His team had just finished off a 21-7 win against Northwestern, but Cichy’s mind floated back to Oct. 15 when he put on a show in a 30-23 overtime loss to No. 6 Ohio State. The then-junior finished with 15 tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack. Several scouts, including the NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah, raved on social media about Cichy, whose profile was on the rise. A week later his breakout season was over, done in by a torn pectoral muscle suffered against Iowa.
“In the weeks leading up to the injury, I [was gaining] more notoriety,” Cichy said Monday at Big Ten media days. “And then to have it all come crashing down, [was tough]. Having all that notoriety one day and the next day you’re kind of off in the shadows, was weird. That was definitely very trying.”
It was as if he was rolling along at 90 miles per hour and hit a brick wall, with the mental anguish on par with the physical.
“I was down in the dumps, man. It was tough,” Cichy said of the weeks after the injury. “I was not in a good place. Feeling sorry for myself. And mentally, not as strong as I would have liked. It really tested me a lot.”LISTEN: Jack Cichy on the difficulty the coaches will have in deciding who will start at inside linebacker
It’s usually at this point in the story that someone like Cichy would have a conversation with a coach or a teammate or a family member that would all of a sudden set him on the right path mentally. But that’s not what happened. Instead, Cichy just opened up his eyes to what was around him, which resulted in what he called an epiphany.
“I saw I had teammates that were supporting me. I had a team that was winning. I had coaches that really cared about me and family that stuck by me,” Cichy said.
“As selfish as I was those first two weeks [after the injury], at the same time I got to be around football every day. I got to be around the facilities. I got to remember that I was blessed with the opportunity to [be a] part of one of the best programs in college football. Just being able to appreciate that, day in and day out, and kind of help anyway I could, that’s really what got the ball rolling as far as my mental state and the rehab itself.”
When Cichy stopped feeling sorry for himself, his rehab took off. By the time spring practice rolled around in March, he claimed to be 100 percent recovered — a month earlier than expected. The former walk-on was kept out of full contact drills but still had a huge presence throughout the 15 practices, especially vocally. That, along with what he called the most productive summer he’s had at Wisconsin, led to his teammates voting him as one of their five captains.LISTEN: Paul Chryst says his message hasn’t changed despite outside expectations going up.
All of the work has him feeling the best he ever has and positioned him for what could potentially be a big senior year that will result in the team being successful and him moving on to the NFL — something that he was thinking about last year before the injury.
“Me and my dad…really talked about it. We were kind of on the same page (that a conversation about leaving or staying likely would have been needed),” Cichy said. “My mom, on the other hand, she was very opposed to even [having] the discussion, even though it was a real discussion.
“In hindsight, I’m really glad I never had to face that decision. Obviously, the injury sucked, but a lot of good has come out of it. And I’m really excited to showcase all that.”