Once Obscure Walk-On Tomasevicz Now a Gold Medal Favorite in Winter Olympics
Randy York's N-sider
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You know the kind we're talking about...a rags-to-riches, once-in-a-lifetime account that shows us all how passion and perseverance help a definitive longshot defy odds so high that it absolutely flabbergasts you.
Perhaps the tough-minded, hard-charging Makovicka brothers are your favorite walk-on story, just like they were for more than 1,100 Nebraska football fans who voted them No. 1 in a Huskers.com Fan Poll last summer.
At least part of Joel and Jeff Makovicka's popularity, no doubt, can be traced to their hitting it big despite their small-town roots in Brainard, Neb., population: 351.
About 30 miles from Brainard is Fullerton, Neb., population: 1,221, and home of Brian Schuster, another Nebraska walk-on fullback who lettered three years (1994-95-96). Schuster became a First-Team Academic All-Big 12 player before signing a free-agent contract with the Carolina Panthers.
Now, from the same East-Central Nebraska area as the Makovickas and Schuster (not to mention legendary scholarship fullback Cory Schlesinger from nearby Duncan, Neb), we introduce yet another walk-on fullback who is within weeks of writing one of the unique Husker success stories of all time.
The Pride and Joy of Shelby, Nebraska
Ladies and gentlemen, please reserve one of your best Husker Power cheers for Curtis Tomasevicz (pronounced Tom-eh-SEV-itch), a once obscure walk-on fullback who has become the pride and joy of Shelby, Neb.
The fame of Tomasevicz emerges from the back seat of the world's fastest and most consistent four-man bobsled team. The USA is a slight favorite to beat the Germans and the Canadians on their home track for the gold medal next month in the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver and Whistler, British Columbia.
Getting to that elite status has been Chapter 2 of an even more startling walk-on journey where Tomasevicz showed up, unrecruited and unannounced, and worked his way into the world's fastest sled. Check out his personal website where he chronicles and documents his journey. It's a nice primer to warm you up and help you count down to the Feb. 12 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremonies.
"To me, the Opening Ceremonies is the greatest honor any athlete can experience," Tomasevicz said in a telephone interview Monday night from Chicago after spending last week competing in Austria and then heading to San Diego for a week of rest, relaxation, sprint training and weightlifting.
From there, he will head to Park City, Utah, for another week of training and then on to Canada for the Winter Games - his second after competing in the 2006 Winter Games in Torino, Italy.
One Billion Viewers for Opening Ceremonies
"I remember walking through the tunnel at the Opening Ceremonies four years ago, and one of the parade coordinators handed me a little American flag," Tomasevicz recalled. "She told me about a billion people would be watching on TV that night."
Tomasevicz couldn't help remembering all the hard work and sacrifices he made as a walk-on and how they prepared him for the worldwide stage.
"When we were about to come out of a tunnel in Italy similar to what we came out of for home football games at Nebraska, I thought I knew what to expect," Tomasevicz said. "But when I saw the Olympic Rings and actually thought about that many people watching us on TV, that's when it really hit me. I'd made it. This was the Olympics, and I was wearing a uniform with USA on my back. I was representing the whole country and the entire state of Nebraska. It's quite a trip, very humbling."
Tomasevicz, 29, learned long ago that when opportunity knocks, sometimes you wait years before you can open the door.
He, for instance, had an appointment to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, but when he broke his collarbone three days before he was to take his physical fitness test, Academy officials would not grant him an extension, and he was denied entrance.
He opted for an academic scholarship at Nebraska, but it was so late in the process that he missed any chance to walk on in football. NU Assistant Coach Dan Young told Tomasevicz that his only chance would be a tryout in January.
First-Team Academic All-Big 12 Honors
January 15th, 2000, was a big day in the life of Curtis Tomasevicz. One of 120 walk-ons who tried out that day, the Huskers kept only four, including him. Only two stuck it out to the end with Tomasevicz finishing his career with a flourish as a First-Team Academic All-Big 12 selection and a member of the Brook Berringer Citizenship Team.
His tryout to walk on was the Boyd Epley Physical Fitness Test consisting of a 40-yard dash, a 10-yard dash, the pro agility drill and the vertical jump, a performance that really caught the coaches' eyes. His 39-inch vertical jump that day set a record for Nebraska fullbacks.
Once he joined the team in the spring and became a Scout Team fullback-running back, "I found out a lot about myself those first two years," Tomasevicz said. "I just got the crap beat out of me every day by Blackshirts like Mike Brown, Carlos Polk and Kyle Vanden Bosch."
His last two years as a Husker were spent as a linebacker and special teams player, and his most memorable moment came when he nailed Colorado's Jeremy Bloom, who became an Olympic skier, on the game's opening kickoff at CU's 5-yard-line.
Tomasevicz likes to think that he helped set the tone for Frank Solich's last game as Nebraska's head coach - a 31-22 win over the Buffs.
"My dream was like everyone else growing up in Nebraska - to wear that N on the side of my helmet and to find a way to get on the playing field," Tomasevicz said. "The thing about playing at Nebraska as a walk-on is really pretty simple. We've all been fans of the program almost since birth. When you grow up with that kind of love in your heart, you can't help but bring that extra passion to the program."
That passion, of course, is now inside a bobsled where Tomasevicz is the brakeman, meaning he's the last guy on the sled. "I push for about five seconds as hard as I can, jump in the sled, then go for a one-minute ride," he said. "I love the adrenalin rush of going down the track."
Exploding, Then Becoming Part of the Sled
Bobsledding is a sport that "fits my body type - strong, but still fast," Tomasevicz said. "It's one big five-second burst of power, and that's it. It's all about explosion and power and then making sure you're low aerodynamically. You can't fight the pressure of the curve. You can't be tense and tight. You have to be loose and become part of the sled."
The sled can reach speeds up to 96 miles an hour. "Bobsledding is not very gentle on the body," Tomasevicz said. "I know it kind of looks like you're going for a smooth roller-coaster ride, but it's very violent because you get bounced off the hard ice and off the walls, so it can really jolt your body and your back. It wears you down."
Just like all those physical hits he absorbed on Nebraska's Scout Team wore him down. "Walking on at Nebraska really did prepare me for what I'm doing now," Tomasevicz said. "I wouldn't be where I am if I hadn't gone through what I did. It gave me the toughness and the resiliency to take on a whole different challenge. It's just like football. You give everything you have and try to hang in there and get better every day."
Interestingly, his tryout to become an Olympic bobsledder in Calgary was similar to his tryout to become a Nebraska walk-on. "It was about sprints, vertical jumps and power output kinds of drills," he said.
Chapter 2 of the Curtis Tomasevicz Walk-On Success Story worked out just as well as Chapter 1 did at Memorial Stadium. A month after his Olympic tryout, "they asked me to be on the World Cup team, and six years later, I'm still here," Tomasevicz said.
His teammates in the four-man sled are Steve Holcomb, Justin Olsen and Steve Mesler. Holcomb, Tomasevicz's partner and pilot in the two-man sled, is also the driver of the four-man sled, so most of the pressure is on him. Olsen played tight end at the Air Force Academy, and Mesler, the team's fastest athlete, was an All-Southeastern Conference decathlete at Florida.
"Our team is a great balance of speed and power," Tomasevicz said. "I'm the strongest guy on the team because I can squat (528 pounds) and clean a little more than the other guys. The other three are a little bit faster than I am. We all bring different strengths and characteristics to the table."
Traits of a Walk-On: Consistent, Healthy, Reliable
Bottom line, "I'm consistent, healthy and reliable. That's why they chose me for both the two-man and the four-man sled," said Tomasevicz, who will compete in the two-man Feb. 20-21 and the four-man Feb. 26-27.
Consistent, healthy, reliable ... sounds like the resume of a Nebraska football walk-on, doesn't it?
"Yes it does," Tomasevicz said. "We may get knocked down a lot, but we get right back up and keep going - every day."
Not surprisingly, his own quote matches up well with his favorite quote from legendary Coach Bear Bryant, who once said: "It's not the size of the dog in the fight; it's the size of the fight in the dog".
Curtis Tomasevicz proved that as a Nebraska football walk-on, and he proved it again as an Olympic bobsledding walk-on.
In the past, the sport had welcomed such pro football players as Herschel Walker and Willie Gault and Olympic hurdler Edwin Moses.
Now it has one of Nebraska's most prized possessions - a walk-on.
"At Nebraska," Tomasevicz said, "I learned a lot about myself through hard work, determination and teamwork. They're life lessons that I will never forget."
Voices from Husker Nation
Living in Minnesota since 1968, a few things have changed. Started listening to Nebraska football games sitting in my dad's Rambler in the driveway hoping the AM station would be clear enough to hear the whole game. Now just pick up the phone to order any game not on national broadcast and watch in high-def in the comfort of the living room. Always stopping by Memorial Stadium and just walking right out on the field anytime we came back to see family. Remember parking my big rig right in front of the stadium to go to Big Red Shop to stock up on new clothing and souvenirs. Still wear almost exclusive Husker shirts though. Always get a strange look from others when they don't see me in a bright red shirt with Huskers strewn all over it. One thing that hasn't changed is the walk-on program (thank god for that). After reading the article about Curtis Tomasevicz, it struck me how fortunate we are and made me wonder what is it that makes these Huskers have such extraordinary determination? Perhaps a little in-depth investigation may reveal some common ground that puts all of these great Nebraskans at the top of anyone's list. GO BIG RED! Steve Hatcher, Stewartville, Minnesota
Great article on Curtis. We have been following his career after football. Our son (Kevin Guse) and Curtis are still close friends. Kevin was the other walk-on (#26 from that tryout of 120) that stuck it out until the end. Kevin still works and lives with his family in Lincoln. His wife, Alisha, was a gymnast at NU. Best of luck in Vancouver, Curtis. GBR & USA. Allan Guse, Longmont, Colorado
What an awesome story about Curtis Tomasevicz. Thanks for taking time to write this wonderful article. Yvonne Pence
Curt Tomasevicz Profile
Born: Sept. 17, 1980
Hometown: Shelby, Nebraska
Weight: 225 lbs
Education: Bachelor's and Master's of Science degrees in Electrical Engineering with minor in Astronomy from University of Nebraska.
Football: Walked on at Nebraska and lettered as a linebacker/special teams player in 2003.
Husker highlight: Made a physical tackle of Colorado's Jeremy Bloom on CU's 5-yard-line after Bloom tried to run the ball out of the end zone on the opening kickoff of Frank Solich's last game as Nebraska's head coach. The tackle set the tone for the Huskers' 31-22 win over the Buffs.
After Nebraska: Walked on for an Olympic tryout and represented the USA as a member of its four-man bobsledding team that finished sixth in the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Torino, Italy. Last March, Tomasevicz was the brakeman for the USA team that won the World Championship - its first in bobsledding in 50 years.
Current: Member of USA's four-man bobsledding team that last Sunday became the 2009-10 World Cup points champion and is a favorite to win the gold in next month's 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada. It would be the USA's first Olympic gold medal in bobsledding in 62 years. Tomasevicz also will represent the USA in the two-man sled that is considered a possible medalist at the Winter Games in Vancouver and Whistler beginning Feb. 12.
Local following: About 12 Nebraska friends and family members will make the trip to Vancouver to watch Tomasevicz compete.
Hobbies: Playing bass guitar, astronomy, reading.
Favorite tour stop: St. Moritz, Switzerland. "It's high in the Swiss Alps and located in a very beautiful spot. The track is the only completely natural track. There's no concrete or building material used. It's made of ice blocks stacked up and shaved down. It takes weeks to build and lots of maintenance work. It only lasts for a few weeks out of the year in January."
Favorite movie: "The Sandlot" (1993)
Favorite book: Anything by Michael Crichton
Favorite music: Pearl Jam, Candlebox, Collective Soul
Favorite team besides Nebraska: Chicago Cubs
Favorite athlete: Greg Maddux
Favorite snack: Crunchy peanut butter and chocolate milk