When Tomich was a senior in high school, an Indiana coaches' poll named him an all-state defensive end. But he made mostly C's and D's in his classes, and when he took the Scholastic Aptitude Test, he scored less than 600. Virtually every recruiter looking at his transcript thought, Not college material. Not NCAA Division I material, anyway. Some even doubted his football skill. After his senior season, a recruiter from Purdue got on the phone with Tomich one night and said. "You're not talented enough to play for us." Tomich, a gentle soul who channeled his classroom frustrations into weightlifting, slammed down the receiver. "That was devastating," Cheryll recalls. "He was in tears. I was in tears. I wrote that man a letter. I let him have it."
In the road map of his mind, Jared changed directions. He started to imagine himself working beside his father at the steel mill. He figured his dream of playing big-time college football was over.
Several months later, a stranger named Dick Peterson came to Tomich's aid. Peterson was the strength coach at a rival high school, East Chicago (Ind.) Central. He had seen Tomich on the Lake Central football field and at weightlifting competitions. He was impressed by Tomich's immense strength and resolve. Peterson called his alma mater, Nebraska, and spoke to McBride. "I said, 'He's a diamond in the rough,' " Peterson remembers. "Coach McBride said, 'I'll take a look.' "
Tomich's transcripts made McBride nervous, but the speed and strength revealed on the tapes of his high school games persuaded him to press on. "I went to his school, I stopped a kid in the hallway," McBride says. "The kid was a third-team player. I asked him what Jared Tomich is like. He said, 'Jared's one of the nicest guys on the team and one of the hardest workers.' I went on from there. You could see Jared had excellent values. You could see he had parents who cared. All he wanted was a chance."
In March of his senior year, Tomich applied to Nebraska. A teacher wrote a letter describing Tomich's learning disability, and, under a special program for such students, Tomich took the SAT with a proctor reading the questions and without a time clock. He says he scored 860. He was admitted to Nebraska but told he would have to take certain classes to make up for his high school deficiencies. Upon arrival in Lincoln, Tomich took a series of tests that gave a name to his learning problems: attention-deficit disorder. The team doctor, in consultation with university education specialists, gave Tomich a prescription for Ritalin, a drug that is frequently given to patients who are hyper-active or have ADD, but Tomich balked at the idea of a drug that affected his mind and soon stopped taking it. (Later, Jared's brother, Justin, now in eighth grade, was found to have ADD and was given Ritalin for a year, Cheryll says.)
Jared says he owes his current grade point average, at least in part, to his girlfriend. Walczak, a criminal justice major, frequently reads class texts aloud with Jared. Words spoken make much more of an impression on Tomich than words he reads silently. Images make the greatest impression of all.
Tomich has watched a great deal of tape of Florida football. He has pictures in his mind of what the Gators do and pictures of what he'll do in response. He has pictures beyond the Fiesta Bowl, too. He imagines himself driving a reliable car. He imagines himself spending vacations in a cabin on a lake with a big sky above him and mountains all around. He liked the movie The Swiss Family Robinson, loved how the family got by on ingenuity, how it thrived without modern technology, without written communication. "Those guys," Tomich says, "had it made."