section” Sobieski has made the company keep around. But the bulk of sales come from team sports and corporate apparel.
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The company embroiders the names and numbers on the back of the Minnesota Wild’s jerseys, and they also provide apparel for some Fortune 500 companies.
Despite the success, Sobieski isn’t getting complacent. He and his wife wear a lot of hats for the company, which keeps their family pretty busy. Their two young daughters even have their own cubicles at the office filled with toys and books.
“Every day is a challenge,” he said. “We’re not working 9 to 5 jobs. We don’t have benefits of a corporate structure where we are guaranteed a nice salary. We have to go out and earn it every day. My wife is the most competitive, hardest worker I’ve been around. She’s been damn good at pushing me. It’s a challenge, and even though it has been 10 years since I put on a pair of cleats I’m still fighting and scratching for success every day. We need to do a heck of a job running this business because a lot of people depend on it.
The Parade high school All-American was courted by a handful of top college programs, and eventually chose Iowa because it was where he felt most comfortable. He formed a strong relationship with then Hawkeye-assistant coach Bret Bielema, and they still remain friends to this day.
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After starting every game as a sophomore, Sobieski went on to miss the next three seasons because of reconstructive shoulder surgeries. The encouragement from teammates and coaches kept him motivated to return to the field.
He stayed healthy for his senior season, seeing action in 13 games on the 2002 Hawkeye squad that earned a share of the Big Ten title and an invite to the Orange Bowl.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better senior year,” he said. “It validated the work I put in. For a couple years I probably wasn’t sure if I was ever going to be able to come back. To be on the field, play well, and know I belonged was very fulfilling.”
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The Buffalo Bills took Sobieski in the fifth round of the 2003 NFL Draft. He hung around the league for four seasons, but the injury bug followed him into the pros. He had four surgeries during his NFL career and opted to retire in 2006.
But the former Hawkeye hasn’t forgotten the hard work it took to reach football’s highest level. He’s continuing to apply the lessons he learned on the gridiron in Iowa City to his workplace.
“You need to hit those valleys to remind you what it takes to get back up to the peak,” he said. “Life has its challenges and you have to take them as they come and not allow those challenges to disrupt your mindset and keep you away from achieving your goals. It has taught me to keep a positive outlook and attitude and look toward the future. Grind every day to achieve my goals, my family’s goals and my business’ goals.”
And the former Hawkeye’s goals are pretty simple — continue to grow the business and one day, hopefully be in a position to pass it down to his children.
“We have so many great employees and we want to give them more — everything we can,” he said. “I want to get this thing bigger and more profitable every year so we all continue to be one big happy family.”