What appeared to be a false alarm during Tuesday’s University of Wisconsin football practice turned into a nightmare for Jack Cichy on Wednesday night.
Cichy, an inside linebacker, collapsed to the ground early on in Tuesday’s practice and clutched his right knee. After trainers took an extensive look, Cichy returned to practice with a protective sleeve on his knee and also participated in the Badgers’ half-pads session Wednesday afternoon.
An MRI after Wednesday’s practice, however, revealed that Cichy had torn his anterior cruciate ligament and will miss the Badgers’ 2017 season.
UW announced the news Thursday morning. The fifth-year senior will undergo surgery to repair his ACL on Friday.
"I had a chance to visit with (Cichy) a little bit last night, and obviously disappointed, but those of you who have gotten to know Jack, there’s a lot to that guy,” UW coach Paul Chryst said after Thursday’s practice. “He’s just going to attack the next phase, the next chapter for him, and you appreciate that out of him."
"I think it was surprising to him. But talking to him this morning, it’s what you want. It’s, ‘OK, what do I have to do moving forward.’"
Cichy also missed the second half of last season after tearing his pectoral muscle in UW's game at Iowa on Oct. 22. Before the injury, he recorded 60 tackles in just seven games and earned All-Big Ten honorable mention honors.
Cichy, a former walk-on from Somerset, had been voted a team captain for 2017 and was placed on watch lists for the Bednarik Award, Butkus Award, Nagurski Trophy and Lott IMPACT Trophy this preseason.
Chryst said UW’s medical staff followed proper protocol after Cichy’s injury and did not detect any damage to his knee, so they allowed him to practice Tuesday and Wednesday.
“The doctors went through all the protocol and they couldn’t find anything,” Chryst said. "(Cichy) said that it felt good. Went through all the protocol. They needed the MRI, and they didn’t get that until (Wednesday)."
UW could appeal to the NCAA for Cichy to receive a sixth year of eligibility, but it might not be granted.
NCAA rules require a player to miss two seasons due to hardship beyond their control in order to be granted a sixth year of eligibility. Cichy did not play in 2014, his second year at UW, but it was not due to injury, and he was not eligible for a medical hardship waiver last season because he played in more than 30 percent of UW’s games.
The sixth-year rule isn't always straightforward, though. The NCAA has made exceptions in some circumstances, but Cichy’s case doesn’t appear to qualify.
Former UW linebacker Brendan Kelly was granted a sixth year of eligibility in 2013. He played in just three games his freshman year and eight his sophomore year because of injury before redshirting the next year. That redshirt year was due to complications from his previous injuries, though.
If Cichy is not granted a sixth year of eligibility, his college career would be over after this season.
Cichy released a message via Twitter on Thursday after news of his injury was released.
"As I learned the news of my injury and the end of my season I couldn't help but reflect," the message read. "I wanna thank this university and this great state for letting a Wisconsin boy come live out his dreams. From walk-on to captain it's been an unreal experience. I don't know exactly what's in store next, but I know I'm not done with football. No matter what, I felt a thanks was in order. We're gonna keep fighting and we have a helluva season coming."
Redshirt sophomore Chris Orr took first-team reps with returning starter T.J. Edwards during Thursday’s practice. Redshirt junior Ryan Connelly could push Orr to replace Cichy in the starting lineup, but Connelly is currently out with a left leg injury.
The injuries at inside linebacker could open up opportunities for younger players. Chryst mentioned Arrington Farrar, Mike Maskalunas and Griffin Grady as players who could now push for more reps.
"There’s three young guys that kind of come off the top of your head that, that’s good work for them,” Chryst said. "They’ve got to take advantage of that. We don’t know when Ryan will be back. Certainly not a season-(ending) type of an injury, but as far as camp. So those will be great opportunities for that group."