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Notre Dame Football: The Diary of a College Recruit

Forty years ago, Notre Dame was recruiting the right way and the SEC was still bribing kids with cars and money. My how things haven’t changed.

NCAA Football: Holiday Bowl-Southern California vs Wisconsin Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The Shanley Deacons of Fargo, N.D. didn’t lose a single game between 1975 and 1977, and Steve Cichy was a big reason why.

Steve, the son of Deacons coach Sid Cichy, was a defensive back recognized as the best male high school athlete in the state. He was aggressively pursued by several big programs, but ultimately chose the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

In Cichy’s time with the Irish, the safety would record 79 tackles, 4 pass breakups, 3 tackles for loss and recovered two fumbles. His biggest moment came during the 1979 Cotton Bowl, when he returned a blocked punt for a touchdown and helped spark the Irish’s comeback from a 22-point deficit.

Cichy’s son, Jack, is now an inside linebacker for the Wisconsin Badgers. His daughter, Tessa, was recruited by Notre Dame for basketball, but also chose Wisconsin.

In May 1978, the Associated Press profiled Cichy’s whirlwind recruitment. The story was aided by the athlete’s copious notes, which offered honest impressions of various programs. It’s a good look into the Dan Devine era at Notre Dame and how, no matter how much has changed in nearly 40 years, some things — like SEC schools bribing players — remain the same.

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FARGO, N.D. - “Mom and I were talking last night about all this recruiting business,” Steve Cichy wrote in his diary. “It’s like a dream come true for me. Two years ago, I never ever thought about playing or having the opportunity to be a part of a major college football team.”

But before “all this recruiting business” was over, young Cichy had wearied of the pressure, the phone calls, the visits.

In trying to select a college, Cichy was allowed trips to five campuses. He made three and finally selected Notre Dame. And he kept a diary in which he rated those who had been rating him. He wrote of “a party atmosphere” at Georgia Tech and described Penn State coach Joe Paterno as “a super guy.” Of Notre Dame coach Dan Devine: “He’s special.”

Cichy was a three-year starter for Fargo Shanley, a parochial school where his father, Sid, was the 1975 national high school football coach of the year.

Shanley was undefeated in those three seasons. Cichy, at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, was its quarterback, roving linebacker, placekicker and kickoff man.

He became one of the most highly recruited prep athletes in North Dakota history and was scrutinized by many of the major colleges.

“When I was a junior I started getting letters from schools asking me to ‘consider them when the time comes,’” Cichy said. “But this last year, my senior year, it started getting to me. There was a lot of pressure.”

As the recruiting battles wore on, Cichy narrowed his choices to two schools, Notre Dame and North Dakota State in Fargo.

The diary helped Cichy in his decisions.

Notre Dame linebacker coach George Kelly telephone Cichy Nov. 27, 1977 “to set up a time for me to the visit the university,” Cichy wrote in the diary.

“We have decided on Dec. 9-10-11. Kelly said he would get in touch with me later in the week about plane reservations.”

“I asked George about tickets for the Cotton Bowl for Greg Cichy [a brother] and Jeff Bahr [a friend]. George said he could fix them up, and then he thought for a moment and said he could do even better and get them on the sidelines with the Notre Dame team.”

Nov. 28 — “Coach Melton from Nebraska calls three times before he finally reaches me at home after basketball practice. He wanted me to commit myself for an official visit. But I told him I was going to wait.”

“Later in the night, Cal Stoll, Minnesota’s football coach, calls. It is the second call from the same school in one night. He tries to convince me to come and visit. I told Stoll I need time to think about it. He says he will come to Fargo late in December to talk to Dad and me.”

“Stoll proceeds to talk about all the schools which will be pestering me about coming to their school. Right now, they are the only ones bothering me.”

Here are more excerpts from Cichy’s diary:

Nov. 28 — “A coach from Wisconsin calls when I'm at the hockey game. He leaves a message — he’ll be in town Wednesday, come to the house and wants to know if I’ll visit Wisconsin.”

“In today’s Minneapolis Tribune, Paul Olson of Minnesota is quoted as saying that I’ll visit Minnesota, Notre Dame, UCLA, Georgia Tech and Oklahoma. Which is all a crock.”

Nov. 30 — “Coach George Chryst, the coach from Wisconsin, is in town and comes over to visit about 7:30 p.m. He seems like an interesting man, but I suppose that is why they are in this business.”

Dec. 1 — “Penn State’s Tim Curly calls. He says they have heard of me as one of the top players in the nation. He said they would send more info on the school. I tell them I’ll visit their school.”

Dec. 31 — “Jim Wacker of North Dakota State calls and tells me that he won’t bother me but they are interested. He asked if he could talk with me soon.”

Of his visit to Notre Dame, Cichy wrote: “One thing about all this. I have realized this is not a totally different world than the one I know. I realize these big-name athletes think and act and do the same things as me. And they aren’t as big as they look on television. Their safety men are small.”

“...I talked to head coach Dan Devine and he told me I could make an immediate contribution and that I was their top prospect.”

“Devine seems like a reserved man who is honest and open with his thoughts. He’s special. All the players told me he wasn’t at all like the news media made him out to be.”

Cichy said Steve Heimkreiter, a Notre Dame starter, “told me he visited 13 schools and was offered a car at Michigan State and Tennessee and was offered money and clothes by those schools and Kentucky.”

“Some players told me about the southern schools which line you up with girls and try to show the prospective athletes a good time. But Notre Dame is different.”

Cichy visited Georgia Tech in January. He recording in his diary: “If I wanted to live in the south, Georgia Tech is the school I would have chosen. When you’re done with football, you can get a good job with some big corporation.”

“As far as good times go, this is the best. Tech has high standards for its students and I like that.”

“But I just don’t know if I could fit. into the Southern culture. There was more of a party atmosphere here. I could charge anything I wanted to my room at the Sheraton hotel.”

Cichy said head coaches “are all very different in the way they do things.” At Georgia Tech, coach Pepper Rogers “is a free-wheeling sort of guy. He doesn’t have many rules for his kids. He lets them be their own type of guy...his modern attitudes don’t bother me. He tries to be a lot like the kids who play for him.”

The recruiting grind began to bother Cichy.

“I really expected to take my five visits to schools and then make up my mind,” he said. “But sitting in airports alone and feeling so. tired started getting to me.”

But he made one more trip -- to coach Joe Paterno’s Penn State.

“He seems to be a super guy,” Cichy wrote in his diary.

After a Jan. 29 breakfast with Paterno and players, “I met with the academic counselors,” wrote Cichy, a good student.

“I think the thing that turned me off a little was the fact that they made such a big deal about how hard it is to get into Penn State. They said that if I were to sign with them and didn’t meet their standards, they could revoke my letter of intent.”

“The thing is, they didn’t know a thing about my academic standards, they hadn’t viewed my transcripts or anything like that. Yet they kept stressing their high standards all the time.”

“I went to the weight room and worked out with their weight coach. I was sore for four days after this workout.”

“After the workout, we visited the dean of. business administration. Of all the colleges I visited, I was most impressed with their facilities. But didn’t get a chance to see Notre Dame’s because I came in at the wrong time of year.”

“At this point I have decided that I would choose between Notre Dame, Georgia Tech and Penn State. There were two reasons for this decision: 1, I have a pretty good idea of what I want out of all this. 2, I’m getting pretty run down over all this recruiting. It takes a heckuva lot of energy out of you.”

Cichy said Paterno “is a very nice man. Everything you hear about him on television is true. I asked his players about last year when his son was hurt in in a trampoline accieent during the season. Paterno’s boy was in cricitical condition.”

“The players were not surprised when Paterno decided not to go to the Syracuse game. Joe is a family man.”

But Cichy, a midwesterner, wasn’t comfortable.

“The people in the East are totally different,” he wrote. “They are very formal. I know if I go to Penn State it would be only because of Joe Paterno.”

“Wherever I go to college, I know it will be a unique experience. I’ll go next fall as an 18-year-old and come out 21. I don’t want to be a coach like my dad. I will take everything one year at a time. And I’ll try to get everything I possibly can out of my experience.”

It’s only a 30-minute ride from Penn State to the airport, Cichy wrote.

“It is another long, long ride home. I think after each trip it gets nicer and nicer to get back home.”