Catching Rocky Lombardi on the phone in early December after football season had wrapped up, I thought I might find the Michigan State quarterback commit sitting back and resting for once.
He’s already moved on to wrestling and took some time to talk before a meet on Thursday. Having wrestled for about 10 years, he’s now moving on to his final season as a senior at West Des Moines (Iowa) Valley.
You don’t see too many quarterbacks who wrestle, but Lombardi is not your typical quarterbacks. His coaches have to remind him not to lay the lumber on opposing defenders if he doesn’t have to.
And off the field? Well, this interview should help you get to know the next Spartans quarterback. Let’s go right to the million-dollar question.
Q: What would you do if you won $1 million?
Lombardi: “Realistically, probably put it in a savings account and invest in something. But the adventurer inside me wants to probably go on a trip, either to Europe or to the West Coast, and visit all the national parks.”
Q: Have you ever done anything like that before?
Lombardi: “I’ve never been out of the country, and I really haven’t been west, except for when I did a baseball tournament once in Denver, then the Elite 11 camp in Los Angeles.”
Q: When you think about national parks, does any particular one come to mind, like Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon?
Lombardi: “My dad went to college at Arizona State, so he talks about the Grand Canyon a little bit, so I want to visit that. Yellowstone’s probably one of my favorites. And then Yosemite also.”
Q: Is there a certain spot in Europe that sticks out? Have you seen pictures of some country in particular that you want to visit?
Lombardi: “Not necessarily. Rome, with all its rich history, that would be something cool. If I wanted to see one place in Europe to teach me a little about the history of Europe, Rome would probably be at the top of my list. Maybe Berlin. I’m a big World War II junkie, and there’s a lot of history there as well.”
Q: Is there a chance you might be studying history in college, or do you have any idea what you might want to major in?
Lombardi: “I’ll probably end up doing something in business, but I’m pretty much undecided right now.”
Q: Kind of going off the vacation question, what’s the best trip you’ve ever taken?
Lombardi: “We don’t vacation a lot, but I love to go fishing, and we’ve done two different fishing trip that I’ve really enjoyed. One wasn’t necessarily a fishing trip, but last spring break I went down to Florida, and I got to go deep-sea fishing for grouper, and that was extremely fun. Before that, in middle school, we used to go up to northern Minnesota and stay in a cabin and fish and stay out on a lake. Those are probably my two favorite trips.”
Q: What’s the best catch you’ve ever made?
Lombardi: “I don’t know. My brother’s usually the one that catches the big ones. I don’t know how he does it. He caught a bunch of pretty good-sized grouper in the ocean, 25-26 inches. I’ve caught a pretty decent-sized bass, about six pounds, in a little pond just around my house. That was pretty unexpected. And we always catch pike up in Minnesota. Those are always fun to catch. They fight hard.”
Q: Apart from the pond you mentioned, are there that many areas where you can fish in Iowa? I haven’t seen too many lakes in my time out there.
Lombardi: “There really aren’t. My friend actually has a pond on his property that sometimes we go fish on, but other than that, no, there really aren’t that many places. I think there may be one or two lakes even around the Des Moines area that we’ll go boat or water ski on.”
Q: Have you lived in Iowa all your life?
Lombardi: “I’ve kind of moved around, actually. I was born in Ann Arbor at University of Michigan Hospital. Then I lived in downtown Chicago for a few years, and then I moved to the southwest suburbs, Plainfield, Illinois. And then I lived in Hinsdale, Illinois, and then I moved to Iowa. Cedar Rapids is probably where I spent the majority of my childhood, five years I think. And now I live in Des Moines. I moved to Des Moines freshman year and I’ve stayed here all four years of high school.”
Q: Let me be the 1,000th person to ask about your name. Were you named after the famous boxing character?
Lombardi: “No, I was named after Rocky Bleier, the old Steeler. My dad (Tony) was a running back in college, so that was his favorite player, and that’s who I was named after.”
Q: And being part of a football family through and through, does your lineage trace back at all to (legendary Packers coach) Vince Lombardi by chance?
Lombardi: “I don’t think so, but we are from the same part of Italy, so it could be a possible relation way back.”
Q: Going into some more day-to-day questions, what’s the first thing you do when you get home from school?
Lombardi: “I probably sit down on the couch for 10 minutes and do nothing. Or eat. One of the two. When I get done with school, I usually just like to go home and take five or six minutes and just think, just kind of reflect on the day and get ready for the rest of the day.”
Q: What would you say is your go-to snack?
Lombardi: “In the afternoon, I’d probably say it’s some kind of meat sandwich, whatever we’ve got: meat, bread and mustard. Or fruit snacks. We’ve got Mott fruit snacks, which are a favorite of mine.”
Q: When you get a little chill time, is there a TV show that you can’t miss an episode of?
Lombardi: “I wouldn’t say that, but I do watch Netflix a lot, like before I go to bed, and I’m really into documentaries recently. It’s kind of been my thing, I guess. I’ve watched all of the (BBC) series “Life” and “Planet Earth” and pretty much everything that has to do with nature. I’m on (six-part documentary) “Wild China” right now, so I’m learning a little bit about the wilderness in China and all the different habitats. That’s kind of the stuff I geek out about.”
Q: What’s your favorite subject in school?
Lombardi: “In general, I like science, but right now maybe statistics or U.S. History.”
Q: So you watch a lot of documentaries, but do you have a favorite movie?
Lombardi: “The ‘Star Wars’ was always a go-to for me. The new movie came out, so I really got into it again a couple years ago. The ‘Star Wars’ series is something that I enjoy. ‘Remember the Titans’ is a classic football movie that I can always go back and watch. I really like ‘Kingsman.’ It’s a secret agent film.”
Q: With all the hype around ‘Star Wars,’ did it reach your expectations?
Lombardi: “It was very cool. It was little more modern than I wish. It didn’t correlate with the older movies as much as I wanted it to, but it was definitely extremely entertaining and exciting.”
Q: If a movie was to be made about your life, what actor would you want to play you?
Lombardi: “Sylvester Stallone. Just because he played Rocky in the ‘Rocky’ movies, it would have to be Sylvester Stallone.”
Q: Who’s your biggest celebrity or athlete role model?
Lombardi: “Playing quarterback, I’ve always kind of looked up to Tom Brady. Every quarterback says that, but just the leadership and passion he has for the game, that’s always been something that I’ve looked up to and wanted to be like him. Recently with (Cowboys rookie) Dak Prescott’s success, it’s not easy for a rookie quarterback to come out of college and lead a team to a 10-1 season. He would be somebody that I’ve kind of been looking up to recently with me going to be a freshman next year, just kind of how to act around the guys.”
Q: What’s the biggest thing you’ve had to overcome in your life?
Lombardi: “I guess just kind of surviving for me. My dad was a high school and college player, and he pushed me when I was younger. I grew up training, and I didn’t have the childhood that most people have with hanging out with friends and going to the movies, whatever kids do. I grew up my whole life training for whatever, so that’s probably been my toughest challenge, constantly working and getting in that mentality that every day you’ve got to strive for something and get it done. You can’t take a day off, because the guy next to you is going to be working just as hard. You’ve got to outcompete everybody.”
Q: When you say ‘training for whatever,’ has it not just been football? Has your dad trained you in other things, too?
Lombardi: “Yeah, I do four sports. And it doesn’t even have to be training. I love golf in the summer, so for me going out putting or chipping or getting on the driving range, everything I do, I want to constantly be getting better and improving myself. Whatever you do, if you’re constantly improving yourself it’s going to end up helping you more.”
Q: What are your four sports?
Lombardi: “Football, wrestling, track and field and baseball.”
Q: What are your events in track?
Lombardi: “I run the hurdles and also throw discus.”
Q: Have you scouted out any of the Michigan golf courses for when you’re out in East Lansing?
Lombardi: “I golfed on one course this last summer. I think it was the university’s course (Forest Akers Golf Courses) on the south side of campus.”
Q: Do you have any other kind of hidden talents that people might not know about?
Lombardi: “I love studying maps, so if somebody didn’t know me, they may be surprised by how many cities or countries I know. And like I said, I watch a lot of documentaries about animals, so I know a lot of strange fun facts about animals that people wouldn’t know.”
Q: If I was to ask your friends, how would they describe you off the field?
Lombardi: “Pretty low-key. I don’t get worked up very often. I hope they’d know that I care for them and I’ve got their back no matter what.”