MADISON, Wis. — Jack Cichy was running downfield during a live kickoff drill in practice the other day, when he plowed over the blocker in front of him, whipped around a corner and tackled the ballcarrier.
It was only one play among thousands that have been run throughout Wisconsin’s fall camp. But if you’re looking for a reason as to why Cichy has elevated himself from unheralded walk-on to someone in the mix for playing time at outside linebacker in his second season, it’s certainly a good place to start.
At the very least, it’s the play that most sticks out to teammate Joe Schobert.
"He always brings it on the field," Schobert said. "That’s what I like."
Added Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda: "He’s the type of guy you want as the face of your defense because he will run through a wall for you as a coach and for his teammates."
By the time Cichy’s career is over at Wisconsin, he very well could become the next feel-good walk-on story to earn a scholarship and contribute in a meaningful way for the Badgers. The fact Cichy, a sophomore from Somerset, Wis., is even in a Wisconsin uniform still gives him goose bumps.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Cichy starred at Hill-Murray School in Maplewood, Minn., about a half-hour from his home. He recorded 107 tackles with four sacks, six forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries as a senior and earned all-conference honors and honorable mention all-state. But his only scholarship offers came at the FCS level from North Dakota State and College of Holy Cross in Massachusetts. He also was considering playing at Princeton and Harvard in the Ivy League, which does not offer athletic scholarships.
Cichy made an official visit to College of Holy Cross in January 2013 and was ready to commit there. The Monday after his return, however, he received a call from Badgers assistant coach Bill Busch, asking if Cichy had an interest in walking on to the team. Three weeks later, he visited campus and was sold.
"I could never say no to this," Cichy said. "I knew it was right. This was always the dream."
Cichy said he grew up a big fan of former Badgers safety Jim Leonhard, who has played in the NFL since 2005. Leonard joined Wisconsin as a walk-on, didn’t earn a scholarship until his senior year and tied for the most career interceptions in school history. Cichy also has drawn inspiration from former Badgers teammates Ethan Armstrong and Ethan Hemer, who both earned scholarships after being walk-ons.
"Being from Wisconsin, you just know the tradition and it’s huge," Cichy said. "Especially as a freshman last year, you look up to those guys to see that they went through it, they did it. It can obviously be done. That just motivates me more."
Cichy performed well enough in fall camp to make the team’s initial two-deep depth chart released Monday as a field linebacker behind Schobert. He has since moved back to the No. 3 boundary linebacker behind Vince Biegel and Jesse Hayes. Still, he has put himself in position to factor into the team’s plans.
"I’d say I bring a lot of want-to," Cichy said. "A lot of intensity. I love the game of football, so it comes naturally, I’d say. Just running around. There’s only so much teaching you can do and then at the end of the day you’ve just got to go play football. That’s helpful."
Cichy certainly has the family pedigree to be a great athlete. His father, Steve, played football at Notre Dame and in the Canadian Football League. His mother, Lisa, played basketball at Marquette, and his sister, Tessa, is a junior on the Badgers’ women’s basketball team.
Aranda said Cichy’s development has been remarkable. He originally was supposed to join the team last fall once school started. But an injury to another player allowed Cichy to join earlier during fall camp, and he wound up playing in the team’s second game against Tennessee Tech, recording his first career tackle.
"He was here for maybe five days," Aranda said. "He didn’t know what was going on, but he ended up playing. From then on, Jack’s been a little bit different.
"He’s a very enthusiastic, very gung-ho, tough player, smart player. He’s maturing, is getting better and better. When he first started, he didn’t know much about what we were doing. Obviously the reps have helped him."
Cichy is admittedly still soaking up adjustments to college football. The fact he has continually switched between the field linebacker and boundary linebacker spots also has contributed to the learning curve. But Schobert, like Aranda, has been impressed with Cichy’s never-ending motor.
You can’t teach hustle, Schobert said. And Cichy has it.
"He’s always ready," Schobert said. "Even if he doesn’t know his assignments because he’s been switched around so many positions, he always plays hard. Sometimes he just makes a play just doing whatever since he doesn’t know exactly what to do. But he plays hard, so he’ll get through the line and make a play."