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Chop-aholics

Chop-aholics

Tomich, Orsag take on all comers in a new arena of motorcycles

SCHERERVILLE -- It's celebrity golf, at a posh country club, and here's a menacing Jared Tomich tooling around on his chopper looking like Vin Diesel's stunt double.

Dressed in a white T-shirt, golf shorts and spikes, bald with a goatee, Tomich was among 40 celebrities volunteering their time in Monday's annual Ron Kittle Sports Charities Golf Classic at Briar Ridge.

"Action star? Nah, I've got a face for radio, not films," Tomich laughed.

A former Lake Central and Nebraska football standout, the 6-foot-3, 290-pounder recently closed the book on an NFL career that included stints with the Saints, Cardinals, Chiefs and Packers.

"I signed my papers probably six weeks ago," Tomich said. "Nothing's ever final and you could always come out of retirement, but I'm done. It's the first summer I'm not in some kind of minicamp or getting ready to go -- and it's nice. I'm really enjoying it."

Blue collar all the way and extremely personable, no one on any NFL roster played harder than Tomich.

"Right now, it's not bad," he said of stepping away from the game he still loves. "But I think once football training camps kick in, and I'm seeing everything on ESPN, I'll probably feel (the void) a little more.

"We'll see what happens this fall."

A natural defensive end, Tomich often played out of position as an interior lineman, which prevented him from developing any consistency. Nagging injuries also set him back.

"I was real happy with my career and how everything went. I was fortunate to play as long as I did," said Tomich, the 39th overall pick in the 1997 draft. "Looking back now and comparing myself to guys who came out of college the same time I did and how many have lasted this long, I'm pretty happy."

The turning point in his career occurred with New Orleans, when he blew out his ankle and needed reconstructive surgery.

"I was just coming into my own when that happened," Tomich said. "And then the coaching change."

Mike Ditka was fired by new general manager Randy Mueller, who then hired Jim Haslett, who basically wouldn't give Tomich the time of day.

"If Ditka were still coaching, I'm sure I'd still be playing," Tomich added. "When coach left, that's when things kinda went downhill for me. He was the one who was definitely in my corner."

Tomich and business partner Jim Orsag, a 1982 TF South grad and former professional baseball player, were among the 250 golfers helping Kittle raise money for cancer research.

"Last year, we passed out $135,000 to the five area hospitals," Kittle said. "We've raised well over $1 million the last 15 years.

"It's a fight to get the celebrities here. The current ones are hard to come by. They're making way too much money. But the loyal players, past and present, are really good for us."

Tomich and Orsag, both longtime motorcycle enthusiasts, hope to be regulars at this annual event.

Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper? Not quite. These easy riders will soon open "Pro Players' Creations" in Dyer and parked two of their custom-built choppers near the food tent at Briar Ridge for some show and tell.

"We're building 'em from the ground up, from scratch. Jim is a fantastic painter and we do all the work in house," said Tomich, who had worked as a Harley-Davidson mechanic in New Orleans during the offseason.

Other "crew" members for this latest venture include wives Lisa Tomich and Virginia Orsag, Jim's dad, and mechanic Herb Podenski of Lake Station.

"I'm the backbone of the whole thing, I guess," Jim Orsag said. "I've been involved in the bikes since I got out of baseball in '91 ... custom painting, custom builds. Jared and I definitely have a passion for creating something from nothing."

One of Kittle's celebrities, ex-White Sox teammate Carlton Fisk, is a huge fan of motorcycles. The Hall of Fame catcher made a beeline to the food tent Monday, and not for brats and beer.

"I've known Carlton for years," said Orsag, who played in the Boston and Cleveland organizations. "He bought a 2003 Harley-Davidson and would like to do some work on it. When you know people you can trust, you're likely to get business from them."

Al Hamnik can be reached at ahamnik@nwitimes.com or (219) 933-4154.

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