|Thursday, November 21
Prospect delivers season-ending KO
By Tom Zbikowski with Wayne Drehs
Special to ESPN.com
So, too, is my high school football career. And I can't help but think it's at least partially my fault.
Going in for the likely game-winning touchdown, with the less than a minute to play, against arch rival Prospect, I fumbled.
It was first and goal from the 1. Coach called a quarterback sneak. All I had to do was lean forward, follow my blockers and cross the goal line. But I never made it that far. The helmet of a Prospect defensive lineman popped the ball loose and it landed right in one of their cornerback's hands. Prospect took a safety, giving us the ball back with 10 seconds left, but it was too late.
The other day, I was sitting with a bunch of my teammates, guys who are close friends of mine, and I couldn't help but think that most of them won't ever play football again.
I'll have another chance -- I'll go on to college, maybe play in a bowl game and perhaps even for a national championship. But most of them won't have that opportunity. They won't play organized football again. And I can't help but think the reason it ended this early for them is me. That's probably what hurts the most.
I understand football is a team game. I understand that 22 guys decide whether a team wins or loses. But I was the one that fumbled.
The game was a strange one. In four years of high school football and eight in boxing, I've never been knocked woozy or suffered a concussion. My Mom always made me promise if I was ever even knocked down in the boxing ring, I'd quit on the spot. In 73 fights, it never happened. But in the last game of my last season of high school football, it did.
Sometime early in the third quarter, I got my bell rung pretty good. I missed a good chunk of the second half and have no recollection of what happened in the third quarter or much of the fourth.
In the days after the game, the phone calls, the handshakes and the letters of support have been tremendous. One in particular, from Prospect head coach Brent Pearlman , really touched me. To get something like that, from the head coach of the your biggest rival, was genuinely special.
To be honest, I can't really remember what hit did me in. My teammates tell me I absorbed a pretty ferocious hit on the second play of the second half. And after that, I started acting goofy. After that play, Peter Karamitos, our tight end, told me that I got in the huddle and was like, "Where the hell am I?" And Pete said to me, "No. No. No. You're fine. Everything's fine."
Then he told me that I tried to call the play, but my speech was slurred. The play was I-pro something and all I could get out was the I. On the next play, I threw into double coverage and my pass was intercepted. I'm told I ran up to one of our linemen after the play and asked, "So are we on offense or defense now?" And they were like, "Are you serious?"
Sunday afternoon I watched the game tape and it was scary. It was like I was watching it for the first time. I was wobbling and stumbling and making stupid decisions. On Prospect's go-ahead touchdown, I basically stood there and let the quarterback go by. When the camera zoomed in on my face, I looked lost.
Even when they took me out of the game, though, all I wanted to do was get back in. One of the first memories I do have is the trainers asking me what my name was, where I was and who we were playing. I was confused so I asked my neighbor, Todd Burkoth, for the answers. Every time they asked me a question, he'd whisper the answer.
I kept pacing, running, doing pushups, answering questions, trying everything I could to convince them I could play. Even though my mind was a mess, I knew I had to get on the field. At one point, my friend Scott Klein ran over and asked, "Tommy, what did we do when we were younger?" I'm like, "Play Batman and Robin." Then he goes, "What did this team do to us last year?" And I said, "Beat us twice." And he goes, "See Doc, he remembers stuff from third grade. He's ready to go."
When I finally stepped back on the field with about four minutes left in the game, the stadium erupted. Usually I don't pay attention to that stuff, but I had the chills. Trailing 17-14, we stopped them on defense, marched down the field, and then I fumbled.
It was a first loss since the quarterfinals of the state playoffs a year earlier, when we also lost to Prospect.
Needless to say, I haven't thought a whole lot about recruiting in the past couple weeks, but I'm sure that will change from here on out. A couple neat things did happen since the last diary, though. A little over a week ago, Notre Dame head football coach Tyrone Willingham called. I spoke with him at Notre Dame football camp and during my unofficial visit, but that was the first time he had ever called me at home. He wanted me to know that they're still thinking of me in South Bend. So that was very cool.
I also got a great package from the Naval Academy that included about 10 handwritten letters. And Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz called after they beat Northwestern.
As for what lies ahead, I'm going to take about two weeks off and then get back to the weight room. On Sunday morning, I woke up and watched the movie "Raging Bull," one of the standing classics in our house. It really helped put things in perspective.
The message: some things just aren't meant to be. No matter how good your team is, sometimes you're destined for that one bad game. Even when you play your hardest, even when you give your best, you can lose.
Tom Zbikowski: Don't lose. What else can I learn? It's athletics. Not matter how hard you try, sometimes you're going to lose. If anything, I want the younger kids to learn from it. I want the juniors and sophomores to see what we went through, see the shock it brought and how it suddenly stopped their season.
As for me, the only thing I'm going to try and do is use that pain and frustration in my lifting. When I'm lifting, it's an exciting time, it means I'm getting ready and my mind is on college. And that's a positive. So I'm going to put all that frustration and anger, if you will, into my workouts.
I was wondering what happens if you pick a school, get there in August and find out that it is not the place for you. I know I have made a wrong decision personally, when getting recruited for soccer. If that happens to you, do you transfer or do you stay and stick it out because you have made a commitment to the coach?
Tom Zbikowski: That's basically why I'm taking all my visits and getting around to as many places as possible. If something like that happens, I've signed a letter, I have to stick through it. It would have to be a really good reason for me to back out of that commitment.
Now that your high school career is over, what do you think you will miss most?
Tom Zbikowski: My teammates. Defensive end Scott Klein and I have played together since we were four years old. Scott Harrington, one of our wide receivers, I played with him and his brother every fall since the second grade. Sure we'll still be friends and hang out, but it's not the same as going to battle with these guys, playing with them, being on the field. I'll have to regain that trust, that level of comfort, with the new players. Me and Harrington -- I know he'd die for me. He'd die playing. It's tough to think about giving that up.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this critical moment in your life. In a few weeks, you're going to start your official visits. What are you looking to learn on these visits? You already know the coaches, so do you want to see the classrooms? The teachers? The parties? The girls? Come on now, be honest.
Tom Zbikowski: Ha! Really, I want to get around the players, tag along with them and have them not even know I'm there to sort of see what their life is like, what they do on an everyday basis. It has to do with the first question, so I know what's going on there so I don't make the wrong decision. I want to know how everyday life is different for players at different schools.
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.