Nasty Zorich Hall Bound

Bo Schembechler recruited Chris Zorich, envisioning the Chicago Vocational standout as the stop-gap along Michigan's defensive line. Zorich on the other hand had dreams of being a collegiate linebacker, and chose Notre Dame over Northwestern. But the Michigan coach had the right idea, and it didn't take Irish head coach Lou Holtz long to figure it out.

Zorich arrived at Notre Dame 240 pounds, but worked his butt off to get down to 225 pounds so he could run and play linebacker at the major college level. It didn't matter. Week two of his freshman season, the Irish were hosting Michigan State, and Holtz needed another defensive linemen on the scout team. Buried on the depth chart at linebacker, Zorich was Holtz's man.

"I practiced against first team offensive linemen, caused a little havoc and the rest is history," Zorich said.

That's Hall of Fame History. The 1990 Lombardi Award winner (given to the nation's best lineman), two-time consensus all-star selection and unanimous first team All-American as a senior, Zorich was named to the 2007 National Football Foundation's College Football Hall of Fame Class. The 42nd Notre Dame player to be inducted, Zorich will go in with headliners like Boston College's Doug Flutie and Oregon's Ahmad Rashad.

The 2007 College Football Hall of Fame class will be inducted at the 50th annual awards dinner on Dec. 4, 2007, at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. The players and coaches will be enshrined at the Hall of Fame in South Bend in August 2007.

"It's a situation where I've been on the ballot a couple times but when you look at the ballot there is folks on there from the 1930s," an excited Zorich said. He was the only player who played during the 90s selected. "I was thinking maybe I get the call 10 or 15 years from now."

It was drive, determination and talent that got Zorich where he was and is at right now. Just him and his mother in inner-city Chicago, the two struggled to make ends meet. The bi-racial (African American-Croation mix) Zorich was picked on and bullied, and just hoped he could find a job after high school and get his mother and him into a better situation.

Football ended up being the ticket. Zorich went on to a seven-year NFL career, before coming back and graduating from Notre Dame's law school in 2002. Zorich currently travels as a motivational speaker while devoting his time to his own Christopher Zorich Foundation. The mission statement from the website: The Christopher Zorich Foundation was established in 1993, and is committed to the realization of human potential - mind, body, and spirit. Our credo is 'One Purpose, One Goal,' which is to provide assistance and opportunities to disadvantaged Chicagoans, while striving to foster a sense of caring and fellowship, which crosses race, religious, economic, and social boundaries.

Aiming for the bullseye in everything he does, Zorich was upset with Holtz and the move from linebacker to nose tackle. But Zorich attacked it, and occasionally teammates.

"I would go in there and start fights and have a good time, make plays," Zorich said. "I caused a little havoc, but when it was all said and done, I didn't play that first year. I needed to bulk up and understand the position."

Zorich, who checked in regularly with his mother, stayed at Notre Dame that summer for school. Remaining in South Bend may have had a bigger impact on his football career than his GPA.

The 6-foot-1 Zorich lived in the weight room growing to over 260 pounds. He studied his new position, ready to come into fall camp and compete for the open starting job.

"Thank god for summer school," Zorich said. "You can't hone down your skills on the scout team, and I had to hone down what I was going to learn. I spent spring ball trying to do that, and over the summer I started to lift and gain the weight.

"I ended up getting the position and going from there."

From there was preparing for his first collegiate game, No. 9 Michigan, and All-American center John Vitale, the guy he would be lining up across all afternoon.

"Before the Michigan game, Holtz told me he talked to Bo Schembechler over the phone and he said John Vitale is going to kick your ass," Zorich said.

A ferocious and intense Zorich introduced himself to Notre Dame nation in grand fashion his first career start. He had 10 tackles and was involved in several altercations with Vitale on that September Saturday. The Irish won 19-17, beginning their National Championship run.

"He dominated me," Zorich said, settling for nothing but a perfect game. "But I chalked it up to not having experience at all, but going out there and making plays."

Zorich made a lot of plays that season, registering 70 tackles and 3.5 sacks during the most memorable season of his college career.

"I really have to say that whole run during the national championship year," Zorich said. "Knowing that we all kind of had our minds set on one thing and that was hopefully winning the National Championship. Understanding if we lost one game we would be out of the hunt. We weren't in a conference and we couldn't win a conference title so that's all we had to play for . There was a lot of pressure on us to win games. The understanding of what we had to do was so immense, and that really brought us together. That is something I don't think a lot of teams had."

The top-ranked Irish beat No. 3 West Virginia 34-21 in the Fiesta Bowl and were crowned champions.

That was soon followed up by Zorich's toughest time in an Irish uniform. Shortly after Notre Dame won the title, cornerback Bob Satterfield passed away because of a heart condition.

"It was really hard because we end up winning the National Championship, then all of sudden hearing that one of our guys passed away was really hard," Zorich stated.

The Irish came back in 1989, picking up where they left off. They reeled off 11 straight wins and took the No. 1 ranking and 23-game winning streak into Miami on Nov. 25, 1989. Zorich was even better that season, and the Irish players had their eyes set on back-to-back titles. The Hurricanes remembered their tough loss to Notre Dame the previous season and pounded the Irish 27-10.

"It was a surreal experience. It was like we were in shock. This isn't supposed to happen at all," Zorich explained.

"That season was a lot harder because we were the defending National Champions and we knew what we had to do. It was the whole experience of going through that with all your teammates. But there is the fact that everybody from Navy to Michigan to Miami are all gunning for you because you are ranked No. 1."

A 9-3 campaign Zorich's senior season was tough on him despite having his best individual season. When it was all said and done, he finished his Notre Dame career with 219 tackles, 21 for loss in just three seasons.

"There was a lot of individual titles I received but losing three games, that obviously was not what my experience was like at Notre Dame," Zorich said. "It was really hard trying to adjust. After the first lost, we ended up losing to Stanford at home, we ended up devastated because we knew we were going to be out of it. We eventually lost the bowl game by one point (10-9 vs. Colorado). It was one of those situations where we thought we should've been in the hunt and actually we weren't."

A nasty player on the football field, Zorich thinks Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis has brought the nasty back to the football program it hasn't had since the Holtz era ended in 1996.

One of the first people Zorich talked to after finding out about his Hall of Fame induction was Holtz.

"We talked on the phone," Zorich said. "He was very excited for me. I'm honored I had a chance to learn from him and that he moved me to a position I could excel."

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