The speculation ended Sunday afternoon as sophomore Tom Zbikowski was seen running onto Cartier Field with his familiar No. 9 jersey.
Zbikowski met with the media after Sunday’s practice to address questions of his whereabouts the last few days.
“It was non-football related—personal issues,” Zbikowski said of his absence from practice this weekend. “(I) just had to step away and take a deep breath. I’m extremely glad to be back. I’m glad to see my teammates. I’m glad to see my coaches. I’m glad just to be back.”
The Buffalo Grove, Ill. native said he just went home to take care of some personal issues.
“Yeah, I went home,” Zbikowski said. “I stopped at home—just personal stuff. I don’t want to go into too much detail. I didn’t practice Friday and I came back today.”
The sophomore free safety says he kept in touch with Irish coach Tyrone Willingham during his absence.
“I talked to him and I talked to coach Wilks, just let them know what was going on,” Zbikowski said. “I didn’t want them to worry and let a couple of my teammates know.”
The former first-team USA Today All-American says he’s staying at Notre Dame for the foreseeable future.
“Definitely, I’m here to stay,” he said. “I just needed a day or two, but I’m here to stay.”
Zbikowski also said he wasn’t thinking of leaving or talking with any other teams about a possible transfer from Notre Dame.
“No, I don’t think so,” Zbikowski said when asked if he contemplated leaving Notre Dame. “I wasn’t making contacts with any others. I never left the team. I left the University, I never left the team.”
Being away from his teammates also gave Zbikowski a sense of how much his teammates appreciated him.
“Just when I was home, I got even closer with the guys,” Zbikowski said. “They were backing me up the whole time. That’s what Notre Dame is about. I’ll go to battle with these guys any day.
“I had 20 some messages,” the former Golden Gloves boxer said. “Some from people that I know but I’m not really that close with. It shows you how tight our team is.”
The former high school quarterback also said he would be fine with senior Quentin Burrell being named the starter at free safety if that is what happens in the future.
“He’s got the experience” Zbikowski said of Burrell. “He knows what it’s like to play in the ball game and I’ve got to be a sponge and learn everything I can from him.”
Irish coach Tyrone Willingham said he wasn’t certain how Zbikowski’s situation would work out in the end, but he was hopeful.
“You never know, but your response to all things of this nature is just to do what's right, what's just, and what's fair - that's the Notre Dame way,” Willingham said.
Willingham also said he and his coaching staff have issues to deal with every day with members on his team.
"There are issues every day, Willingham said. “We have multiple issues every day that cover everything. There are kids who are hurting right now because there is something wrong with someone in their family. This is what we go through; that's a part of it. It's a part of the job of managing 105-110 guys - those are the things we deal with."
Zbikowski is still battling Burrell for the starting free safety spot. He’s also considered a likely candidate for the dime position if he does not end up starting, and he’s a member on all of the Notre Dame’s special teams packages.