Since the hiring of Charlie Weis as head football coach at the University of Notre Dame, much has been written and said about a new and positive attitude for the football program.
Junior safety Tom Zbikowski was asked if there had been much emphasis this summer amongst the players about a new attitude.
"Yes. It's a clean slate, new coaches, new facilities, new everything, and we want a clean slate, but also there is a lot of feeling and emotion about last year's teams we are playing again this year," he said. "We want to prove to ourselves. We have put in so much work and the coaches have put in so much work, and we deserve to win and that is what we want to do is win. We were 6-6 last year but there were a lot of games that could have gone either way."
The junior is the only starter returning to the secondary but said the other guys are coming along.
"I think Ambrose Wooden - but I wouldn't really consider him a young guy, but he doesn't have much experience - is looking good, Zbikwoski said when asked which players are starting to stand out in the secondary. (David) Bruton, the freshman, is really looking good, Chinedum (Ndukwe) is looking real good, (Mike) Richardson , Terrail (Lambert) and all the young guys are stepping it up and looking to play."
Coach Lewis is counting on the veteran to help bring the young guys up to speed as soon as possible.
"They just got here and Kyle (McCarthy) was like me my freshman year. I was playing quarterback and got in the secondary," Zbikwoski explain. So I think coach wanted to split up me and Ndukwe to help out the younger guys to bring them up as fast as possible, which is a great idea to help them come along and teach them while we are playing."
The former quarterback likes the way coach Lewis teaches and is absorbing everything that he brings to the secondary. Zbikowski is also impressed by the coach's NFL experience.
"He is real thorough about everything," he said of Lewis. "When we watch film we go through each play consecutive times and go over every small thing possible. His attention to detail is going to make us better as a secondary. I think that is probably the biggest thing is his attention to detail.
"When you come here, you want to go to the NFL, and you see him being there for nine years, especially with the Dolphins. The Dolphins are always one of the top teams in pass defense and that is what we needed. A coach like that is real thorough to teach the veterans, young guys, and the guys who don't have a lot of experience. I think everybody is looking a lot better, too.
"He gets emotional sometimes but he is what a defensive back coach needs to be. He needs to get you up, but he needs to keep you calm, as that is the nature of the position."
The Illinois native said that along with new coaches, there is a new defensive scheme this year and he is confident that it will work.
"I think it's a lot more basic coverage," Zbikwoski explained. "We get a lot more doubles on receivers just the way our coverage pans out. It is not necessarily based on this guy because it always turns out that we are always going to be doubling one or two guys, and when you are doubling people and getting linebackers in coverage, there isn't going be too many passes completed.
"Whatever he is teaching, we are trying to learn because that's his system and we have to buy into it as soon as possible. So we just look at whatever he is coaching and we do it."
Zbikowski is well liked and respected by his teammates, and they recently chose him as one of their leaders and this is a role that is important to him.
"It's big to me just because the players are the ones that picked me, and with a lot of experience, I feel obligated to help the younger guys and those guys with a lack of experience by trying to bring them up as soon as possible."
The 2005 season-opener is drawing near and the junior safety said he is excited and ready for it.
"It is the first game and that is real important and we want to set the tone real early and show the nation what we are about," he said . "I have been waiting for September 3rd since the end of the bowl game. We have a new coach and want to prove to the nation that we are not a six and six program."