More Story: Notre Dame great Chris Zorich finds a new calling

Irish Stew

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Sometimes, there just isn't enough room in the newspaper.

That was the case with our feature on former Notre Dame All-American Chris Zorich, which published on Sunday morning. During a two-hour interview from inside his office at Prairie State College last month, Zorich talked at length about his upbringing, his Notre Dame football football career and more.

Read some of the best stories from that interview below.

Chris Zorich

On the culture shock when he arrived at Notre Dame in 1987:

“One of the big things that I thought was hilarious was that folks would leave their bikes outside unlocked or unchained. I always thought that was kind of weird. But the biggest thing was that people left their dorm doors open. You’re not thinking someone’s going to rob you."

On Zorich's childhood on the south side of Chicago:

“I got my (butt) kicked all the time. It was on a regular basis — maybe once, twice a week. There was just a lot of gang members there and they were trying to force me to join. I was like, ‘I don’t want to do it,’ so they’d beat my (butt) all the time. That’s why people say, ‘Oh, you’re tough because you grew up in this tough neighborhood.’ For me, it was about survival. I would try to avoid certain neighborhoods at certain times of the day, or I would stay in the house and me and my mom would read or watch TV."

On his relationship with his single mother, Zora:

"For me, she was the best friend you could have. I never knew my father, but I kind of feel like, if I meet him, I’d say, ‘Hey, thank you very much for leaving my mom.’ It sounds crazy, but I had such a great life with my mom. As you get older you don’t have a male role model, but I was able to find that in other places. But the idea that I didn’t have that father figure or male influence in my home … I feel bad that I didn’t have that, but I was kind of smothered with love. For me, from when I was born until I was 21 years old, it was great because it was just me and her. Although times were tough and it was hard, we were always there for each other. I learned about sacrifice and discipline from her.”

On how Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz's words of wisdom applied to his life:

“Coach Holtz’s big thing is W.I.N. What’s important now? You have to have a good practice in order to have a good game. You have to have a good game in order to win a championship. For (my mother), ‘What’s important now?’ was survival. There were times when we didn’t have enough food in the house and we didn’t have money to buy any, so we’d go through dumpsters."

On making up games as a child on the south side of Chicago:

“We used to take bricks and throw them through police car windows, just so they could chase us. Not the smartest thing to do. The cops would be hanging out, and all of a sudden a brick would go through the back of a window. Then you’re running.”

“I got caught by the gang banger guys. I never got caught by the cops. It was stupid, but maybe that’s how I got my speed.”

On being recruited by Notre Dame, which he thought was in France:

“It was after my junior season when one of the coaches came up to the school and he was like, ‘We’re really interested in you. Maybe come see the University of Notre Dame.’ I was like, ‘I would love to, but my mom doesn’t like to fly.’ ‘What do you mean your mom doesn’t like to fly?’ ‘There’s no way my mom would fly to France to see me play.’”

“I just didn’t know. Nobody talked about college. Obviously Notre Dame wasn’t in the conversation. It was a big deal if you graduated from high school.”

On taking an official visit to Illinois and receiving a call from Dick Butkus, who went to Zorich's high school and starred at Illinois:

"I was meeting with the head coach, who at that time was Mike White. We’re sitting there talking, and then all of a sudden the phone rings. He picks it up and I’m like, ‘That’s kind of rude.’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, he’s right here. Chris, it’s for you.’ I’m like, ‘What is my mom calling for?’ It’s like, ‘Hey, Chris Zorich! What’s up? This is Dick Butkus! How are you doing? How’s the trip going?’”

On his official visit at Notre Dame:

“I take my visit to Notre Dame and fall in love with the place. The campus was amazing. The people there are incredible. Holtz is doing magic tricks for the recruits. He’s getting me fired up about doing homework. I’m like, ‘OK, this is the place.’ They’re like, ‘How serious are you about it?’ My mom came up to that visit and we called my high school football coach and were like, ‘Hey, what do you think?’ He’s like, ‘No one has this story.’”

On why Holtz never made an in-home visit during the recruiting process:

“When the recruiting process did start, they’re like, ‘Hey, do you want coach Holtz to come to your house? He could talk to your mom.’ I talked to my mom and she said no. I was like, ‘Why wouldn’t you want Lou Holtz at your house?’ It turns out that my mom was like, well, we have mice and roaches and stuff. She didn’t want a mouse to walk across his feet or see a roach come out from behind a picture frame. She was embarrassed about where we lived. I didn’t know that at the time, but that’s what she said. So Holtz never went to my house.”

On Zorich's on-field intensity:

“Todd Lyght tells this story great. I forget what game it was, but I was so focused and intense. I just made a play and I was going back to the huddle. He slapped me on the back and was going to give me a high five, and I punched the air out of him. I was like, ‘Dude, I don’t remember that.’ He was like, ‘When you played, you were just in a zone.’”

On how his life changed at Notre Dame:

“I changed so much as a person and got a chance to meet so many different people. My sophomore year, I meet the president of the United States. A year ago, I was in my neighborhood. I live in the hood, and I just met the president.”

On daily phone calls with his mother at Notre Dame:

"I was dating this one girl in college. She said, ‘I was trying to call you from midnight to two in the morning and your line was busy. Were you talking to some other girl?’ I was like, ‘I was talking to my mom.’”

On the first time he passed out turkeys before Thanksgiving in 1991:

“I went to my old neighborhood and started passing them out. I went to this one house, knocked on the door. I said, ‘I’m with the Chicago Bears.’ I didn’t know her. It was an older woman. I said, ‘Here, I got a turkey for you.’ She’s like, ‘That won’t defrost in time.’ I didn’t know.”

On the day before his final court appearance in 2013:

“Before your last court appearance where the judge is going to decide if you’re going to go to jail or not, you actually take a two-hour course and it’s literally like ‘Jail 101.’ They talk to you about money, commissary, how many visits you can have — all that stuff. I’m sitting there like … I was like a zombie."

On how his legal troubles shaped his perspective at Prairie State:

“That’s why here, when kids do get in trouble, we don’t automatically write them off. It’s, ‘Why? What happened? Do we need to get you counseling? What’s going on?’ Because I’ve been in that situation.”

On his job as the athletics director at Prairie State College:

“This is a great job. You talk to any athletic director and I think they’ll say that, but I say that because athletics are my passion. But more importantly, I know what athletics have done for me and I know what it can do for other young men and women. It changed my life."

“To the best of my ability, I want these student-athletes to have the same experience I had. Granted, it’s a little different at Notre Dame, but I want to give them the support they need to be successful. I want to be that resource for these young men and women.”

Tim Ryan (Zorich's teammate/roommate at Notre Dame)

On Zorich's on-field intensity:

“Between the white lines … he was a completely different person than he was off the field. I think that’s even more representative today, just because of his personality. He enjoys being around people and hosting things. He’s very gregarious. He likes to be the nucleus of getting different people to meet each other. He likes to bring people together.”

“He was nasty. That was the best way to put it. He wasn’t maliciously going to injure somebody, but if he could hit them as hard as they could be hit and that hurt them, then hey, that’s part of the game.”

“For those three or four years, that defense had the same mentality. He was a good fit for those guys.”

On why Zorich is a good fit at Prairie State College:

“I think he can deliver a pretty strong message. He’s certainly got the background and battle scars to relate to them. It’s got to be pretty effective.”

“Based on his entire skill set and what he knows about what these kids are going to be going through in that period of time, I can’t think of anybody better. He can individually relate to all the different circumstances that come through there.”

John Potocki (Zorich's high school football coach)

On the first time he met Zorich:

“The first time I saw him, the school is 4,500 kids and he’s walking in the hall and he’s got a pink handkerchief on and he’s wearing pink gym shoes. I walked over to him and said, ‘Do you know that you’re in Chicago and this is Chicago Vocational and people pick on people who wear things like this?’"

On his football program at Chicago Vocational School:

“We ran a very strict program. You weren’t allowed to have girlfriends. I did not allow that, because I said, ‘You need to go home and study for two hours.’ He did exactly what I told him to do.”

On Zorich's toughness:

“Lou Holtz called me one time. He told me, ‘Can you get him to stop saying yes sir and no sir?’ I said, ‘That’s in him.’ And he said, ‘Can you ask him not to fight so much on the field?’ Coach Holtz would kick him out if he did.”

“He was able not only to play through adversity, he lived through adversity. You couldn’t keep him down.”

On Zorich's community service:

“I told my players, ‘If you make it big, you have to give back to the neighborhood.’ He really gave back to the neighborhood. He really, really did.”

Carlos Reyes (Prairie State men's soccer coach)

On his bond with Zorich, who hired him:

“I think the reason why we connected so much is because we understand the struggle. We understand the value of what you have and what you have accomplished, therefore you take care of it. You appreciate. One of the things I tell my student athletes, and Chris Zorich knows this as well, is that the quality of life starts with your behavior. Everything starts with your behavior. Even if you don’t have the education, even if you don’t have anything, if you have morals and principles, you will have an open door anywhere.”

Dr. Terri Winfree (President at Prairie State College)

On Zorich's enthusiasm:

"Whatever it is, I’ve seen him literally jump right in. I know he started July 1st, and he was in the Fourth of July parade. He didn’t have to be, and not everybody is. We have three parades that we do — a Veteran’s Day, a Labor Day and a Fourth of July. We do a few. It was his very first active service of being a part of the Prairie State family that he went with me to a small town in our district and was in a Fourth of July parade, and it was great. He just jumped in there. A month later, the soccer coach up and quit, so Chris jumped right in and started coaching soccer, not that that was his background. But he did it. The very first day he was out there with a suit on, but he’s in the field. He wasn’t going to let the students down, so he went out and did it. We just had graduation day, our commencement services, and he drove the bus. So he would pick people up in the parking lot, drive them to the fieldhouse where the commencement services were being held. He does whatever.”

Chris Zorich's at Prairie State College Wednesday, May 30, 2017, in Chicago Heights, Ill. Zorich became the athletic director at Prairie State in 2015. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN