Jack Cichy, other former Badgers players await NFL draft

April 25, 2018

Fortunately, the NFL will be calling Jack Cichy.

It won’t be on Thursday night, during the first round of the 2018 NFL draft. It probably won’t be on Friday, during the second and third rounds. And given his injury history – he hasn’t played in a game since October 2016, thanks to a torn pectoral muscle that ended his junior season and a torn ACL in his right knee that ended his senior season before it began – it’s possible he’ll go undrafted on Saturday during Rounds 4-7.

But even if that happens and his phone doesn’t end up ringing until the undrafted free agent recruiting frenzy commences — for his part, Cichy isn’t taking anything for granted, even though one NFL personnel executive said Tuesday evening it is highly unlikely he would go undrafted — Cichy will get his shot at playing professional football.

Which is a good thing, given the former University of Wisconsin linebacker will not be getting a call from any Broadway musical casting directors after his not-so-star turn as “Mechanic No. 2” in the spring 2013 Hill-Murray high school production of “Grease” during his senior year at the suburban St. Paul, Minnesota school.

While he may have his Economics degree from UW to fall back on, acting won’t be a career option for him.

“My two best friends and I, they finished hockey and I finished basketball and we wanted to do something together to finalize our senior year,” Cichy recalled with a laugh last week as he prepped for the NFL draft after an up-and-down career at UW. “So we tried out for ‘Grease,’ the spring musical. They both got acting and/or singing roles — and I got ‘Mechanic No. 2.’ So I was a background guy.”

Cichy started his college career at UW as a background guy, too — as a walk-on who went on to earn a scholarship and become a key part of the Badgers’ top-flight defenses in 2015 and 2016 — so if he has to start his NFL journey from the bottom, that’s OK with him.

After playing well when healthy at UW — in 24 career games (11 starts), he recorded 120 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and six pass breakups — he decided against petitioning for a sixth year of eligibility and declared for the draft instead, knowing his biological football clock was ticking.

Cichy wasn’t able to do much at the annual NFL scouting combine in February, doing only the bench press (18 reps).

At UW’s pro day last month, he didn’t do the 40-yard dash but was able to run the pro agility drill (4.19 seconds), the 3-cone drill (6.88 seconds) and vertical jump (33.5 inches) — not bad for a guy less than eight months removed from a torn ACL. He might not be cleared for a team’s post-draft rookie minicamp but could take part in organized team activities or minicamp in advance of training camp this summer.

“I’m noticeably better every day,” Cichy said. “I have the utmost confidence that I’ll be ready come OTAs and minicamp and especially training camp.”

Cichy is one of several Badgers draft hopefuls. Tight end Troy Fumagalli, cornerback Nick Nelson, linebacker Leon Jacobs and defensive back Natrell Jamerson also figure to hear their names called during the three-day draft, while fullback Austin Ramesh, outside linebackers Alec James and Garret Dooley, defensive lineman Conor Sheehy and cornerback Derrick Tindal might be drafted and should get free agent looks if they aren’t. (Nelson’s draft stock took a hit when he suffered a knee injury during a private workout for an NFL team earlier this month, but he should be ready for camp.)

Cichy, Dooley and Jamerson all had official visits with the Green Bay Packers earlier this month, meeting with coach Mike McCarthy and spending time with coaches and staff at Lambeau Field. Ramesh also visited Green Bay separately — a big deal for an in-state kid who grew up emulating Packers fullback/folk hero John Kuhn and hired Kuhn’s agent, Kevin Gold, to represent him.

“I’m a Wisconsin guy (so) I always watched the Packers. My dad’s side of the family is from the Green Bay area, so I grew up a Packers fan,” said Ramesh, who grew up in Land O’ Lakes and played at Northland Pines. “John Kuhn is definitely a guy, just looking at his style of playing when I was growing up, I figured that was the closest resemblance to what I have to do, if I play at that level.”

Fumagalli, meanwhile, should be the latest in a long line of UW tight ends to carve out a niche in the NFL, though scouts have questions about his speed and his narrow frame (6-foot-5, 247 pounds).

“Obviously I disagree with those (concerns). I just put my head down and work and go about my business,” Fumagalli said. “This has been a dream ever since I put on the pads as a little kid. It has really been special. You really have to remind yourself it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and not everyone gets to go through. I am very humbled for that and excited about it.”

And after everything he’s endured the past two years, a shot at the NFL means the world to Cichy, too.

“(After the knee injury), I just kept going back to, ‘This can’t be happening again. What did I do to deserve it?’ It was tough, just having your season taken away from you,” Cichy said. “And what made it tougher was that in the back of my mind, I knew that I wasn’t going to play college ball again — which hurt, because as a walk-on, you never really dream of the NFL like you dream of just playing college football.

“I never really looked ahead to the NFL. I just want to play big-time college football. And obviously once the NFL became more of a reality, it was a lot more intriguing — and I obviously wanted to do it. We’ll see what happens.”