Now, nobody blocks Zizakovic HD: Terps tackle sheds injuries, begins to fulfill vast potential

September 21, 1990|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Sun Staff Correspondent

COLLEGE PARK -- Defensive tackle Lubo Zizakovic spent so much time in the University of Maryland training room during the past two years that his teammates named a table in his honor.

PTC "Every day I would be in on that table. Blown hamstrings, hurt back, sprained neck, always something," said Zizakovic, a 6-foot-7, 256-pound junior. "It was very frustrating. I wasn't a very happy camper. They had a plaque and it said, 'Lubo's table.' "

Zizakovic has visited the training room several times this season, but only for some tape. He has started all three games for Maryland (2-1) and is the team's seventh-leading tackler with 19. also has two sacks, one forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a deflected pass.

Suddenly, there are no more jokes about Zizakovic's health, and finally has started to cash in on that potential tag he carried around with all those ice packs.

"When a player keeps getting injured, he has to spend more time on conditioning and flexibility than other players," said Dennis Murphy, Maryland's defensive line coach. "Lubo spent his entire summer here, finding a job and working out. Every day he was in the weight room."

And now. . . .

"Nobody can block him," said Scott Whittier, Maryland's inside linebacker.

Zizakovic came to Maryland in 1987 with a boyish grin, an athletic background and a body a coach would love. He was a three-sport performer in football, basketball and rugby at Weston Collegiate Institute in Ontario, where his parents had come from Yugoslavia to live in the mid-1960s.

Zizakovic's older brother, Srecko, a former linebacker at Ohio State and now a 6-6, 255-pound defensive lineman with the Calgary Stampeders in the Canadian Football League, had been successful, and Maryland coaches thought Lubo could be, too.

But the injuries came early. Zizakovic pulled a hamstring in his freshman year, but nobody cared because he redshirted. In 1988 he was a backup to all-conference tackle Warren Powers, but even as a reserve, he had recurring back spasms, playing in only five games and making only five tackles.

The 1989 season was supposed to be Zizakovic's year. Powers was drafted by the Denver Broncos, leaving Zizakovic to compete with sophomore Darren Drozdov.

Drozdov won the job because Zizakovic was again slowed by injuries even though he graded out at 80 percent or better in eight games, including season-high efforts of 94 against North Carolina State and Wake Forest.

"I sprained my knee and missed most of spring practice," said Zizakovic. "Then I pulled my left hamstring and missed most of two-a-day practices in the summer. That was like missing a whole year. Then in the fourth game against Clemson, I sprained my neck and had to miss the next two games.

"I was depressed about my situation, the team losing and life in general," he said. "I lost some confidence because I wasn't progressing."

Finally, he completed a full spring practice in 1990, one in which he regained his competitive spirit. During the summer he dropped from 275 pounds to 252 and he concentrated on using technique instead of trying to overpower opponents.

"He would just try to muscle you," said O'Neil Glenn, Maryland's right offensive tackle. "He used to stand up high, and it was easy to get into his body. Now he has three or four different techniques that he works and he's starting to use his height for leverage. He's also very intense."

Zizakovic also may have been overlooked in the preseason. When people talked about Maryland's defense, they talked about linemen Rick Fleece and Larry Webster and the linebacking depth.

Nobody mentioned Zizakovic.

"I think that helped Lubo elevate his game," said Maryland cornerback Scott Rosen. "Once he started seeing everybody else making big plays, Lubo wanted to get a piece of the action."

Zizakovic's forte is pass rushing, and the Terps will need strong effort from him tomorrow against N.C. State, which frequently uses a one-back set.

It's a good chance for him to impress the CFL scouts, who, he said, draft players during their junior seasons. He does plan, however, to stay at Maryland for another year.

"I know they're watching me," he said. "I feel a lot quicker and I'm moving a lot better with the weight loss. I just want to get better, always improving, and, hopefully, I'll get my chance. I would like for it all to come together for me, but most of all, I just want to stay healthy."

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