When you look at the name, "Zbikowski", if you haven't heard it before, you are thinking about all the ways you can brutalize the pronunciation. With Tommy though, his last name is fast becoming about as household as "Zenith". He's on every computer, he's in every recruiting mag and he's got his own diary on ESPN. That's a lot! "It's considerable." Tommy said. "It's been a lot of fun though. With ESPN, I wanted to make sure that it wouldn't interfere with the focus on my season, but I didn't have any problems with that, so I enjoyed doing it."
You have to wonder though what actually makes a person put himself into a position where when you combine all the attention he is receiving aside from this, the amount of exposure and time he would have to input would be immense. "They [ESPN] wanted to get a diary of inside of high school athletics and inside high school recruiting and I volunteered." Zbikowski stated. "I thought it would be a nice experience."
In conversations with Tommy's dad, this experience would also be something that would allow Tommy to practice at a particular skill that had nothing to do with throwing, running or tackling. It had to do with his communication skills, because evidently someone knew that Tommy would need them one day.
"I know going into college, there is a lot of interviews and a lot of TV." Tommy said. "I don't want to be inexperienced when I go in there and have trouble. The more and more I do it, the easier it's getting."
One thing isn't easy though, but it's not with Tommy, it's with me. What's the problem you ask? Well, I am glad you asked. My problem is being able to pick my jaw off the floor after hearing about some of the people this young man has hung out with. I'm not kidding you. This kid has seen more stars than that Wile E Coyote character on the cartoon after he falls off that five hundred foot cliff. And, most of them have been boxing related.
Tommy's background with boxing is considerable, but rather than paint you a statistical picture, let's drop a name or two on you as to who he has actually sparred with or fought. "I've sparred with Angel Manfreddy who fought Arturo Gotty, David Diaz who was an olympian." Zbikowski stated. "I have been in the same gym with guys like Floyd Mayweather. I was in the same tournaments with Ricardo Williams. This guy, Auggie Sanchez in Las Vegas."
"I was with Emanuel Stewart and Lennox Lewis in Miami, so the list kind of keeps going."
I guess. Geez. You ask a simple question. Actually, that's not all. Perhaps the biggest name of them all wasn't a man that Tommy sparred against, but had dinner with and believe you me, no matter how old you are, that's one helluva dinner to be having. Try, "The Bronx Bull", Jake LaMotta.
Yeah, THAT Jake LaMotta. One of the few that can actually say that they beat one of the greatest boxers (in any weight class) of all time, Sugar Ray Robinson. "I had dinner with him and I was a pretty young age, but I was fully aware of who he was." Tommy said.
"I got a picture of him and it was him knocking Robinson through the ropes. I got it signed and "Raging Bull" is one of my all-time favorite movies, so looking at that [the picture] and then looking across from me and seeing him, it was just unreal."
Hey, he's not the only one that can name drop though. I can to. You know that guy that does those Holiday Inn Express commercials? The guy that looks like he just got up and didn't brush his hair? Yeah, him. I saw him drink a bud light once.
OK, moving on.
For all intents and purposes, this young man has lived two , maybe three "normal" lives. Forget the people he's met, but the places he's been, the areas he's fought and the experiences on a world leave that he has had, for one so young, his life has been full indeed.
Sports might be considered the way that he has managed to touch that life, but like all pure athletes, sports has managed to touch him as well. There is saying that sports is a metaphor for life. That, those trials and tribulations from the field, the ring, the court or wherever you are, those make you stronger, just as life outside of those venues can equip you for the future as well.
Tommy agreed, but he has a two-sport perspective.
"Football is compared to war all the time." Tommy said. "In boxing, when I was fighting in different states all the time, usually the other kids from that state are going to get the judges when it comes to the final cards, you realize that life's not fair and not everything is going to go your way."
"When I am playing football and I am getting all this recruiting and if anything goes to my head, you just go to the ring, you get beat up and you get brought down to earth very fast."
The ring doesn't just help Tommy's occasional bout with humility, it also helps another state of mind. "The mental toughness in boxing has helped me so much in football." Tommy said. "There's guys in boxing that are huge, they're ripped, they're big, they're tough, they're strong and then when you get in the ring, they are nothing. "Then, you might fight some tall, skinny, dorky looking kid and he's better than anything."
"The mental toughness of the two is a lot about survival."
Tommy survives, both in the ring and on the field, but you might miss out on how he survives off the field and out of the ring as well. Certainly, if he's tough enough to stand all of that, the off-the-field stuff is cake, right? Probably, but it's also a little humorous, at least to Tommy because he still finds it funny that people know who he is. "If I ever go somewhere and someone knows who I am, I just kind of laugh." Zbikowski stated. "I'm only a high school football player and student. It's kind of funny that people would actually know who you are."
"I would have never of thought that anyone would know who I was in high school."
That kind of attention can go to your head, but as you have read above, Tommy has a way to dealing with that. But, that kind of attention also gets you noticed and in today's world, scrutinized more than you could have ever thought possible. One slip up, one little mistake and all of a sudden, you go from All-American boy to the Devil incarnate.
That's the down-side to fame.
"I am still in high school and I am still going to act like a stupid teenager and have some fun." Tommy said. "There's people looking at you and if that's the first time they see you , they are going to judge you on that one time you are trying to act like a high school kid."
It's funny, ya know? We are talking about a kid playing football in high school. No, he's not your average-everyday young man, but we watch him, we call him and we want to know what he is doing and who he is looking at because he is that kid playing football in high school. He's just really damn good at it and that's what makes it the difference?
Yes and No. Tommy's life is a full one and he has been blessed with support, but also with the willpower to make his way be the way that will take him wherever he finds himself in life. The by-product of that has been much success, a lot of press and ton of people watching his every move.
What Tommy hasn't lost is who he is and really, what he's about. He's strong yet compassionate, simple yet youthfully complicated and his goals are much like any goals that any other "normal" person has. What Tommy Zbikowski has done though is take that normal personality, mix it in with extremely abnormal circumstances and throughout it all, not change one bit.
Is it any wonder why they keep coming up with new definitions of the word, "special"?
Just throw Tommy on the list.
Steve Ryan can be reached at email@example.com or 402-730-5619
For the full audio interview that contains much more content along with some actual recruiting talk, check out our SOUND BYTE with Tommy Z.
For those not using broadband, it is a fairly large file, but I believe you will find the full interview worth the time to download.