MADISON, Wis. — When Jack Cichy arrived on Wisconsin’s campus as a 185-pound walk-on trying to find his place on the football team, his father worried about whether he would be invited back following his freshman season.
When Jack finally earned a scholarship after two years with the program, his father worried about whether the Badgers’ coaching staff would keep him on scholarship beyond the first year. It was, after all, a one-year renewable offer.
But as Steve Cichy sat across the lunch table from Jack at The Old Fashioned on Tuesday over beer cheese soup and Green Bay chili, he felt no worry. It was the day before Jack participated in Wisconsin’s pro day, which would dictate his football future in front of roughly 60 NFL scouts. Jack was seven months removed from sustaining a torn ACL in his right knee that ended his senior season before it started, and he had not run or jumped in front of an audience like this.
What Steve saw from his son was supreme confidence. And that made the concern circulating through Steve’s mind melt away.
“He really felt that ‘I’m ready for this,'” Steve told Land of 10. “Jack’s always had this confidence just being shy of cocky. But he trusts himself. I trusted that he was ready.”
Cichy then went out and ran the pro agility drill in 4.19 seconds, the 3-cone drill in 6.88 seconds and registered a vertical leap of 33½ inches. His pro agility drill time would have ranked fourth among linebackers at the NFL combine, and his 3-cone drill would have been tied for fifth.
Those numbers are exceptional for anybody, let alone someone who only a few months ago wasn’t even medically cleared to run.
“I think after that first rep in the pro agility, I got those jitters out and I was confident that the strength in my knee, the surgery, everything was good,” Cichy said. “Everything was strong. And now it’s kind of just that mental barrier I had to get over, and after that first rep I think I was able to just let loose.”
Two weeks earlier, Cichy attended the NFL combine in Indianapolis and participated only in the bench press. He bench-pressed 225 pounds 18 times at the combine. But he told NFL personnel that he wasn’t quite ready to do football-specific drills.
Cichy described himself as only about 90-percent healthy Wednesday. And while Cichy didn’t participate in the 40-yard dash, the 60-yard shuttle or the broad jump, he did showcase his lateral movement and leaping ability during on-field drills.
Cichy said he knew that he could be ready for some pro day drills based on how well his training sessions went at the EXOS facility in Phoenix in January and February.
“I expected to be able to do a fair amount of this,” Cichy said. “The more surprise came with how much I was able to do. But I think just trusting the process and going through all that was good.”
"I felt crisp and clean"
— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) March 14, 2018
Not surprisingly, discussions have begun about where (or if) Cichy could be selected in the NFL draft, which runs from April 26-28. Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller released his post-NFL combine mock draft and has Cichy going in the sixth round with the No. 176 pick to the New York Giants. But nothing is guaranteed on draft day.
Cichy said he is ready for either option. His agent, Ron Slaven, has little doubt about Cichy’s abilities.
“Jack’s getting drafted,” Slaven told Land of 10. “His film’s too good. You put on the film against Ohio State in 2016, he was the best guy on the field. His ACL tear was a clean tear. Just the ACL. It wasn’t the MCL. There’s no meniscus damage, so the knee injury sounds worse than what it really was. I’m already getting feedback from teams that show it came back good.”
Slaven compared Cichy to Miami Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso and Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly for their instincts and sideline-to-sideline ability. Alonso is 6-foot-3 and 233 pounds, while Kuechly is 6-3 and 238 pounds. Cichy measured 6-2⅛ and 238 pounds at the combine.
Cichy has not played in a football game since Oct. 22, 2016, when he tore a pectoral muscle against Iowa. He had established himself as one of the best linebackers in the Big Ten, if not the country. Cichy earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors after recording a career-high 15 tackles with 3½ tackles for loss against Ohio State. He notched 10 tackles in the first half against Iowa before suffering the injury.
Cichy missed the final seven games of the season and rehabbed his way back to full strength in time for the 2017 season. But during fall camp, his right knee buckled in a non-contact drill and resulted in the torn ACL. Cichy opted to enter the NFL draft rather than petition the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility — a petition he quite likely would not have won, anyway.
“Having to live the last year-and-a-half for him has been a challenge,” Steve Cichy said. “But through that challenge and adversity, he’s grown immensely. The maturity he’s shown in so many ways has been, as a father, what you want for your kids.
“Paul Chryst made an interesting comment. He said, ‘Most kids would have quit. He doubled down.’ He became an assistant coach, and I give the coaching staff a lot of credit for bringing him back in and making him a part of the team. Even though he was a captain and everything, it was hard.”
Former Badgers outside linebacker Garret Dooley, who also participated in pro day, said he wasn’t surprised to see Cichy back on the field Wednesday. He described Cichy as one of the most mentally strong guys he has met and noted Cichy looked healthy and fast.
“We were joking around with Jack kind of towards the end of the season like, ‘Hey, how about in the bowl game we get you on kickoff?'” Dooley said. “‘You just run down in a straight line and try to go hit someone.’ We were just messing around but also kind of in a serious manner. I definitely knew that Jack was a fighter. You’ve seen a lot of people come back from injuries quicker because they put the effort in and they’re great athletes. I think that’s what’s happening with Jack.”
Cichy said he has heard from teams that are looking to plug him in at any of the linebacker spots, depending on which defensive formation is being run. Cichy noted he had a meeting scheduled with the Minnesota Vikings in April. He will remain in Madison to train — his apartment lease has not yet expired — and then he will see where the draft may take him.
“He’s defied a lot of odds,” Steve said. “And it’s a great story.”