News and Notes: 3/29/2006

*It seems like to be a member of the Notre Dame football team, a player must excel at two sports. All-American wide receiver Jeff Samardzija is only participating in six of 15 spring practices because of his commitments as a starting pitcher on the Irish baseball team. One of his teammates, Tom Zbikowski, is following his two-sport philosophy.

Zbikowski announced at a press conference this morning that he'll fight on April 10th at Madison Square Garden in his first professional boxing appearance. The fight will be on pay-per-view television on the undercard of the main event, which is for the WBO junior welterweight championship between Miguel Cotto and Paulie Malignaggi. An opponent has not been named. Zbikowski is not new to the ring. He has accumulated a 75-15 amateur record as a heavyweight. Head coach Charlie Weis and Notre Dame, who signed off on the deal, followed NCAA guidelines in approving the move. Weis said Zbikowski reminds him of kids he knew growing up in New Jersey and has the requisite ability to fare well in the boxing world.

"I think he's very, very tough," Weis said on Wednesday night about Zbikowski. "Besides being very tough, he has skills. Boxing isn't for everyone. There are a lot of guys who are very strong. Those guys who are real strong aren't necessarily the guys who will be great boxers. There are a lot of football players who wouldn't fare too well in the ring. He must have quick hands, know how to defend himself and all those other things."

Despite an invite from Zbikowski, Weis won't be attending. He has a prior commitment that same day in South Carolina for a golf tournament. Weis did say he'll be watching. As stated above, this is the second star Irish player to try their hand at another sport. Weis has been accommodating in both situations and says this is his style with older players.

"My feeling will never change on draft eligible players," Weis said. "I'll only support guys going into the draft if they are also graduating. For guys not to leave early, you have to give them something in return. In return, I'm giving them support in things that are extenuating circumstances.

"Jeff could have gone in the draft this year and gone in the first round. He didn't have to play baseball. He didn't have to come back and play football. But he came back to play baseball and football. I just think it would have been wrong for me to not sit down with Coach Mainieri and work out a schedule that was advantageous to both programs. If you want your guys to stay in school and graduate, when one of these opportunities comes up, you have to give a little."

*Concerns were raised when early enrollee running back James Aldridge was not at practice last Saturday. The media only gets to see the first 20 minutes of practice and is then shooed away. But Aldridge was nowhere to be found. This same situation occurred on Monday and today. The media was allowed in during those practice sessions and Aldridge was not present. The early enrollee has battled knee injuries in the past and some were wondering if another setback had occurred. Weis said he's not 100 percent but Aldridge is out on the field with his team after the media departs.

"I've held him out," Weis said. "He's out there after you (media) guys leave. I don't want him out there when you guys are there because he's not running full speed and then I'd have to read about him not running full speed out there. I'd figure I'd hide him inside until you guys leave. I want to be precautionary because when a guy has something, you want to make sure it's ok before you put him back out there. I'm going to error on the side of caution in the spring."

This is the safe approach to a player with gifted abilities. Aldridge possesses the speed and power that Irish fans have craved for at the running back position. According to Weis, when he's out on the field in spring ball, Aldridge shows these flashes of brilliance.

"I like a lot of what I see," Weis said of Aldridge. "He's big, powerful and got good quickness for a guy his size. That fires me up. He's going to have to fight an uphill battle because there is great competition at this running back position. We have our two top returners back. Athletically, it's tough not to like what you see. It's tough not to be encouraged by what you see."

*The backup quarterback position battle is one that might not be determined until the summer. After starter Brady Quinn, Weis has to pick from either Evan Sharpley or David Wolke to back up the Heisman Trophy candidate. Sharpley did not see the field as a freshman while Wolke wasn't far behind, completing only one pass in 2005. Weis will make a final decision after the Blue-Gold game.

"They're making progress," Weis said of Sharpley and Wolke in spring ball. "I would say the progress is slow. But they're making progress. Both of them are getting better. The problem is that you have a tough time being objective when got number 10 being in there first. You have to do your homework. That's why I make sure that I don't make any rash decisions before I watch the tape of the practices and every snap of spring. Everything they do, I want to see on film.

"They are doing a better job of running the operation and the huddle. That's the easiest way to lose a team is getting in the huddle and forgetting the play. That hasn't happened to one of them yet. As far as execution, I'll reserve judgment until spring is over and I get a real opportunity to sit back and study what I'm seeing."


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