Jack Cichy will not step on the field again for the University of Wisconsin football team this season. A torn left pectoral suffered in the match against the University of Iowa Oct. 22 brought that cruel fate upon him.
The 2017 season will arrive with Cichy back, ready to assume full-time leadership duties as one of the most seasoned veterans of a unit that will most likely return eight starters. The fact he will be in position to do so is a testament to his self-belief and work ethic.
Cichy began his career at UW as a walk-on, continuing a common theme Badger fans have seen for the last couple of decades: Wisconsin grooming non-scholarship players to be among the most impactful players on the roster.
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“My dad always told me, you work your butt off every day, you get what you earn,” Cichy said the Monday before his 2016 season would be cut short.
Cichy’s father also soothed his anxiety of earning a scholarship. If it’s meant to be there, his father said, it would eventually come his way. It was a piece of advice Cichy took to heart every day.
Cichy, a Somerset, Wisconsin, native, earned a scholarship in 2015 after walking onto the Badgers in 2013 and redshirting that season.
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Look at just the 2016 graduating class of current NFL players who began their careers as walk-ons at UW: Joe Schobert, Alex Erickson and Joel Stave. Imagine last season without those three players. Now, this season, the Badgers will have to go through half of their season without Cichy, the seeming heir to the walk-on legacy of success.
“I can go to bed every night knowing I’m trying to be the best football player I can be,” Cichy said of his work ethic.
Cichy had been on a tear when he went down. His 60 tackles still leads the Badgers, even after the Nebraska game, in which he did not play. He recorded 45 solo tackles, which was more total tackles than any other UW player when he was injured. Also, his solo tackle mark ranked sixth in the nation.
Twice Cichy had been named the Lott IMPACT Trophy Player of the Week, following Wisconsin’s win over Louisiana State University and the Badgers loss against Ohio State. He also earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors for his efforts against the Buckeyes, a 15 tackle performance. In the 2.5-game span between Michigan, Ohio State and the first half against Iowa, where he suffered the injury while tangling with Hawkeye quarterback C.J. Beathard on their out-of-bounds, Cichy recorded 37 tackles. The week leading up to his injury, Sports Illustrated named Cichy to its Midseason All-American team.
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The accolades make the fact Cichy didn’t have a Division I scholarship offer awaiting him rather surprising. He said he held several Division I-AA offers and nearly decided on Holy Cross, before realizing Wisconsin was the only place for him.
“My mindset was always I wanted to see how good I could really be,” Cichy said. “If I had gone to a DIII or DI-AA school, I might have asked ‘What if?’ and I never really want to ask that. When I got the opportunity to come to Wisconsin, I wanted to be the best football player I could be.”
Cichy also said seeing previous walk-ons before him succeed at UW motivated him to be in the next crop. He’s well on his way to doing so.
Vince Biegel, who is a close friend of Cichy’s and the leader of the defense this season, expects him to be a big part of morale the rest of 2016.
“He was our energy to our defense,” Biegel said. “We’re still gonna need him to be that person if we want to get to where we want to get at the end of the season.”
Come next year, Biegel will pass the baton to Jack Cichy. If his career at UW has shown anything, it’s that he will be ready to rise to the challenge.