|Thursday, December 19
Updated: December 20, 8:20 AM ET
Love the one you're with
By Tom Zbikowski with Wayne Drehs
Special to ESPN.com
A week later, I visited Notre Dame. After sitting in coach Willingham's office, standing in the Notre Dame boxing gym and clicking with the Irish players, I changed my mind. I was going to sign with the Irish.
Then last weekend, I went to Iowa. I hung out with strength coach Chris Doyle, sat in the student section for a basketball game and hung out with sophomore lineman Brian Ferentz, the coach's son. I changed my mind again: I had to wear the black and gold.
What does it all mean? Things are more confusing and more complicated than ever. I have no idea where I want to go. Every place you go, the coaches show you a great time, you click with the players, the campus is beautiful and you're positive that's where you're headed.
Then the next week, your head is turned upside down and you think something totally different. I'm not the only one. Just about every recruit I talk to tells me the same thing. Recruits leave their visits more confused, their decision more clouded than when they arrived.
That's why, when it comes time to make a final decision at some point in January or February, I'm going to take a week or two and try to stop talking to the coaches. I'm going to let everything sink in, make a list of positives and negatives and then try to decide on my own, without any outside influences.
Earlier this week, both Frank Solich and coach Gill stopped by my high school to keep me updated on the search for an offensive and defensive coordinator. They sat with me, my mom and dad and told us the rumors about coach Gill going to Baylor were completely untrue. They also said as soon as next year's staff is finalized, we'll be one of the first to know.
I can't tell you how comfortable that makes you feel. The Huskers have some question marks, but for those guys to go out of their way to make sure we're at ease with the transitions in Lincoln spoke volumes about how important I am to their recruiting plans.
As for how my first two official visits went, I had a great time at both. When I showed up at Iowa last Friday, I headed straight for practice. It was awesome.
That night I went with Brian Ferentz to the Iowa -- Iowa State basketball game. I sat courtside and in the first half, the student section started chanting, "Tommy Z! Tommy Z!" I waved and then 10 kids rushed down for my autograph and told me I had to be a Hawkeye.
It was a little strange signing autographs for college kids. I was a little embarrassed. But at halftime, I told my mom and dad, who I was sitting with courtside, that I was going to sit in the "Hawk's Nest," the student section.
It was a blast. Random people patting me on the back, giving me high-fives. One girl came down for an autograph and wanted me to come up to her section with her to meet her friends. I didn't go, but it was pretty funny. I've never had people notice me like that before.
The next day, the local newspaper printed a photograph of Brian and I cheering with all the students. Brian goes, "I'm here for two years, the coach's son and I never get my picture in the paper. You're here for one day and you've already done it." It was hilarious.
After the game, I asked for a tour of the wrestling room. Wow. You walk in there and it's like, "Oh my God." It's 80 degrees, the mats are out and you just get that feeling. I used to wrestle and I love that stench of hard work.
Those two moments, as well as my meeting with strength coach Chris Doyle, were the highlights from Iowa City. Coach Doyle clarified the recruiting picture better than anyone. He told me he's married and there's 95 percent of his wife he couldn't live without. But there's that other five percent he just can't deal with. But, he said, you don't go searching for something 100 percent. Ninety-five is pretty darn good. And that's what you want in a school. You're not going to find perfection, so find the place that gets you closest. It was by far the best analogy I've heard.
Notre Dame was just as special. Tight end Jared Clark was my host and we had a great time. I stayed at the Varsity Club, which was sweet. Probably the nicest hotel I've ever been in.
I had a great time just hanging with the guys. Jared, Pat Dillingham and some of the other players and recruits were a blast. I truly felt like I was part of the Notre Dame family.
But nothing was more impressive than the boxing gym under Coach Willingham's office. I heard they had a gym somewhere around there, but nobody told me about it. So finally, before I left Sunday afternoon, I asked where the boxing gym was. Sure enough, it was right in the Joyce Center.
I'm not sure what the folks at Notre Dame think about it, but compared to some of the places I'm used to in the city, the gym was nice. There were two to three speed bags, three heavy bags and a huge place for shadowboxing in front of the mirror.
The gym is the home of the Notre Dame boxing club, which Knute Rockne started in the 1920s. Supposedly it started as a way for Rockne to keep his players in shape and out of trouble during the off-season. So to stand in that room, knowing the sweat that poured from Rockne and so many other blue-collar, hardworking Catholic guys just like me was pretty cool. You could just feel the tradition oozing from the walls.
It's no wonder I left South Bend thinking I was going to play for Notre Dame. Yet this weekend comes another official visit, to Nebraska. And it doesn't take a genius to guess what my lasting impressions from that trip will most likely be.
I gotta be a Husker.
Tom Zbikowski: Actually, because I've already had over 70 amateur fights, I'm not eligible. The Bengal Bouts are more for fighters that don't have experience, just for the average college kid if you will. I've faced national competition and been in national tournaments, so there's no way I could compete. Having said that, I can workout at that gym to hone my skills.
Tom, we've all seen the movie Blue Chips with Nick Nolte, so I'm sure you'll know what I'm talking about. In basketball, young high schoolers are offered money to commit to a certain school. I'm sure it's the same for football. It's all under the table and it seems as though the NCAA looks the other way. Have you been offered any money or other objects, such as cars? You don't have to mention names and you don't have to tell whether you accepted. I just wanted to know what some of the nation's top universities are willing to do to recruit one of the nation's top quarterbacks.
Tom Zbikowski: Man, I wish I could get a new car. I have this '91 Seville with 180,000 miles, so if anybody wants to send a car my way, that'd be fine with me. A Corvette would work. Seriously, though, nothing like that has happened. No cars. And no black leather bags filled with cash.
Do you see your self as a guy who would pick a school because you see yourself as a difference maker? As a Husker fan the last time I remember the Huskers wanting a QB as much as they want and need you was when they were recruiting "touchdown" Tommy Frazier. Take your time and enjoy this as much as possible Tom it's a time you'll remember the rest of your life.
Tom Zbikowski: I think I answered this one already a few months ago. Just in case I didn't, yes, I like the idea of being a difference maker. In my opinion, you feel a lot better when you go in and a team improves because of your hard work as opposed to a school where you play and contribute, but in the bigger picture, you're just another guy trying to uphold expectations. I want to be a difference maker.
Has your impression of Nebraska changed due to recent events? After a winning season they are having a complete shakeup in their coaches because 7-6 just doesn't cut it here (wrecked our 33-straight nine-win season streak). Bill Byrne took a lot of heat for spreading out funds to sports besides football (people here only care about football with everything else secondary) and when he resigned as AD he said it was partially because of the heat he took from fans. Does hearing how rough the Husker Nation is on the program scare you towards a different direction?
Tom Zbikowski: Not really. It's a winning program so if you don't win, people let you know. In a way, that's how it should be. You're expected to win in Lincoln, which is what I expect out of myself. And those expectations only make you better.
I can't say I've come across many high school kids with such an open and positive response to the curves "life" throws at us all. It sounds like you have wonderful parents that have truly instilled a great foundation of personal virtues that will help you, whatever or wherever the road takes you. Oh, and when your article talked about eating Chicago style deep dish pizza, I was relieved to know I'm headed to UIC to see my brother next weekend and will have the pleasure of enjoying some of the world's best pizza myself. Who, in your opinion, makes the best pizza in town and why?
Tom Zbikowski: Either Lou Malnati's or Uno's is pretty good. If you want deep dish, I'll probably go with Lou's. Sausage and pepperoni is what I eat with mine. Lou's has that big slab of sausage. But with either one, Lou's or Uno's, you can't go wrong.
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.