When Jack Cichy‘s ACL injury was announced before the 2017 season, a collective groan of anguish swept across the state of Wisconsin. Cichy was both a leader on defense and leader in the locker room. The immediate assumption was his injury meant the loss of the heartbeat of the team, that his career was in jeopardy, that he would become just another statistic, another talent lost to irreparable ligament damage.

Anyone who attended Tuesday’s Pro Day exhibition at the McClain Center can confidently assert this could not be further from the truth.

To begin, during the 2017 season, there wasn’t a game where Cichy wasn’t armed with a headset and plenty to say on the sidelines. His passion for the game did not leave with his health; if anything that passion was accentuated. However, there was inevitably that burning desire inside Cichy to join his teammates in battle. Being supportive is great, but being productive is far better.

With the arrival of the NFL Combine, Cichy was finally able to showcase his abilities post-injury, this time for NFL recruitment. Cichy only participated in the bench press in Indianapolis, but Tuesday in Madison he was free to show just how far he’s come. He posted a 20-yard shuttle time of 4.19 seconds, faster than fellow linebacker Garret Dooley and running back Rachid Ibrahim. His three cone drill time was just shy of seven seconds, faster than speedy safeties Lubern Figaro and Natrell Jamerson. He posted a 33.5 inch vertical, an incredible feat for anyone familiar with how devastating a torn ACL can be.

I got a chance to catch up with Cichy after his showcase, and above all, he said it just felt incredible to compete again, let alone in front of his teammates. Physically, Cichy was honest with NFL coaches and scouts at the combine, saying he was still working at around 90 percent, emphasizing that his speed wasn’t fully recovered and as such he abstained from running the 40. Additionally, Cichy said there was a bit of mental block to overcome, but that faded with time as he became more confident in his knee.

“I think after that first rep of agility, I got those jitters out and I was confident that everything — the strength in my knee, the surgery — everything was good. Everything was strong and now it’s just that mental barrier to get over. After that first rep I was able to let loose,” Cichy said.

When asked whether or not he was surprised at his level of production, Cichy emphasized that surprised felt like the wrong word, given that his rehab gone incredibly smooth. Instead he expected to be able to perform at an elite level, but was pleasantly surprised at how effortlessly that came.

Cichy credits his speedy and smooth recovery partially to mindset, saying that there were times where his patience was tested, but keeping that bigger picture and more elusive goals in mind kept him grounded. While this may seem a common, if not cliche narrative, fellow linebacker and NFL hopeful himself Garret Dooley made sure to point out that kind of positivity can be lost on recovering athletes.

“Jack is one of the more mentally strong guys I know,” Dooley said. “To be able to have a season-ending injury in the middle of the year, rebound to get ready for the next season by the spring and summer, and then to have it all cut short again and still be a part of this team and contribute the way he did is something that you can’t expect out of most guys.”

Dooley’s praise didn’t end there, noting the kind of person Cichy inherently is, and how much it meant to him to be able to see his close friend competing again.

“He’s a tremendous player, friend and person. It was great to see him out here moving around, he looks healthy, he looks fast,” Dooley said.

When asked whether he was surprised with Cichy’s performance, Dooley was elegantly simple.

“No, actually I’m not,” he said.

Cichy’s journey back to health has been an arduous one, and it’s far from over. According to Cichy, he has an official visit lined up soon with the Minnesota Vikings, his hometown team (Cichy attended high school near the Twin Cities). Cichy feels confident he’ll be drafted, but noted how unpredictable draft night can become. As such, he’ll do whatever is asked of him wherever he ends up, if that means learning all the linebacking positions, he’s more than willing to comply.

“I’m prepared to earn my way onto a 53-man roster any way I can,” he said. “[NFL Teams] know what I can do on film, now the biggest question is ‘How am I going to be able to bounce back from the past year and a half?”

If Tuesday was any indication, he’s poised to bounce back with minimal resistance.

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