Zbikowski a hard hitter

Hard-nosed Notre Dame safety Tom Zbikowski likes to deal out knockout blows and we're not just talking on the field. Zbikowski is an aspiring heavyweight boxer. He made his pro debut last June at Madison Square Garden and knocked out 32-year-old Robert Bell in just 49 seconds.

"I think after fights and after football games are pretty similar," Tom Zbikowski says. "Your body is kind of beat up but you're still happy about a win or disappointed about a loss."

Still, Tommy Z. as he likes to be called in the ring, takes different approaches on the field and in the ring.

"Before a fight you've got to be much more calm than you are before a football game," he says. "Football is an emotional game. Boxing, you've got to keep your wits about you because as soon as you lose them, you're going to lose your wind and not be able to breathe and stuff, so you have to be as calm as possible."

Zbikowski, an All-American, received his boxing license at the age of nine. He had a record of 75-15 over that span and fought in the Chicago Golden Gloves last year. Zbikowski reached the finals, but had to withdraw due to scheduling conflicts and a death in the family. Zbikowski expects to fight again in the spring. Tommy Z. took home $25,000 for his win over Bell, who had the audacity to wear an Ohio State Jersey into the ring.

"I remember him mentioning something about it at the press conference we had a couple days before," Zbikowski says. "So I knew he was going to do it. Really, it didn't upset me too much. The outcome probably would have been the same even if he didn't wear it."

According to NCAA Bylaw 12.1.1, a Division I football student-athlete may box professionally and retain his eligibility, as long as he does not promote a commercial entity.

For now, Zbikowski is concentrating on sixth-ranked Notre Dame's run at a national championship. The Fighting Irish (9-1) are still in the hunt, but likeley will need help from other teams to get a shot at the title. Of course, Brady Quinn's right arm will play a part in how far Notre Dame goes.

But Zbikowski, hard-hitting and intense, is one of the leaders for the Fighting Irish on defense. He led Notre Dame with 71 tackles and five interceptions last season. Zbikowski returned two interceptions for touchdowns and added two scores on punt returns.

As a senior, Zbikowski is still deciding if he will use his last year of eligibility and don the famed Irish blue and gold for a fifth year. He said he is weighing all his options, including a possible chance to play in the NFL or focus on his professional boxing career.

Zbikowski will take his best shots on an upstart Army (3-7) team this weekend and he expects the Black Knights to go toe-to-toe with the heavily favored Fighting Irish.

"With the (service academies), it's 100 percent on every single play," Zbikowski says. "They are going to bring it. They don't care about their body. Sometimes they are going to get best of it, but sometimes the other person is going to get the best of it. They don't care. That's the way they play. They are coming at you 100 percent."

And that's exactly how Zbikowski likes it.

Tommy Zbikowski, left, punches Robert Bell during the first round of boxing action Saturday June 10, 2006, at New York's Madison Square Garden. Zbikowski, an All-American safety at Notre Dame, won the fight by TKO during the first round.(AP Photo/John-Marshall Mantel)

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