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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Former Notre Dame standout gives up boxing to focus on NFL

Sunday, February 24, 2008

INDIANAPOLIS -- Tom Zbikowski is trading in his boxing gloves for a professional football helmet.

The former Notre Dame safety, one of 300-plus participants at the annual NFL scouting combine, has put his "Rocky Balboa" aspirations aside for now.

A nationally ranked boxer who began competing in the Golden Gloves program when he was 9, Zbikowski won his only professional bout -- a first-round knockout of Robert Bell at Madison Square Garden in 2006.

"I'm solely focused on football and getting ready for this," he said Sunday. "Once you get into minicamp and training camp, you've got to do everything you can to make a team."

The 5-11, 211-pound Zbikowski wouldn't rule out resuming his boxing career at some point.

"There's always a possibility," he said. "I'm never going to take that out, but as long as there's football in my life, it's not going to happen."

Zbikowski said his experience training as a boxer helped prepare him for the combine.

"It kind of feels the same," he said. "You practice so long to get ready to perform. It's not like the regular season, where you go week to week and only have a couple days (of workouts). It's something you've built up, you've been waiting for your entire life."

Zbikowski believes his countless hours of work leading up to the combine should pay off. He's projected to be a third or fourth round pick in April's draft.

"It was six days a week, three times a day," he said. "It was training nonstop."

A tireless work ethic is nothing new for Zbikowski, who leaves Notre Dame as one of the most prolific safeties and punt returners to don the Irish uniform.

He finished college with 300 tackles -- eighth-most in school history -- and holds the career record for tackles by a Notre Dame defensive back, breaking the previous school record of 228 by Jim Browner (1976-78).

He also shares the Irish record for career fumble returns for touchdowns (2), career punt returns for touchdowns (3) and single-season interceptions returned for touchdowns (2, 2005).

Despite his past accomplishments, Zbikowski knows every aspect of his game will be scrutinized by NFL scouts.

"You have to tune it out," he said. "You really can't listen to what they say."

Zbikowski's experience as a punt returner could increase his stock on draft weekend.

"That's the best way coming in to make the ball team, when you show them you can play on special teams," he said.

Regardless of how his NFL career turns out, Zbikowski will always have memories from his professional boxing victory.

"It was awesome," he said. "I trained so hard for it -- six or seven weeks. Then having 40 teammates there to support me and another 60 from home, it was definitely one of the better experiences of my life."

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