|Thursday, November 7
Wanted: Buffalo Grove's Tom Zbikowski
By Tom Zbikowski with Wayne Drehs
Special to ESPN.com
But perhaps nothing was more surprising than the phone call I got last Saturday afternoon. My family and I had just gotten back from our first-round playoff game, a 35-12 victory over Maine West, when we plopped ourselves on the couch to watch the end of the Notre Dame game.
Now remember, we love Notre Dame in our house. "Rudy" is my all-time favorite movie. So after the game, we were disappointed that the Irish lost and might not get a shot at the national championship. We were all sitting there watching the postgame when, all of the sudden, the phone rings.
It's Boston College defensive backs coach Bob Shoop calling me from South Bend to sort of see how I was doing. There was all this yelling and celebrating in the background and Coach Shoop said, "Hey Tommy, this could be you."
It was pretty impressive. To have any coach take a second out his postgame celebration, take a second after a win of that magnitude to call me, really means I must be pretty high on Boston College's list. Every school is allowed to call me only one time a week and Shoop decided right then and there he would dial me up. To know that you're wanted by somebody that much really means something.
And as if that didn't spell it out enough, the Boston College coaching staff was pretty straightforward when they sent me a "WANTED" poster last week. It was like something straight out of an old Western movie, burned on the edges and everything. On the top it said: "WANTED by Tom O'Brien and the Boston College football staff."
Then there was this picture of me and it said:
Tommy Zbikowski No. 1, aka "Too Smooth"
It was pretty sweet. I put it up in my bedroom, next to the pictures I got from Tennessee and Virginia a couple weeks ago. And needless to say, Boston College has crept its way back into my Top 5. I've scheduled an official visit there for Jan. 25. But I have to explain how tight the list is. If I had my way, it would be a Top 10 because I really don't know what I want to do. Take this week for example -- even though Virginia and Tennessee aren't in the Top 5, they are right there. They are two schools I'm still very seriously considering. And the margin between No. 1 and No. 10 is narrow.
I doubt anything will change anytime soon because it's so difficult to focus on recruiting during the playoffs. Thankfully, my Mom and Dad and sister help me out. For the last couple weeks, they've really been driving the recruiting bus; I just hop on and off when a coach calls or when I get a cool piece of mail. Other than that, I don't even think about it. At least not yet.
It's a very dangerous game. They have the same quarterback and the same running back as last year and those guys are studs. And you know the way we ended their season last year, they're going to have payback on their minds. I'm sure they've had to watch that two-point conversion a thousand times. We know how we felt about Prospect earlier this season and I'm sure that's how Glenbrook North feels about us. So it will be critical to match their emotional intensity early on.
A couple other cool tidbits from the past two weeks -- I was on a Nebraska television show Tuesday night, right after Eric Crouch. I was hoping they would put me on with him, so I could start chanting, "I'm not worthy, I'm not worthy," in a "Wayne's World" sort of fashion, but it didn't happen. But I had a good time. They asked me about recruiting, about becoming a Husker and then I was on my way.
I noticed a lot of people were critical of Coach Solich throwing the ball late in the Huskers loss to Texas, rather than kicking a game-tying field goal to force overtime. But I thought it was awesome. It speaks volumes when a coach goes for the win and not the tie.
I also got my letter for my official visit to Notre Dame and I'm pretty excited about that. They've had an incredible season and I can't wait to go to South Bend and feel all that excitement around the program. It's something I want to soak in. I also have some interviews this weekend with a local Congressman in hopes of being appointed to the Naval Academy.
At this point, the options seem endless.
Tom Zbikowski: As I've said before, I'm weighing out all my options. It's got nothing to do with Notre Dame or any other school. I talked with my parents about this when the whole recruiting process started a year ago and we decided that we were going to explore every possible option before making a final decision. I mean, you never know if Coach Willingham or Coach Ferentz or somebody else might leave for the NFL. You have no idea what other changes there might be with assistant coaches moving up or switching schools or anything like that. And in our family, once you give your word, you give your word. So rather than verbally commit somewhere and then de-commit like so many others do, I'm going to wait until I'm 100-percent confident with my decision and all the postseason dominoes have fallen before finalizing anything.
I want to commend you for agreeing to participate in this diary format. It gives those of us with no athletic talent a view into the life of a big time recruit. My question is this: Have you given much thought to how hard it will be to call all these coaches you've developed relationships with and tell them you've chosen another school? In my mind, that has got to be the hardest part of the process. I'll be interested to read your experiences as you make your decision in February and how each coach takes the news. Hopefully you'll choose the Hawkeyes! Good luck throughout the process.
Tom Zbikowski: You know, it definitely is going to be the hardest thing to do. I know that for a fact. I've never been good at saying no. But I think the coaches understand. They've heard no before. The way I see it, as long as you do it with respect and class and you don't disrespect their program, you'll be OK. One thing you have to keep in mind is that this is a small fraternity and you never know when your paths might cross with a particular coach again. You want to be respectful regardless, because it's the right thing to do, but you don't want to jeopardize any opportunities down the road either.
I noticed that Arizona State is on your list of official visits. The Sun Devils are a young team that will be nationally ranked for the next few years. I feel a Rose Bowl berth is on the horizon. My question, why is Arizona State high on your list? Why is ASU the only Western U.S. university on your list?
Tom Zbikowski: That was really the only Western school that has contacted me. And the Pac-10 is a conference that sends a lot of defensive backs to the NFL. I talk to their coaches almost every week and it's a place where I think I would feel comfortable. They play a three safety defense, which gives me even more of an opportunity to play. And early in the recruiting process, they really got my attention when they sent me a map with a list of local boxing gyms in the area. On top of all that, one of my high school coaches is real familiar with the Sun Devil program and has really encouraged me to give it a good look.
I coach youth football in a Northwest Chicago suburb and one thing you can't coach is speed. Can you advise any drills you used as a youth or speed camps you attended that helped make you faster. Thanks.
Tom Zbikowski: I really didn't start doing anything until I was about 12. Before that, when I was younger, I raced anybody and everybody that was faster than me. And I would keep racing them -- as often as it took -- until I won. It made speed almost a self-taught thing. Once I got older, around 8th grade and freshman year, I realized the importance of speed. There were three places I went to work on my speed: Chicago Acceleration, the Tim Graf speed camp in Joliet and now Dave Buchanan in Rolling Meadows. Tim was more of a track mentor for me, helping me learn how to get off the blocks. If you have kids that run track and play football, go to Tim. Now, with Dave, he has helped take me to the next level. I put four inches on my vertical in six weeks. It's now up to 29.5 inches. Hopefully when I'm done with Dave, we can get it up around 35 or 36.
Would you like to see your rival, Prospect again later on in the playoffs? Now that you've gotten your revenge once, is that good enough?
Tom Zbikowski: I don't think anything is really ever good enough for our team. We're always hungry for more. But our main goal isn't to beat Prospect. It's to win the state. If we meet up with them, great. If not, that's fine, too. The postseason is a whole different animal. When you beat a team in the playoffs and the game is over, you aren't thinking, "Ha ha, we sent them home." You could care less. You're more concerned about what you have to do next to reach that ultimate goal. So to answer your question, no, it really doesn't matter.
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 is writing a diary about his recruitment, and we will file regular reports on the recruiting process through Signing Day on Feb. 5, 2003.