IOWA CITY, Iowa — Jack Cichy’s career path sounds like that of so many other Wisconsin defenders over the last decade.
Cichy, a junior inside linebacker, grew up in Somerset, Wis., and attended Hill-Murray, a Catholic school in Maplewood, Minn. He lived just outside the Twin Cities but 250 miles northwest of Madison. He had no scholarship offers and just a few walk-on opportunities from Wisconsin and Iowa.
“I was always under-recruited so I kind of would take whatever I could get,” said Cichy, whose 10th-ranked Badgers play at Iowa at noon ET (11 a.m. CT) on Saturday. “When I finally got the chance to walk on, seeing what happened before me, the effects that it had, I could never say no. It was always a dream. So when I had the opportunity, I had to take it and run with it.”
Just like Wisconsin defensive stars J.J. Watt and Joe Schobert before him, Cichy initially paid his own tuition at Wisconsin and wanted to prove he belonged. Because of injuries, Cichy played in four games in 2013 as a true freshman, then redshirted his second year. He entered the program at 200 pounds and the year off the field was a chance to bulk up and make an impact later in his career.
“The depth chart hadn’t really changed,” Cichy said of his playing prospects entering that second year. “It would have been the same old, playing special teams, and the coaching staff at that time told me they wanted to save me and let me mature a little more. I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it. I’m all for that.'”
After his second year, he picked up a scholarship. Now as a fourth-year junior, Cichy joined Watt and Schobert as premier defenders who opened their Badgers’ careers as walk-ons. Monday, Cichy was named the Big Ten’s defensive player of the week. In an overtime loss to Ohio State, Cichy recorded a career-best 15 tackles, including 11 solo stops. He registered 3.5 tackles for loss and a sack, and also forced a fumble.
“Obviously it’s a great recognition, but it would have been a lot better to get that with the win,” Cichy said.
This year, Cichy (6-foot-2, 233 pounds) leads the No. 10 Badgers (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten) with 50 tackles and ranks second on the team with seven tackles for loss. He stands eighth in the Big Ten in tackles per game with 8.33.
Cichy’s year off propelled him from modest contributor into key playmaker. He combined for 21 tackles — including 4 for loss — last year in back-to-back games against Maryland and Northwestern. In the Holiday Bowl, Cichy was named defensive MVP after recording sacks on three consecutive plays. He finished with 9 stops, including 6 unassisted.
“Jack is somebody that has a high motor,” said Wisconsin cornerback Sojourn Shelton. “He’s a playmaker, he’s a baller. That’s why guys like that excel here. They raise hell on the guys and every time they get a chance to go out and have fun and make plays, they just do it. There’s no secret to it. It’s just him.
“The funny thing that sticks with me is last week in our Ohio State game, I think we’re down, we’ve got to get a stop. Cichy is just out there smiling. That kind of put some confidence and a little light in me that we’re going to go out here and do this. ”
Even without top outside linebacker Vince Biegel the last two games against top-5 teams Michigan and Ohio State, the Badgers’ defense has remained stout. Wisconsin ranks ninth nationally in scoring defense (15.2 point per game) and 12th in total defense (311.3 yards).
“When you have guys on the team like that are extremely confident and have fun playing this game, it rubs off on all the other players,” Shelton said.