|Thursday, October 24
Playoffs, posters and programs
By Tom Zbikowski with Wayne Drehs
Special to ESPN.com
Heading into Friday's regular season finale against Elk Grove, we're 8-0 and ranked No. 5 in the Chicago Tribune's area rankings. A win on Friday would likely ensure that we would get the No. 1 seed when the playoffs start the following weekend.
The seedings will be announced on television this weekend, so the entire team is coming over to my house to watch. For high school kids, this is like the NFL Draft.
I know that because of these diaries, people are going to be gunning for my team and me in the postseason, but that doesn't bother me. I honestly think that if we play to our full potential, we have a good chance of going all the way. There are a lot of good teams in Class 7A (second largest schools in Illinois) and we still have yet to hit our ceiling. If we do, I think we'll be in good shape.
In the recruiting world, the letters that schools have been sending me are as funny as ever. Some people have a great sense of humor. Last week, Virginia sent me a picture of their cheerleading squad, only the faces of the cheerleaders were covered by pictures of the coaching staff. It was hilarious.
Then, Tennessee sent me this picture of myself, cut out from the cover of a Chicago sports magazine, but my high school jersey was replaced by a Tennessee jersey. That was pretty cool, too. Both of those are hanging on my bedroom wall.
The few times I've let my mind stray from school and football and focus on recruiting, I find myself thinking a lot about Iowa and what it might be like to go there. I don't know why.
Maybe in part because of the way they have dominated lately. Not only that, but the impressive way they seem to handle success. I've also been real impressed with the way they recruit. They don't promise anything. They don't promise that I'll start, that I'll make it to the pros, any of that. They don't promise anything they know with 100-percent certainty they can't fulfill. That honesty is definitely a huge positive.
Another is strength coach Chris Doyle. I hit it off with him the first time we met. I love his intensity. He's my kind of guy. You better do what the hell he says or there is a price to pay. And what I've seen with the way Iowa has improved, guys are obviously buying into what he's doing. Everybody has nothing but great things to say about him, so he's somebody I want to make sure is going to stay in Iowa City for a while.
Two of the defensive coaches, Norm Parker and Phil Parker (no relation), are great as well. I remember one time when I was in Iowa City over the summer spending some time with Phil and Norm walked in and just started talking to me. Phil got all upset that Norm was taking up his time and they started arguing. It was pretty funny to see people that weren't so uptight. It was a little looser, sort of reminded me of the teasing between me and my Dad. It was like the everyday atmosphere, not some show for the recruits.
Some people I'm sure might ask why Iowa and not another Big Ten school with great tradition like Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin or Penn State. But honestly, I don't put that much stock into tradition. You can't base your decision on that. You have to look at what's going to happen while you're there. And obviously, Iowa is a program on the rise.
In other news, I took an unofficial visit to Nebraska on Oct. 12 and came away just as impressed with the Huskers. I had been there before for summer camp, but never for a game. It was incredible. A true sea of red. My mom and I sat on the 40-yard line, about nine rows up. Great seats.
But even better was the next day, when I met with quarterback coach Turner Gill and watched film on the game. He's a big psych guy, so we started out talking about personalities. He was asking me all sorts of questions, trying to figure out how I learn and subsequently, what sort of coaching style I would respond to. It was pretty impressive.
Still, it didn't take long for the conversation to turn to X's and O's. I love talking about that stuff so I soaked it all in. Coach Gill was pointing out different nuances of the Nebraska option offense and telling me how the Huskers don't settle for mediocrity. I loved that.
After my visit with Coach Gill, I went into Coach (Frank) Solich's office to say goodbye. I had been in there before, but it was cool to be there again. I love the Sears Trophy behind his desk. There was another recruit waiting outside the office that I accidentally cut in front of, so I was real brief. My mom and I just said thanks, goodbye and went on our way. But I left impressed with the Huskers.
Tom Zbikowski: Thanks for the question. You'll be happy to hear that education is very important to me. You go to college to go to school, not only play football so I want to attend a university where there's a strong tutoring program, not that they'll do the work for you or the teachers like the jocks just because they're jocks, but because they appreciate the importance of an education. As for other factors, you can't really put too much emphasis on a good weight room or a big stadium because just about every school has it. Maybe a clean campus. That would be good. And most of all, it just needs to be a place where you feel comfortable.
At this point in the season, how comfortable are you in the defensive backfield? What position, QB or DB, are you leaning towards playing at the next level?
Tom Zbikowski: Right now, I'm leaning towards free safety. I've used this season as a test and I feel real good back there. But the real test will come in the playoffs. I can't remember the last time somebody has thrown over the middle because we haven't played too many passing teams. But in the playoffs, you have to throw over the middle. So that will be an even bigger test for me, the real test, if you will.
I always see so much talent in the state of Illinois, and notice that so much of it leaves. Why do you think more in-state athletes don't stay, when a just a handful of them could turn a Big Ten school like Illinois into a powerhouse?
Tom Zbikowski: I can't answer for other people, but for myself, I'm curious to see other parts of the country. I'm finding out there's a world outside of Illinois. And on top of that, what's important is finding the school that's right for you, the place where you feel most comfortable at, regardless of what state it is in.
Thanks for this honest and enlightening look into the world of college football recruiting. My question: has the "recruiting war" been everything you imagined when you realized that you would be high on the list of many nationally ranked schools? What are things you have found to be discouraging in the recruiting process?
Tom Zbikowski:Honestly, I never really had any expectations for this. I never really put much planning into it because I never expected it to happen. And to this point, nothing has been discouraging. Everything has gone pretty well. But don't let me jinx myself.
Did anyone ever tell you that you look just like the actor Josh Hartnett? Have you ever been mistaken for him? Tell your best look alike story. And thanks for the great diaries.
Tom Zbikowski:Yes, absolutely. And I get it a lot more now than before. As for my best story, I was with my brother-in-law Lee at Famous Dave's, this barbeque restaurant in the area, and the waitress comes over and she's smiling all the time and giggling. Then this guy comes over, the manager or something and he's looking at me and walking away. More people walk past the table. Then the waitress is like, "Have you been in any movies?" And I didn't get it. Lee's speaks up and is like, "Well I've been," sorta messing around. Then it hit me, so I started playing a long. "Oh yeah, I've been in The Faculty and other movies and stuff." So people keep walking by the table, looking at me. Then we're getting ready to leave and the waitress is like, "So, Josh, can I have your autograph before you go?" But I couldn't do it. I had to tell her I was just playing around.
Send in your questions and Tom will answer a few in his next diary update.
ESPN.com is following quarterback/defensive back Tom Zbikowski on his journey from high school to the college ranks. Zbikowski is writing a diary about his recruitment, and we will file regular reports on the recruiting process through Signing Day on Feb. 5, 2003.