Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck was a Wisconsin fan growing up

Wisconsin has beaten Minnesota 13 straight times in football, and the Badgers earned another victory of sorts when the first episode of ‘Being P.J. Fleck’ aired on ESPNU this week.

The show chronicles the life of new Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck, and part of the first episode focused on his aspirations as a kid growing up in Sugar Grove, Ill. Those early life dreams included wanting to play basketball for the Badgers.

The episode even included a picture of a young Fleck decked out in a red Wisconsin shirt with the old Bucky Badger logo on the front.

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New Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck decked out in a Wisconsin shirt during his younger days. (Buckyville via ESPNU)

Wisconsin to start the year at No. 10 in the coaches’ poll

MADISON — After not starting 2016 in the top 25 of either national poll, the Wisconsin football team will begin 2017 in the top 10 of at least one of them.

The Amway Coaches Poll was released Thursday, and the Badgers found themselves at No. 10 – their highest preseason ranking since starting in that same spot in 2011. Wisconsin is one of four Big Ten teams in the top 10, joined by Ohio State at No. 2, Penn State at No. 6 and Michigan at No. 9.

The Wolverines are the only team on Wisconsin’s schedule that made the top 25. Several others, including BYU, Northwestern, Nebraska, Minnesota and Iowa received votes.

Wisconsin returns 15 starters from the 2016 team that went 11-3, won the Big Ten West and finished the year with a victory in the Cotton Bowl.

The Badgers open the year on Sept. 1 against Utah State at Camp Randall Stadium.

Once Jack Cichy stopped feeling sorry for himself, he turned his season-ending injury into a positive

CHICAGO — As Jack Cichy sat on the team bus outside of Ryan Field last November, the Wisconsin linebacker couldn’t help but think how much his fortunes had changed in just three weeks time.

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.”