TAMPA — Ten months after walking on crutches into a doctor’s office, Jack Cichy strolled off the field following warmups prior to Friday night’s preseason game against Miami.
It was a short distance to the locker room, not more than a couple of football fields. But to Cichy, it already felt like a comeback.
“I kind of took it in,’’ said Cichy, the Bucs’ second-year linebacker. “I had a big smile on my face. Sometimes in rehab you kind of question, “Hey, what am I doing?’ But once you’re back on the field, there’s your answer right there.’’
Cichy had his final year at Wisconsin in 2016 wiped out with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, forcing him to fall to the Bucs in the sixth round.
He made the team, but in his sixth game, he tore the ACL in his left knee.
In Friday’s 16-14 win over the Dolphins, he didn’t wait long to make his presence felt. Cichy finished with five tackles, one quarterback hit and on pass defensed.
“It felt great,’’ Cichy said. “The first couple plays, I just kind of wanted to get the lay of the land and see how the line is playing. But after that, you really kind of settle in. It was fun.’’
Recovering from one ACL surgery is bad enough. But having to do it twice? Cichy said he tried not to stare at the calendar.
“The second time, it was actually a little easier because you know more what to expect, you know how hard you can push yourself without going too far,’’ Cichy said. “But honestly, it was just putting your head down and work. With something as long as ACL rehab, you can’t look at the end because usually, it’s nine to 12 months down there and that was never my thing. I was never going to be like, ‘I need to be back for the season.’ I just decided I’m going to work my (butt) off every day and see where we are.
“So come the end of OTAs, we were feeling pretty good. And then as July and the middle of July came, it was like, “We think we can make a run at this.’ I felt good. And even I feel as confident on grass and turf running around as I ever have. It feels natural. As far as all that goes.’’
You wouldn’t blame Cichy for trying to find a new line of work. And in fact, it wouldn’t be the first time he was told he couldn’t succeed.
"My freshman year of high school, I told one of my varsity coaches I want to play linebacker,’’ Cichy said. “And he said, “No, you’ll probably play safety.’ And I said, “No, I’m a linebacker.’ I weighed about 160 (pounds) at the time.’’
Cichy still has a chance to earn a spot on the roster. The Bucs currently have several inside linebackers injured, including Lavonte David and Devante Bond. He likely will play a lot in the final two preseason games.
But there still are some mental hurdles he had to clear prior to last week’s game.
“It’s not so much cutting,’’ Cichy said. “I can look like an all-star doing the bags, but once I get a D-lineman and an O-lineman fighting and they’re in my lap, that’s when it gets tough.
“But those jitters went away once we practiced a day or two in pads and it everything falls back in place. It’s kind of like riding a bike.’’