Zbikowski Waiting His Turn

Freshman defensive back Tom Zbikowski, from Buffalo Grove High School in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, was highly recruited by all the major football programs in the country. He was selected to the USA Today first team as a senior and Gatorade Player of the Year for Illinois. So it was no wonder that his signing with the Irish was widely acclaimed. Irish Eyes recently talked with Tom regarding his first season at Notre Dame.

During his high school career Zibikowski starred on the offense and defense. Now in his first season, he is learning the ropes of playing safety, and we asked him how he is progressing. "Not bad. Each week I'm getting better and better. I'm glad for the red-shirt opportunity. It gives me a chance to go against the ones all the time. It's helped me out a lot. I think the corner needs a lot of athletic ability - you hang with the guy. The safety is lot more mental; you learn things every day at safety, and I think that's the biggest thing."

We continued by asking who has given him the most help this season and he replied, "Coach Walters, of course, then Glenn was helping out earlier in the year before he got injured; he was at safety. When we had the bye week, he really helped out the freshman safeties - so then just watching him play, this season, I've learned a lot just watching him."

Good high school defensive backs are usually successful because they have equal or better speed than the receivers they face. Tom was asked to compare the speed of the Irish receivers to high school receivers, "Definitely a change, but you adapt to it. I got up here in the summer and went 7 on 7 in the first time and they were flying by me, but now it's just normal speed."

Zbikowski mentioned earlier he has been going up against the number one receivers in practice so we sought his opinion of this group. "I think it's a strong corps. I really do. In practice they are a strong corps - that's who I go against all the time; that's all I see, so I don't have much to compare to yet."

We followed up by asking if one receiver was more difficult to cover than the others and his reply was, "It's all different styles. Maurice (Stovall) is a tall receiver who can go up and get it. Jeff Samardzija is like that too. Rhema (McKnight)makes things happen when he gets the ball. I've seen Carlyle a little bit as a receiver, and he's a strong runner. So they all have their qualities."

When questioned about an area that he needed to work on Tom quickly responded, "I think everything. Every day going 100% and learning something new every day."

Irish Eyes was curious to learn what Tom had to say about his Notre Dame experience at this point, "Right now, pretty good - with the adjustment for a school like this, how hard it is from high school to now, and then the football program, a strong football program, the experience has been tough. There have been a lot of ups and downs. Of course, that's what it is going to be for a freshman. You've got to realize that, but it has been a good experience."

A huge challenge for any student making the transition from high school to college is time management, but for student athletes, it can be extra challenging. We asked him what he thought of the program Notre Dame has in place to help student athletes, "It's good, because they help you a lot. Now we have study hall from 8:00 to 10:00, four times a week. So they balance it for you, almost."

Zbikowski said at the beginning of this interview he was glad for the red shirt opportunity so we asked if the coaches talk with him about his potential and the future and he told us, "A little bit. I would hope they wait until after the season because if I was playing I'd hope they would be concentrating on what's going on now so hopefully afterwards they'll let me know how I'm doing."

There have been rumors that some of the Irish players are going to transfer and Tom's name has been mentioned, so we asked if he had heard these rumors and he laughed and replied, "Yes. I've heard those about other people too - so I don't know if that's ordinary - or what's with that." We followed this up by asking if he would be playing for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish next year and without hesitation Tom responded, "Yes, sir."

Irish Eyes was impressed with this young player and his confidence. He has a toughness that will serve him well when his time comes to see action in the Irish secondary.

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