Thomas Jefferson grad DeCicco sees action in Wisconsin season opener

| Friday, Sept. 7, 2012, 11:47 a.m.

In the days and weeks leading up to last weekend, Brock DeCicco thought about what it would be like to get back onto the football field in an actual game.

After all, it had been two full years since he had done so.

“I definitely thought about it,” the Thomas Jefferson High School graduate said. “I (was) so excited for it.”

DeCicco, a 6-foot-5, 246-pound redshirt junior tight end at the University of Wisconsin, finally got that taste of game action as the No. 12-ranked Badgers edged Northern Iowa, 26-21, on Saturday.

While he didn't have any receptions, DeCicco did see significant snaps. More than that, he savored the experience.

For an athlete who had participated in football games every autumn week for virtually his entire life, missing two full seasons out of three was difficult.

While he was a high school player, DeCicco not only was a major weapon for the Jaguars, but one of the top offensive players in WPIAL Class AAA division.

During his junior and senior seasons at Thomas Jefferson, he had a combined 43 catches for 935 yards and 17 touchdowns.

The local athlete earned Associated Press Class AAA all-state honors and a spot on the prestigious Big 33 Classic all-star football team.

During his final three high school seasons, Thomas Jefferson went 45-2 overall and won three WPIAL championships and two state titles. rated DeCicco the No. 7- ranked tight end prospect in the country following his senior season. He had offers from schools across the country, and his final choices were Wisconsin and Pitt.

DeCicco ultimately chose his hometown team, following the talent pipeline that flowed from Thomas Jefferson to the Oakland campus.

Pitt was coached by Dave Wannstedt, who employed an offense that featured tight ends as both receiving threats and key blockers.

Like most freshman, DeCicco sat out his freshman season in 2009 with a redshirt. As a redshirt freshman the following year, he played in all 13 of the Panthers' games and started three times.

He had just two catches that year, but both were touchdown receptions.

DeCicco was eyeing a big season in 2011, but Wannstedt left the program and ultimately was replaced by Todd Graham.

Graham, who proved to be unpopular among players and fans, implemented a spread offense despite having a roster full of players recruited to play in a pro-style system, including DeCicco.

Graham's system did not feature true tight ends; DeCicco saw the writing on the wall and decided to transfer.

He chose Wisconsin, the college he almost attended right out of high school.

“That's definitely why I transferred,” DeCicco said of the new system. “They weren't going to use a true tight end, and I didn't want to play the H-back-type position.”

Wisconsin has a reputation for featuring the tight end heavily, so the move was a no-brainer.

The only problem was that, per NCAA transfer rules, DeCicco had to sit out last year's season.

He could still practice with the team, so he went through spring drills, training camp, a full season of practices, another round of spring practices, then training camp again this year — all without playing a single snap in a game.

“It's really tough sitting out,” DeCicco said. “I always want to play. It was especially tough because I redshirted my freshman, played a year before I transferred, then had to sit out again.”

That ended, finally, last Saturday.

While DeCicco isn't the full-time starter, he sees plenty of action. The Badgers use many offensive formations that feature multiple tight ends.

“At Wisconsin, the tight end plays a real big role,” DeCicco said. “We use sets with one tight end, two tight ends, three and even four tight ends.”

One ironic twist to DeCicco's journey is that Graham left Pitt after just one season, and the Panthers replaced him with Paul Chryst, the former offensive coordinator at Wisconsin.

Chryst brought with him a handful of Wisconsin assistants, many of whom were involved in recruiting DeCicco in the first place, and the offensive scheme that heavily features tight ends.

“What were the chances of that. I had no way of knowing it would go like that, but I'm glad I'm here now,” DeCicco said.

The local product said he truly feels at home in the Wisconsin football program. He's focused on this season, one that could be a big one for the Badgers.

“My goal, team-wise, is that we take it one day at a time. We win one game, then win the second game,” he said. “Personally, I want to contribute. I feel I've put in a lot of work, and that will pay off ... playing will be a reward for everything I've gone through getting here.”

This Saturday, Wisconsin will visit Oregon State at 2 p.m. The game will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.

Brian Knavish is a freelance writer.

Brian Knavish is a freelance writer.

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