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Football days long forgotten for Cubs’ Matt Szczur

Updated: September 30, 2014 6:32AM



CINCINNATI — Matt Szczur pays enough attention to know that Villanova opens the football season Friday at Syracuse. He even sent out a good-luck tweet Thursday.

But that’s as far as the Cubs rookie outfielder — a two-position football All-American and national champion — takes his football thinking these days. So don’t even bother going all Jeff Samardzija on him with what-if questions about the NFL.

‘‘There was only one time when I thought about that,’’ Szczur said, referring to a chance encounter he had a couple years ago while playing for Class  AA Tennessee. That’s when he ran into Marc Mariani, the star receiver for the University of Montana team Szczur almost single-handedly beat for the FCS championship in 2009.

Mariani was wearing his Tennessee Titans jersey.

‘‘He already had three years in the NFL, and I hadn’t even been in the big leagues yet,’’ Szczur said. ‘‘So for that second, when I saw him, I thought to myself, ‘Wow, I could have had three years in the NFL right now.’

‘‘And then I was over it.’’

Szczur, 25, says he hasn’t had so much as a twinge of that feeling return.

‘‘It’ll never come back now,’’ said Szczur, who made his big-league debut Aug. 17 in New York. ‘‘I’ve always been happy with baseball. I’ve always been happy with my decision. I accomplished a lot in football, but that’s another chapter.’’

Achy Rizzo out

First baseman Anthony Rizzo missed a second consecutive game because of back tightness that had improved from Wednesday but still ‘‘grabbed’’ Thursday. He said he hoped to be ready for Friday’s series opener in St. Louis.

‘‘It’s weird,’’ said Rizzo, whose back started acting up after Tuesday’s rain delay, about an hour after his 30th homer. ‘‘It doesn’t really hurt much, like bending over or anything. It’s just when I hyperextend it. Obviously, going through a swing motion it grabs a little, too. . . . As long as it doesn’t kill me, the worst case is I can play through it, in my opinion.’’

Comebacker

Cardinals All-Star catcher Yadier Molina is expected to return Friday after 7½ weeks on the disabled list (thumb ligament).

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

Twitter: @GDubCub



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