When Jack Cichy was in high school, he had just one major goal when it came to the game of football, and it wasn’t playing in the NFL.
“I wanted to walk-on and play big-time college football,” Cichy said Friday when he joined “The Joe and Ebo Show” on the Wisconsin Sports Zone Network. “When you’re in a position like I was, the NFL really isn’t in your mindset. I wasn’t even thinking that far ahead.”
The thought of playing in the NFL is no longer considered too far ahead. It’s actually the former Wisconsin linebacker’s only focus. Well, that and rehabbing from the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee that cost him his senior season. But the two are very much intertwined and have been almost since the day Cichy let out a scream that reverberated throughout a mostly empty Camp Randall Stadium last August as he crumpled to the ground holding his knee. It was in that moment, and in the following days, that he started to realize he’d played his last game for the Badgers.Former Wisconsin linebacker Jack Cichy joins “The Joe & Ebo Show”
The feeling wasn’t unfamiliar as a torn pectoral muscle had brought his junior season to end after just seven games the previous October. That was excruciating for Cichy, who might have been playing the best of anyone on the Badgers’ defense at the time. So good, in fact, that he said if he had played the entire year, he might have considered leaving early for the NFL.
But the devastating injury last fall had a feeling of finality to it. A fifth-year senior, Cichy could have applied for another year of eligibility, though the chances of the NCAA actually granting it were slim. Instead, he turned his attention to something that seemed unfathomable when he arrived in Madison four and a half years earlier as a nondescript walk-on from Somerset, Wis., — playing in the NFL.
“My thought process [was], I need all my eggs in one basket, and I can’t have that if I’m stuck waiting for that decision,” Cichy said of a potential appeal to the NCAA. “At that point in my life, with the rollercoaster of emotions I’d gone through and was going through, I needed something concrete. I chose what I thought was the most concrete route.”
After a season of essentially rehabbing and serving as an extra defensive coach for the Badgers as they repeated as Big Ten West champions and won the Orange Bowl, that route has brought Cichy to Arizona and the EXOS training facility. It’s where NFL hopefuls like Cichy go to get themselves in the best shape for the annual NFL combine held in late February and early March.
Cichy got a coveted invite to the combine based largely on his outstanding production late in the 2015 season and what he put on tape early in 2016. He started just 11 games during that stretch but was off the charts productive, averaging 8.5 tackles per game, while racking up 14 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks and a pair of forced fumbles. It’s even more impressive when you consider he missed large stretches in three of those games thanks to being ejected from one, forced to miss the first half of another and getting injured in a third.
Those glimpses of excellent play has teams intrigued and they want to see more. But unlike his roommate and Wisconsin teammate Troy Fumagalli, who is also at EXOS and working on his 40-yard dash, vertical leap and every other on-field test NFL personnel will put players through at the combine, Cichy is still very much in rehab mode.
“At the combine, I’ll be able to bench and I’ll be able to go through all the medical evals,” said Cichy, who is right around six months clear from surgery. “I’ll keep working towards coming back fully and not rushing it.”
The 6-foot-2, 234-pound Cichy admits he’s not quite sure how the next few months will play out. That’s a change from his time at Wisconsin, where the calendar was structured and he always knew what was coming next. The hope, at least in his mind, is he’ll be able to show how far along he is in his rehab at Wisconsin’s pro day in March and in any private workouts with individual teams in the weeks that follow.
“As we get closer to the draft, hopefully my recovery process [remains] on schedule … and there are no hiccups along the way,” Cichy said. “And [then] come the end of April, [I] hear my name called in some way, shape or form. Be able to have another chance to earn a spot.”