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Original Issue

Tom Zbikowski ... The Battler

HE'S A third-teamAll-America safety and an electrifying punt returner, and he certainly putssome fight into the Irish. Notre Dame senior Tom Zbikowski was once a fearsomeGolden Gloves boxer, going 75--15 before winning his pro debut at MadisonSquare Garden last year with a 49-second KO. So, if the Irish find themselvesat an especially low point (they lost to Georgia Tech 33--3 last week, and thisSaturday face No. 17 Penn State), the 6-foot, 207-pound Zbikowski may be theman to get them up off the canvas.

On the differencebetween landing a knockout punch and a big football hit

A knockout, that'sthe end of the fight. You've won. A big hit, you've got to get up for the nextplay. That receiver might come back and try to score on you.

On how he became aNotre Dame fan

I grew up nearChicago [in Arlington Heights, Ill.] and the first college game I watched wasFlorida State--Notre Dame in '93. My older brother [E.J.] was a Florida Statefan—I don't know why. I had to cheer against him. I didn't follow collegefootball, that was the first time I found out what Notre Dame was and what theprogram was about. I just cheered against my brother, knowing he'd beat me uplater.

On his charity,Tommy Z9 Foundation Inc.

My mom and Istarted it after the Madison Square Garden fight. E.J. has had brain-tumorsurgery, so I wanted to give money for research. He [benefitted from] thecutting edge of technology when he had surgery—at age six and then at nine—andthat's why he's alive today. When things like that happen, you want to giveback.

On getting hisfirst tattoo this spring

It's on my leftrib cage. I had a brother, Steve, who died [at one-week old on Oct. 6, 1980, oftransposed arteries]. It happened before I was born. The tattoo is the numbersix and has my mom's rosary wrapped around it. We're Catholic. We go to churchevery Sunday as a family.

On how he gotstarted as a boxer

My dad [Eddie, aformer Golden Gloves fighter] is a fight fan, so I'd watch fights with him. Iasked if I could train and learn to box, and I started a month before my 10thbirthday. My mom [Sue] wasn't too happy about it. She said if I ever gotknocked out, I'd be done boxing. Luckily that's never happened. My mom has cometo my last three fights, but when I was a kid she would almost never come. Shedidn't enjoy the places we were boxing. A lot of times they were bars withgirls that liked to dance.

On sparring withtop boxers

I used to sparagainst guys like the WBC lightweight champion David Diaz. When you sparagainst guys like that and then go into amateur fights, it's almost like theamateur fights are in slow motion. Guys like Diaz go into a fight and within 30seconds they're setting up combinations to go against your weaknesses. I almostbusted my jaw while sparring—I couldn't really eat for a week—but in a realfight, I never got caught like that.

On returningpunts

You're back thereall alone, and it feels like 20-some guys are running straight down on you.You've got to find your seam and hit it as hard as you can, just take offrunning. You can't have any second thoughts or any fears.

On whether he hasany fears

I do, but I try tokeep that quiet and not let people know what they are.