|Friday, February 21
Final decision could deliver knockout blow
By Tom Zbikowski with Wayne Drehs
Special to ESPN.com
I've already signed with Notre Dame. I've already put an end to the endless recruiting game. And yet one grueling decision still waits -- what am I going to do about boxing?
The past few weeks I've gotten back in the gym to stay in shape, and God do I miss it. The smell, the sweat, the work. I thrive in those surroundings.
Having said that, it's getting to a point in my life where it's time to stop playing games. This is serious stuff now. If I want to try and maybe play professional football someday, if I want to be the best Notre Dame football player I can be, I'm not sure I can box at the same time.
The decision is just like recruiting -- I bounce back and forth between boxing and not boxing almost everyday. It's pretty taxing. On the way home from the gym, my Dad and I had a long talk about everything and I was a little surprised to find that we were on the same page.
He and I pretty much agree that if I have a chance of getting on the field next year and contributing, it might be best to put boxing behind me. It wouldn't be easy and I'd miss it dearly, but overall, it would be the right thing to do.
If I'm not going to get on the field next year, then we were thinking I should stick with boxing. He doesn't want me to give up the sport -- and neither do I -- and then not play.
It seems easy enough, right? Only there's one problem: I'm going to need to decide well before I have any idea as to what's going to happen on the field.
So basically, it's a roll of the dice. An educated guess. My coaches will support me no matter what I choose and my parents will do the same. It just won't be easy.
In other news, I officially became a member of the Notre Dame family on February 5 when I signed my letter of intent. Things didn't quite go as I had planned. The original idea was to drive to Notre Dame early that morning, show up at Coach Willingham's office when he got there at 6:30 or 7:00 and then hand deliver my signed letter.
I was dying to just surprise the hell out of him and say, "Coach Willingham, I'm here to play football for the Irish."
I casually mentioned something to assistant coach Greg Mattison, who recruited me and he told me it probably wasn't a good idea that recruits aren't allowed to be on campus on signing day. Some sort of NCAA rule -- imagine that.
So instead of going to South Bend, we had a little press conference at school. At least I thought it was going to be little. A couple of my buddies gathered a bunch of kids and then all these Chicago-area television stations showed up, so I turn the corner to walk in and sign my paper and there are like 50 people in there. I'm like, "What the hell is this?"
I started shaking and everything. It turned into a big deal. But I signed the paper, took a few questions and got on with my day. Overall, it actually turned out to be a lot of fun. And as I saw it, another step closer to running out of that tunnel -- hopefully next fall.
Blue Chip Wrap-Up Questions With Tom Zbikowski
1. Knowing what you know now, if you had one piece of advice for high school juniors who are about to start this process in May, what would it be?
Tom Zbikowski: Pretty much give every school a chance at least once, whether it means taking that extra phone call or filling out every questionnaire to get your name out as much as possible. And one other thing is to spread out the official visits as much as possible. Don't clump them together like I did. That wears you out.
2. If you could change anything about the way recruiting is done, what would it be?
Tom Zbikowski: When coaches come in the school that they can actually talk to you. I wish the NCAA would ease up on the rules. I mean, these guys are making this whole trip and they can't even talk to you. Yet they still want to show interest. You get the walk by and wave. It sucks for them. They come all this way and it's pretty much a waste of time. Oh, I also think it should be mandatory that they give you a couple dollars here and there. I'm kidding.
3. What did enjoy most about the process and what are some of your favorite moments?
Tom Zbikowski: Meeting everyone, really. It's great to get your name out and talk to so many different coaches. You watch the teams on TV, you see these superstar coaches and schools and then they roll out the red carpet for you. To be treated like that from a big time school and a big time coach is an honor in itself.
My favorite moments have to be when Coach Willingham was over for his official visit and I committed. Just to see the happiness and the relief for my family was a special feeling. My other favorite memory was getting my very first offers last year, from Northwestern, Illinois and Wisconsin. Once they started, the offers started rolling in.
4. What was the hardest part of all this for you?
Tom Zbikowski: Being afraid to answer the phone. There were times when I just wanted to be left alone, especially during the season. After a hard workout, I'd be dead and want to go to sleep and I'd have to answer phone calls. Even if I was sleeping, my Dad would wake me up. He always thought it was rude not to take the calls. And sometimes, it was hard to talk to everybody.
5. A lot has been made about negative recruiting. What was the worst thing one school told you about Notre Dame, in hopes you would change your mind?
Tom Zbikowski: Well, first of all, there aren't many bad things you can say about Notre Dame. It's well respected anywhere. You can't say you have a better stadium or better alumni ties or better coaches or fans. Not many people can say they had a better season than Notre Dame did last year. Really, the only thing people came up with -- and it wasn't often -- was that Coach Willingham wasn't going to be there for a long time. And I was like, "OK, whatever. Nice try."
6. What are you looking forward most to next year?
Tom Zbikowski: Starting new relationships with other kids. It'll be fun to meet kids with the same goals as me. And then I want to walk down that stairwell and hit the signs. I'll probably be in tears by that point. I'll put on the uniform, look in the mirror and I know I'm going to start crying. I know my Dad will be balling, too. I'll probably break up a pass or something in the first quarter and he won't even see it because of the tears.
ESPN.com followed quarterback/defensive back Tom Zbikowski on his journey from high school to the college ranks. Zbikowski and fellow Blue Chip participant QB Chris Leak wrote diaries about their recruitment.