Jared Tomich, an All-America outside linebacker for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, lives two miles from campus in a mobile-home park called Countryside Estates with his iguana, his girlfriend and their cat. Their mobile home consists of a kitchen, a living room with a TV, a narrow hallway and two bedrooms, but the cozy dwelling might as well be a library, for all the studying Tomich does in it. He happily studies game tapes for hours at a time: his fascination with how a single down unfolds is limitless. He spends even more time with the texts from his classes, but this work is not as effortless. Tomich has a learning disability called attention-deficit disorder. Retaining information acquired through reading is a monstrous task for him. When he tries to concentrate on numbers or written words, his mind is bombarded with stray thoughts.
For pictures, though, he has a certain genius.
"This is third-and-14, so you know 90 percent of the time they're going to pass," Tomich says. He's watching a tape of Nebraska's season opener, a 64-21 victory over Oklahoma State, and preparing for the final game of the campaign, against Florida in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2. "The ball is snapped, and I realize they've double-teamed me. All I want to do is get to the quarterback, so with my right hand I push the tight end into the tackle. My left arm is flailing. Then I see this flash—the quarterback—and I get my left arm around him and pull him down. I'm feeling jubilant. I start to raise my arms, but I put them down fast. They're cracking down on displays of celebration. That was my first sack of the year. My goal was 10 sacks, and that's what I got."
Tomich (his Croatian name is pronounced TOM-ich) is an immense man of 21 years with a 2.3 grade point average and a lively vocabulary. (He routinely uses words such as flailing and jubilant.) He plans to play for the Cornhuskers next year, as a fifth-year senior, then make himself available for the NFL draft. If he continues on his current path, if he becomes bigger and stronger and faster, he could be a first-round pick. (He's already 6'2" and weighs 260 pounds; he bench-presses 400 pounds and runs the 40-yard dash in 4.83 seconds.) He looks like a professional linebacker already. His ears barely protrude from his shaved head, no part of which is wider than his neck. But he's not in any rush for the pros. One more year at Nebraska, he figures, will do wonders for him as a football player and as a student.
On a school night earlier this month, Tomich sat in his home and explained to a visitor how a college football player becomes a professional. Phil, the iguana, and Flea, the cat, were among his listeners. So was Lisa Walczak, his girlfriend. They went together to their high school prom in St. John, Ind.
"In May they have this combine, and all the college players go there and get tested for strength and speed and stuff, then in April they have the draft, and then you negotiate with the team that drafts you," Tomich said.
"Wouldn't they have the combine first, then the draft'?" the visitor offered. For a moment, Tomich appeared confused.
"May comes after April," said Walczak, gently.
Tomich made a quick nod of recognition and said, "I mean March. The combine's in March, then the draft." (In fact, the combine is usually in February.)
Some tasks that are simple for most people are complex for Tomich. Trying to understand the boundaries of his mind, the visitor asked him to multiply nine times seven. "Let me think for a minute," said Tomich, a communications major. "I haven't done this for a while. Usually, I use a calculator." Two seconds passed. "Sixty-three."