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Thursday, August 29
Updated: September 24, 11:20 AM ET
 
Diary: Greetings from South Bend

By Tom Zbikowski with Wayne Drehs
Special to ESPN.com

Throughout this recruiting process, I've been warned: If something smells fishy, it probably is.

So this past Saturday, when I was sitting at Notre Dame Stadium on an unofficial visit and two random strangers approached me just to say hello, I was skeptical.

Tale of the tape
Tom Zbikowski
  • 6-foot-1, 190 lbs
  • 4.35 40-yard dash
  • 305 lb. Bench press
  • 27 inch vertical leap
    Week 4
  • 37-0 win vs. Schaumburg
  • 12 carries for 102 yards
  • 4 TD runs (9, 18, 61, 14)
  • A couple weeks ago, I heard a tale that when Tennessee recruited running back Onterrio Smith, its coaches put people on campus to spot Smith, shake his hand, worship him and beg him to become a Vol.

    Now it was happening to me. I had never seen these guys before in my life. Had no idea who they were. And here, some 200 miles from my suburban Chicago home, these strangers come up to me, said hello and insisted that I wear the blue and gold in 2003.

    Maybe I was wrong. Maybe these guys saw an article on me in one of the Chicago papers and genuinely wanted to say hello. But it just seemed weird. I mean, it wasn't like they had a story. It wasn't like, "Hey, we're big boxing fans and have seen you box" or "We live in the western suburbs and have seen you in the paper or on cable TV." They just came up, said hello and told me how great it would be if I chose Notre Dame.

    I wanted to be a smartass and ask who sent them, but I figured that would be rude. And it wasn't like this was a bad thing -- honestly it was pretty flattering -- I just got the feeling it wasn't as innocent and random as they led on.

    Zbikowski's Recruiting trail
    The current Top 5
    (alphabetical order)
    Arizona State
    Boston College
    Iowa
    Nebraska
    Notre Dame

    Scheduled visits
    Dec. 6 - Notre Dame

    Overall, the visit to South Bend was a blast. Me and the other recruits, including Richards (Ill.) lineman Mike Jones, who I really like, went with the team to mass in the Basilica. Growing up a devout Catholic and a die-hard Notre Dame fan, I was in awe. After mass, we were given the St. Stephen medal, which was truly a special moment. Then we did the walk to the stadium, listened to a presentation about the school and met a few coaches. The band, too, was the best.

    After the game, we were in the locker room for Coach Tyrone Willingham's speech. I gotta tell you, standing in that room for that speech had me fired up to put on the blue and gold right then and there. He is a special, special motivator. I wish I could just bottle his speeches up and unload them on my high school team before a big game. We'd maul the competition.

    Overall, Notre Dame really impressed me. And considering everything that football team has gone through over the past year -- from George O'Leary to the rape accusations to Julius Jones being declared academically ineligible and Matt LoVecchio leaving the team, the fact that they are 2-0 is a testament to both Willingham and the team's work ethic. There's no doubt that raises Notre Dame in my eyes.

    In other recruiting news, the phone has been ringing off the hook these past few days. Last Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, I took 16 calls from different schools. I really enjoyed the conversation I had with Boston College defensive backs coach Bob Shoop. While most coaches wanted to talk about football or the recruiting process, Shoop just wanted to talk boxing. He told me that he's been paying more and more attention to the sport lately because of me. So that was cool. Arizona State head coach Dirk Koetter also called and told me if I become a Sun Devil, he'll definitely let me box. He also mentioned that if I have a girlfriend, the relationship might not last if I head west.

    From the mailbag
    Aug. 29 - Sep. 4
    Total letters: 79

    Most sent:
    Iowa - 8
    Indiana - 7
    Missouri - 5
    Boston College - 5
    Penn - 5
    Northwestern - 5

    I can tell you one thing -- it's not going to be easy saying no to anybody.

    In Thursday's game, we beat Conant 14-7. Our offense struggled to move the ball a little bit, but defensively we were solid. I rushed for 103 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, but was just 4-of-18 in the air.

    I played defense for the entire game, which was a blast. Hit, hit and hit again. I had an interception and a sack on a 4th and goal from the one. The only time I came out of the game was on kickoffs. And believe it or not, I didn't get winded. My legs got tired, mostly because it was early in the season and it was the first game I had played that much, but my wind was great.

    This week, we have a challenging game against Fremd. They dominated a strong Elk Grove team 38-7 last week, so we'll definitely need to be ready.

    Hello, is Tommy there?
    Teams that called Zbikowski this past week
    Arizona State, Air Force, Army, Navy, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Bowling Green, Wisconsin, Virginia, Purdue, Indiana, Northwestern, Northern Illinois and Boston College.

    A formal nomination
    On Tuesday, Sept. 3, two army officers visited Buffalo Grove high school and formally invited Zbikowski to play in the U.S. Army All-American game at the Alamo Dome in January.

    Ask Zbikowski
    You sound like an outstanding option quarterback who would fit well with the Nebraska offensive scheme. My question concerns your long-term goals. Quarterbacks at schools like Nebraska don't often get drafted as quarterbacks. How much will this -- looking ahead to what position you might play in a possible pro career -- effect your college decision?
    Matt Smeds
    Rochester, N.Y.

    Tom Zbikowski: Well, Matt, that's a popular question right now. I'd say it will effect my decision, but I'm not sure how much. You have to remember, guys like Scott Frost and Eric Crouch are still in the pros, just not as a quarterback. NFL coaches realize that they have an all-around supreme athlete with guys like that, not just a quarterback.

    So, if I were to go to a school like Nebraska and play quarterback real well and win a national championship, I still think the NFL will be there as a defensive back or receiver or whatever. Having said that, as soon as I find out what position I think I want to play in college, it will certainly make my decision a lot easier.


    Tom, best of luck this season. I'm curious if you had to decide right now, what position you think you'd want to play in college?
    Anthony Ogden
    Papillion, Neb.

    Tom Zbikowski: I'm still not sure. Right now, it looks like I'm a better defensive player than a quarterback. I played just about the entire game at safety last week against Conant and had a blast. My defense is real strong this year, but I think part of that is because the overall unit is so talented.

    I mean, when it's a running play, I almost can sit back as a safety valve of sorts because I know we've got a ton of guys who are going to make the play. I'm not saying I'm Randy Moss and I take plays off, but I have the utmost confidence in the overall strength of our defense. I mean, everyone is an impact player in that group. And I think that lets me take more chances and use some of my abilities to compliment that group.


    A lot that has been written about you is related to sports. But what about you personally? How do you balance girls, school, sports, recruiting and all the attention you are receiving?
    Bill Jacks
    Arlington, Texas

    Tom Zbikowski: Honestly, it really isn't all that difficult. I have a study hall in school, so I try to get most of my homework and studying down in there. That way, when I get home at night, I have time to go through all the mail, take phone calls from coaches and spend a little time with my girlfriend.

    And she has just been tremendous through all of us. She's understands everything that I'm going through -- so that's what I like about her. She's not one of those girls that will make you talk on the phone for hours every night. And having somebody who is that understanding and that accommodating really helps.

    Send in your questions and Tom will answer a few in his next diary update.

    ESPN.com is following quarterback/defensive back Tom Zbikowski on his journey from high school to the college ranks. Zbikowski will be writing a diary about his recruitment, and we will file regular reports on the recruiting process through Signing Day on Feb. 5, 2003.






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