Alumni Profile: John Sabo's Steel Valley roots drive passion to connect recent graduates with oil and gas careers

John Sabo stands in front of a Deep Well Services sign

The massive taxidermized elk is impossible to miss.

The patriotic décor and artistic photographs of oil and gas wells also stand out. Eventually, though, the eye drifts elsewhere in John Sabo’s office. In a corner behind his desk, a bookshelf holds more personal mementos. There are large, colorful family photos of his family, assorted sports plaques and trophies, the requisite Terrible Towel, and more.

One photo stands out. A portion of the frame rests on the Terrible Towel, so it’s only natural for a wandering eye to be drawn to the bright yellow cloth. The photo is of Sabo, in his Steel Valley football uniform, delivering a crushing tackle to a West Mifflin opponent.  

It’s a striking photo, and it serves as a callback to Sabo’s Steel Valley roots, where he fostered an appreciation for a strong work ethic, perseverance, leadership and the power of mentorships.

“I coach now and a lot of things that I picked up during those years, I still use to this day,” Sabo said. “I'd say football is a big part of who I am.”

A 1997 graduate of Steel Valley, Sabo is now the Vice President of Business Development at Deep Well Services, which prepares wells for oil or natural gas production.

“I didn't know what the oil field was growing up in Steel Valley,” Sabo said. “My family did not have money. We were poor. It was either I’m going to college on some type of football scholarship, or I’m going to the military.”

John Sabo stands in front of a bookshelf with memorabilia on it

Sabo took the test for the Marines, but ended up accepting a scholarship offer from Slippery Rock University. He graduated with a degree in safety and environmental management and began working at NIRA Engineers in Coraopolis. Sabo climbed the ladder from field technician to assistant project manager over seven and a half years before he pivoted to working in commercial insurance for Travelers Insurance.

“They saw an opportunity for me which was a more natural fit on the construction and oil and gas side,” Sabo said. “That's when the oil and gas was getting big with the Marcellus Shale. Right time, right place is how I got into the energy industry.”

In his five and a half years at Travelers, Sabo’s network covered Appalachia, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and into the west. It included Deep Well Services, which was so impressed with his work that it invited him to join the company.

“For me it was a pretty big risk at the time, because I was with a large public company where I could have just stayed and been comfortable and said, ‘Hey, I’m set here. I’m just going to ride this out,” Sabo said.

Instead, he took the leap and found a perfect fit. For a time, companies like Deep Well Services relied on Texans and Oklahomans and others to do the work. They were the experienced hands. But thanks to its training and development program throughout Appalachia, recent graduates from Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia are now the ones in demand.

“Now the experience has been built here in Appalachia, and we've done some special things here in this region to really innovate the industry,” Sabo said. “They’re actually taking learnings from what we've done up here with the three- and four-mile laterals that we've been able to complete up here and studying that and implementing that down south.”

Sabo and Deep Well Services work closely with the CNX Foundation’s Mentorship Academy to introduce high school students to careers in the oil and gas industry. The Mentorship Academy includes Steel Valley students, which only increased Sabo’s excitement for the program.

“If you're a hard worker and you're willing to put that time in and go after it, then you will be successful,” Sabo said. “You can change your life completely by being able to get an opportunity to come in and do this.”

His passion for mentorship has Sabo excited about further developing a different kind of pipeline, one where Steel Valley graduates routinely find fulfilling careers in oil and gas. It’s the kind of guidance and mentorship he experienced firsthand by being around coaches and leaders like Dale Chapman, Olando Dulin, Rusty Firestone, Jeff Hruska, Ed Wehrer, the late Bill Campbell, and others others. Now, Sabo is simply paying it forward.

“Being from Steel Valley, I'm super proud of that area. It's a tough place with a lot of tough people. Both sides of my family were mill workers for years. The work ethic, the expectations that are there for that area in that region, is top notch,” Sabo said. “For us, it's about family. It's about people, and it's about culture. You don't see that everywhere. People talk about it, but you don't really see it. But for us, it’s how we do business and how we live.”