If Jack Cichy has learned anything this season, it’s been patience.
Whether having his arm immobilized in a sling, having to watch Wisconsin compete for championships on the sideline, or slowly get his rehab started, Cichy has been forced to take the steady approach instead of his usual instinctual speed.
“It hasn’t been fun,” Cichy said, stating the obvious.
Cichy was having an All-Big Ten season for Wisconsin’s defense, amassing 60 tackles, seven tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles, when his season abruptly ended with a torn left pectoral in Wisconsin’s 17-9 win over Iowa.
In a sling for six weeks after the surgery, only removing it to shower or to do light rehab, Cichy was able to ditch the sling after the Big Ten championship game to begin shoulder rehab and “awaken” the muscles after being neutralized for so long.
By the end of January he’ll be able to start running and conditioning and hopes to be available to do some work during spring practices starting in March.
“I’m making good progress and keeping a good pace,” he said. “The pain really was just wearing the sling around. It was a hassle and really just screws up your day.”
Cichy has been able to work off some of the pent-up energy by doing lower leg workouts and arm workouts on the right side of his body but has dropped 10 pounds (down to 220) and hasn’t had the competitive feel since the second half against Iowa.
Feeling his arm pop after torquing it wrong making a tackle late in the first half, Cichy knew something was wrong.
“I stumbled along the sideline and just went into shock,” Cichy said. “I didn’t know what happened. I wanted to make sure I didn’t shatter my collarbone.”
Demanding a brace for the second half, Cichy pulled himself out of the game in the fourth quarter when it became apparent he couldn’t move his arm. On a quarterback rush up the middle, Cichy’s inability to raise his arm forced him to simply lunge himself at quarterback C.J. Beathard to try and register the sack.
“I had to manually move my arm up and reset it after every play,” Cichy said.
He told reporters after the game he would be ready for the next game. A MRI the next day revealed the stark opposite, causing him to quickly have surgery to reattach the pectoral muscle back to the bone and effectively end his season.
“I knew I could play through pain but I didn’t think it would be as severe as it was,” Cichy said. “I thought it would be a slight tear.”
Instead of taking a back seat in the training room, Cichy has played an active role on game days. He wears a headset connected to the defensive coaches and helps signal in plays with sophomore inside linebacker Chris Orr, who suffered a season-ending knee injury on the first play in the season opener.
Also acting as spotters on the field, Cichy and Orr can relay information from defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox to the field or spot tendencies with opposing offenses.
“‘Cich’ and Chris have helped out a ton,” head coach Paul Chryst said. “They’re not coaches, but they’re players that understand the game. I think there’s that balance of they know the plan and they know what it’s like playing, and to try to help maybe confirm with Ryan (Connelly) or seeing or feeling or whatever it may be, but they’ve been a big help. Just their energy—they’re energy guys and that’s what you appreciate that.”
Wisconsin’s inside linebackers came in as having the most depth on the roster, only to lose Orr in the season opener and Cichy seven weeks later.
Turning to second-year starter T.J. Edwards and a combination of sophomore Ryan Connelly and junior Leon Jacobs, the Badgers head into Monday’s Cotton Bowl fourth nationally in scoring defense (15.5 points per game), second in rush defense (96.9 yards per game), third in third-down conversions (26.8 percent) and only 20 offensive touchdowns (sixth-fewest in the FBS).
It’s bittersweet for Cichy to not be out there but he takes solace in the fact that there’s been little to no drop off in the team’s success.
“A lot of it goes to coaching,” Cichy said. “We always say next man up, but that has got to be practiced and preached by us and the coaching staff. They do a really good job. Coach Wilcox prepares all of us. He’s grilling anyone in meetings, regardless of whether they are first or third string to make sure you are on your toes and you know what’s going on.
“Being out sucks, but it’s really fun to see guys like Connelly really blossom and come into their own, see them shoot the gaps and make plays. There will be times where Chris and I will be standing on the sidelines, someone will make a play and we’ll just look at each other with a smirk on our face. We’re proud because they are our teammates.”