The Zbikowski Challenge

You'd think that one would not want to get into a fight with a professional boxer, but safety Tom Zbikowski has to deal with some tough guy on a week-to-week basis. Somebody on the opposition has the kahunas to call the senior out pretty much every game day. Maybe they feel safe under all the pads. Maybe they know Zbikowski won't completely lose his cool.

"I don't know, somehow someone is trying to start a fight with me or something, they always bring up boxing. That's what usually starts it," said Zbikowski, who hasn't been provoked into a personal foul this season.

The 5-foot-11, 202-pound Zbikowski obviously hasn't had to flex his muscles in that way on the football field. The drama usually stops after verbal sparring, or at the most, a little pushing and shoving. Probably lucky for them considering Zbikowski showed his skills by knocking out Robert Bell in 49 seconds at Madison Square Garden, on June 10.

Boxing wouldn't cross Zbikowski's mind as often if opposing players and the media didn't constantly bring it up. He is focusing in on what maybe will be the final games five games he plays in an Irish uniform. Zbikowski is eligible to return for a fifth year, a decision he will make following the season.

In the last game against Navy, Zbikowski recorded a season-high 14 tackles to lead the team. It was his second game back from an injury that kept him out of the Stanford game.

"You know, that was definitely important on a personal level," Zbikowski said. He has quietly recorded 52 tackles, ranking second on the team, 10 behind Maurice Crum Jr. despite missing a game. "I knew the team would do just fine if I wasn't playing because I know there's a lot of talent on the team. But just as a personal feeling of just getting back out and hitting people and knowing that you're not going to have any problems and there's a big blitz and you're not going to be feeling any pain."

"You know, I definitely feel a little more strength just because that's a process of getting back to full strength but there's no pain when I'm making tackles or making plays," he later said.

Zbikowski likes to have a good time in practice, whether it's lining up as a receiver in a secondary drill and pointing towards an imaginary referee to make sure he is in okay position, or talking trash to an offensive player. But when it's time to get serious, his intensity is top notch.

Those playful altercations Zbikowski starts in practice, he says he never instigates them on game day.

"I usually let somebody initiate it," Zbikowski stated. "I don't really like starting it unless it's necessary. But it's a part of football. You've got to have fun. You've got to make things interesting and that's just part of the emotional part of football, you get competitive."

Zbikowski's comebacks aren't very clever but truthful.

"His go-to line is he'll knock you out in one second," defensive tackle Derek Landri said with a laugh. "He doesn't talk unless someone gets a late hit on him or something like that."

Zbikowski couldn't pinpoint any altercations, or at least he wouldn't, but he said the list was long. Some of those incidents involved him acting like a big brother and coming to the aid of a teammate.

"I remember one situation against Penn State when I got hit in the back and I got in the dude's face," cornerback Terrail Lambert began. "Zibby came from behind because I guess he had done the same to him. He kind of liked pulled me to the side and kept me from a personal foul probably because I was upset. A couple plays later, he made him mad, and Zibby went after him and I had to hold him back, so it kind of goes back and forth."

When he's not helping defend a teammate, he's aiding them in making sure they are lined up properly on any given play. While Crum handles the down seven, it's on Zbikowski and fellow safety Chinedum Nduwe to communicate with the cornerbacks and make sure everything looks right before the ball is snapped.

"If I ever feel like there is any point in time where I'm not on the same page, I just turn around and ask them what are we doing in this situation," Lambert said. "They'll give me the call and I'll be on the same page as them, and that will prevent a mental error or them possibly breaking the coverage."

Lambert recalled a situation against Penn State when Zbikowski helped him make a play just off positioning.

"There was a time when I'd say I wasn't out of position per say, but more so it was like me kind of reassuring the call," he explained. "I confirmed that with Zibby, he was like yeah yeah, they threw the ball and I ended up getting a deflection."


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