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John Lamb, Published September 17 2013

NDSU punter turned publisher an 'advocate' for adopted home

FARGO - At a fit 6 feet 5 inches tall and with a face familiar to all who saw recent commercials for his magazines, Mike Dragosavich would surely stand out at North Dakota State University football games.

That is, if he goes.

The former all-star punter has tickets to see his Bison brethren, but instead of standing out in a Fargodome sea of yellow and green, or being the celebrity guest at a viewing party, he’s often alone at work.

Football has been good to Dragosavich, but now he’s got a new game plan to study.

“I like working Saturdays and Sundays because I don’t have distractions,” he says, sitting behind a computer screen and two iPads at Spotlight Media.

The company, based in downtown Fargo, produces Fargo Monthly, Fargo -Moorhead Stride, Bison Illustrated and Design & Living, all magazines that promote life in the FM area.

“I take so much pride in it. It’s like my child,” he says of his adopted community. “I hated people saying there’s nothing to do here. It’s amazing what this town has to offer.”

Amazing in that it offered him a fresh start.

“Everything I’ve done after 18 has been random,” he says, perched on the edge of his seat, leaning forward, elbows on his knees like he’s ready to get called into the game.

“If you would’ve told me that I was going to be a punter at NDSU and run a magazine,” he says wearing a Bison green Spotlight Media polo. “That was the furthest thing from my mind. I didn’t even know Fargo existed. I thought it was a fictional town in Universal Studios.”

Dragosavich, or Drago, as he’s known, grew up in the Chicago area, son of Serbian-Croatian blue-collar workers who split when he was 1.

He established himself on the football field as a wide receiver and was recruited by NDSU. It wasn’t until he was goofing around one day kicking the ball that assistant coach Gus Bradley switched him to back-up punter. He flourished in his new role, took over the starting job and became an All-American.

With his eyes on the NFL, he switched his degree from advertising and public relations to university studies to graduate sooner and go pro.

He went undrafted and later signed with the New England Patriots, but was cut before training camp in 2008. The Cleveland Browns picked him up as a back-up punter at the end of the season, but he never saw game time. He was picked up off waivers the following February by the Indianapolis Colts, but waived again in May.

Seeing his NFL dreams float away, he saw the potential in promoting entertainment and lifestyle discounts and moved back to Fargo where he’d already established a network.

Calling himself an “advocate” for Fargo, he designed and published the first FM Spotlight in March 2010, showcasing local bands, bars, personalities and scenes from the local nightlife, and offering a VIP card that would get members discounts at participating establishments.

The slim periodical was the size of a CD booklet because it was the most cost-effective. Labeled a “MagaScene,” the cover also proclaimed it was, “Helping Fargo-Moorhead Enoy, Save & Grow.”

“I was devastated” by the misspelling, Drago says, shaking his head as he pulls that first effort off his desk.

Devastated, but even more determined. While he eventually dropped the VIP card, Spotlight continued to grow professionally and just two months later, he added FM Stride to his publishing portfolio, appealing to those interested in healthy living, particularly mothers.

Last fall, FM Spotlight changed its name to Fargo Monthly and the company purchased Design & Living and Bison Illustrated magazines, the latter of which featured the punter on the September 2007 cover.

Over the years, the other major change for the magazines was developing a slick, stylish look, thanks to design and photography. Dragosavich credits his work partner and general manager, Brent Tehven, and Spotlight’s young staff of about 20 mostly 20-somethings, with shoring up the look and content of the magazines over the years. Fargo Monthly and FM Stride now print 30,000 copies a month.

He says the goal is for the magazines to look like a national product but with local content. He took offense to other publications like RX that rely heavily on national press and stock images while trying to pass for local.

“That’s just a slap in the face of Fargo,” he says. “Everything has to be local (in our magazines); otherwise, we’re hypocrites.”

In his first couple years of publishing, he also had to help with distribution and could be seen going table-to-table in bars handing out copies of FM Spotlight.

Being out and about may have led to some people questioning his work ethic.

“Just because you’re at a bar doesn’t mean you’re getting crazy,” he says. “Half of what I’ve built is being where people are.”

With so much going on in town and at work, the publisher has had to pick and choose where he goes and what he does.

“That’s the hardest part – saying, ‘No, I can’t go,’ ” he says. “There’s too much going on. Every night of the week there’s so much going on.”

Sometimes Dragosavich sacrifices his social life for all those other events.

“I have 12 to-do lists and my 13th is my personal life. It’s challenging on the personal side. It’s been hard to make long-term commitments to anything,” says the bachelor, adding that he now has a supportive girlfriend.

Lately, he’s been most drawn to benefit events. Dragosavich donated a print of Bison helmets through the years, signed by the current team, to a fundraiser last week for Ethan Parmer, who broke his neck diving into a lake this summer. Dragosavich says the piece was one of the top money-makers at the auction, bringing in $1,350.

Dragosavich is also using his new line of Bison clothing, One Herd, as a fundraising tool. One dollar from each item purchased goes to a charity, the current beneficiary being Parmer.

“That’s the goal. Make an impact in the community and show the positive things happening,” Dragosavich says.

Dragosavich credits NDSU with not only bringing him to his new home, but helping set him on his way.

“I owe everything to it. I couldn’t be more proud of that university and this community,” he says, adding that he came from, “a conniving place. You couldn’t trust anyone.”

He’s trying to get copies of Bison Illustrated into the hands of ESPN College GameDay’s talking heads before Saturday’s game, but says he’s more concerned about getting the newest issues of the magazines ready for the press.

Asked what he thought of the Bison’s chances to three-peat, Dragosavich says this will be a hard season for the team and it may take some of the pressure off if they lose a game earlier in the year.

“It’s going to be a tough road,” he says. “It’s harder to stay on top than to get on top.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

John Lamb at (701) 241-5533