July 7, 2006
Fifty-seven days and counting down until kickoff against Georgia Tech on Sept. 2 (see the countdown ticker on the right side of the front page from und.com for the exact hour and minutes until kickoff). Thirty days and counting down until Football Media Day on Sunday, Aug. 6. The und.com Summer Football Fix continues…
Note: this article originally appeared in the Notre Dame – Michigan State GameDay Magazine
Junior, 5-11, 202
Arlington Heights, Ill./Buffalo Grove
Junior safety Tom Zbikowski enters his third season with the Irish and his second as a starter in the Notre Dame defensive secondary. After not seeing any action as a freshman in 2003, Zbikowski broke into the starting lineup a year ago and became a presence with his big-play, hard-hitting style of play. In 12 games, he finished fourth on the team with 70 tackles, including 37 solos. Versus Michigan State, Zbikowski had a team-high nine tackles, forced a fumble and returned it 75 yards for a touchdown. His 22-yard interception return also set up another Irish score in the 31-24 win. For his efforts, he was named the Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week. Zbikowski equaled his career-high with nine tackles versus Purdue on Oct. 2 and led the Irish with seven tackles versus Oregon State in the Insight Bowl. A USA Today first team All-American as a high school senior, he was named Chicago-area player of the year by the Chicago Sun Times in 2002. A three-year starter as a quarterback and safety at Buffalo Grove, he owns career records for points scored (274), touchdowns (45), rushing attempts (406), rushing yards (2,013) and passing attempts (484). GameDay Magazine’s Matt Willett gives Irish fans a chance to get to know Tom Zbikowski.
Willett: What is your major and how did you get interested in that area of study?
Zbikowski: I am in sociology and computer applications. I am in sociology because I want to get into the secret service or CIA. I figured sociology would help because it is learning how society works. With the way the world is today, computer application helps because everything revolves around technology.
Willett: What is your hardest class and why?
Zbikowski: Spanish is my hardest class because it is a different language and I don’t understand it most of the time.
Willett: What is your favorite class and why?
Zbikowski: My favorite class is the gym class that you have to take freshman year. Other than that, my favorite is computer applications.
Willett: What made you pick Notre Dame over the other schools you were interested in? What were the other schools?
Zbikowski: I choose Notre Dame because of the tradition and it just felt natural since I am from the Chicago area. I was also interested in Iowa and Nebraska.
Willett: To date, what has been the highlight of your Notre Dame career?
Zbikowski: The highlight of my career so far would be my game against Michigan State last year because I scored my first touchdown in major college football and the game was televised on ESPN.
Willett: Who were your sports idols as a kid and why?
Zbikowski: My sports heroes were Jim McMahon and Walter Payton because I loved the Chicago Bears. My brother was also one of my heroes because he got me into football. Jim McMahon was my favorite because he played quarterback and I played quarterback and I wore number 9. He wasn’t your typical quarterback. He was more of the Bad Boy quarterback. Most people liked John Elway or Dan Marino. I liked Jim McMahon.
Willett: As a football player, is there any one player you modeled your game after?
Zbikowski: I modeled my game mostly after my brother.
Willett: Who has been your biggest non-sports role model and why?
Zbikowski: Again my brother was my biggest role model. When he was younger, he had two brain tumor surgeries. They told him never to play sports again. He ended up being an all-area baseball player and an all-area football player. He was also the MVP of both of those teams. He ended up overcoming all of that.
Willett: What is one thing in your life that you cannot live without?
Zbikowski: Football is the one thing that I can’t live without.
Willett: Do you have any pre-game rituals?
Zbikowski: I don’t really have any rituals. I listen to music, and then say a quick prayer to my grandfather, my godfather, and my brother that died when he was younger.
Willett: What is the best advice that you have ever been given and who gave it to you?
Zbikowski: The advice I was given was, “whatever I am going to do, do it the best that I can.” That came from my father. Whatever I am going to do, whether it be plumbing, or playing football be the best that I can be.
Willett: How do you think you’ve grown as a person since coming to Notre Dame?
Zbikowski: I think that I’ve matured because I am around so many different people from different areas. It is not like this is a state school where there are only people from Indiana. I have met people from Jersey, California and a lot of other places.
Willett: What is one thing about you that might surprise people?
Zbikowski: I’m really a straightforward person so people don’t really get too surprised by me.
Willett: How and what do you do to balance your academic workload and your football workload?
Zbikowski: I balance things by taking care of football when it is time for football. Any spare time that I get, I watch film. When I go to practice, I concentrate on practice. When you get in meetings or put on your pads, you have to worry about football and concentrate on football only. When you take the pads off, you have to worry about school and getting your work done.
Willett: What is your most embarrassing moment in sports?
Zbikowski: I was playing with my brother the first time I played. He is four years older than I am. There was a kick off and they told me to cut block one of the other players. I dove down and the guy jumped over me. They got it on film and put it on their highlight film. They showed it at the banquet at the end of the year to embarrass me.
Willett: If you were stranded on an island and could only eat one meal, only listen to one song, and spend your time with only one person; what would you eat, what would you listen to and who would you pick?
Zbikowski: I would eat pizza. I would be with my girlfriend for obvious reasons. The song would be something by Earth, Wind, and Fire so I could dance to it.
Willett: What is you favorite movie and why?
Zbikowski: My favorite movie is Raging Bull because it is a boxing movie. It is my kind of movie. Even movie gurus love that movie. I like it because of the boxing more than anything.
Willett: Where is the toughest place that you’ve played as a college football player?
Zbikowski: Tennessee is the toughest place I’ve played, because of the entire atmosphere.
Willett: What CD do you have in your collection that would surprise people?
Zbikowski: Earth, Wind and Fire.
Willett: What would a movie about your life be titled and who would star as you?
Zbikowski: The title of the movie would be “Meathead.” I don’t know who would star as me.
Willett: Who is the best athlete that you have ever competed against?
Zbikowski: Braylon Edwards from Michigan. He did well for the Wolverines and we also beat them.
Willett: If you had the chance to play golf with anyone in history, besides you, who else would be in your foursome and why would you pick those three people?
Zbikowski: I would want to play golf with Marvelous “Marvin” Hagler, Walter Payton and Jim McMahon.
Willett: When your football career is over, what do you see yourself doing?
Zbikowski: When I’m done with football, I would definitely relax for a couple years. That’s for sure. Hopefully, I will have a chance to play in the pros. If not, I am going to join the secret service and try to serve my country somehow.
Willett: Describe what it feels like on game day and playing at Notre Dame Stadium.
Zbikowski: The feeling is unbelievable. When you come up after warm ups and the band is playing, you get so much adrenaline going. You see your teammates and walk down and hit the sign. You come down the tunnel and hear the crown go nuts. I am getting chills now just getting ready to play. It is unbelievable.
Willett: What is your favorite thing about playing for Notre Dame?
Zbikowski: I enjoy the attention and the schedule that we play at Notre Dame. We’re not afraid to play anyone. We may win or lose, but we’ll play anybody in the country.