Ian Csicsek’s per-carry rushing average in his Muhlenberg College debut looked similar to what he produced during his superb senior season at Saucon Valley.
Simply stepping onto the football field for the Mules counted as a triumph.
With a 10-carry, 86-yard performance Friday against Moravian, Csicsek completed a comeback from two seasons lost to injury. Those seasons came after the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out football in 2020 for Muhlenberg’s entire program.
Csicsek spent the year before that playing for Muhlenberg’s JV team. That meant Friday’s workload was his most significant since 2018, when he ran for 2,854 yards and 38 touchdowns while earning Class 4A first-team all-state honors at Saucon Valley.
“It was very, very satisfying,” Csicsek said by phone Tuesday. “I was just grateful to have the opportunity to play. My body’s still not the same as it used to be from all the surgeries. But I’m very grateful I got the opportunity to do it. When I was playing, it felt normal, natural. It was just very fun. I was just having a great time.”
It took Csicsek months of rehab from multiple injuries to finally run with the football during a game again.
After a freshman season on the JV team and a sophomore season lost to COVID-19, Csicsek felt strong heading into his junior campaign. A torn anterior cruciate ligament five days into preseason camp ended his year before he could play in a game.
Six months into his ACL recovery, he suffered a herniated disc in his back. He tried to rehab his back for three or four months but eventually needed surgery in late June 2022. That kept him sidelined for another season.
Csicsek participated fully in 2023 spring practice but still didn’t feel ready to play. He credited extensive training this summer with Dante Mahaffey, a Muhlenberg sophomore quarterback and fellow Saucon Valley graduate, for restoring his confidence to cut, run and take hits.
Csicsek wasn’t listed on Muhlenberg’s two-deep roster ahead of its rivalry matchup with Moravian but said he knew he would receive playing time. He capitalized by averaging 8.6 yards per carry.
“Some of our young coaches, they had never seen the kid that we recruited,” Muhlenberg coach Nate Milne said. “But we knew who he was, and we said it all preseason, that he’s a wild card for us, and if we can get production out of him, it would be outstanding.
“To see Ian show up, to see the young man that we recruited at Saucon Valley, and then the sense of relief and joy on his face, it’s one of the reasons why you coach, to have moments like that,” he said.
Csicsek expects to continue having a role in a running-back rotation with improved depth. Muhlenberg entered game weeks in some recent years with two healthy running backs. Adding Csicsek to senior Aaron Daniels, sophomore Matthew Manning and sophomore Amari Dunn means the Mules have four quality options in their backfield.
Csicsek could see an uptick in playing time Saturday when the Mules host Salisbury University in a matchup of 1-0 teams. Muhlenberg had a couple of running backs suffer minor injuries against Moravian that could keep them out this week.
Salisbury’s defense should test the Mules’ rushing attack. The Sea Gulls forced four turnovers in their 28-7 season-opening win against Washington & Lee.
“They’re more of a team that, ‘This is what we’ve been doing for years. You’ve got to show up and beat us,’ ” Csicsek said. “We’re planning on doing that, simply. It’s going to be a very physical battle up front and a very physical battle with the linebackers too. They’re not very secretive in what they do. So we’re going to make our plan, and we’re going to execute it.”
Here’s a look at this week’s games.
Kutztown (0-1) at California (Pa.) (0-0)
When: noon Saturday
Taking note: Kutztown limited Assumption to 285 yards of total offense and 4.5 yards per play but fell 31-20. … Golden Bears graduate student linebacker Tyler Whary (Upper Perkiomen) tied for the team lead with two tackles for loss against Assumption. He finished with five tackles, all solo. … California was picked to finish third in the PSAC West preseason poll.
Salisbury (1-0 overall) at Muhlenberg (1-0)
When: noon Saturday
Taking note: Senior linebacker Tyler Ekstrom led Muhlenberg with nine tackles (six solo) and 1.5 tackles for loss in a 53-12 season-opening win against Moravian. … Salisbury started the season at No. 25 in the D3football.com Top 25 poll, while the Mules landed in the others receiving votes category. … The Sea Gulls converted just three of 13 third- and fourth-down chances in their opener against Washington & Lee.
East Stroudsburg (1-0) at Indiana (Pa.) (1-0)
When: 4 p.m. Saturday
Taking note: ESU quarterback Aaron Tobias completed passes to 11 receivers in a 62-9 season-opening rout of Pace. He finished with 230 passing yards and four touchdowns. … The Warriors extended their streak of consecutive made extra points to 101 before missing one in the second quarter. … IUP, ranked No. 16 in the American Football Coaches Association Division II preseason poll, opened its season with a 24-17 win over No. 12 Ashland (Ohio).
Moravian (0-1) at Utica (N.Y.) (1-0)
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Taking note: Brad Bryan (Quakertown) led Moravian with 80 receiving yards in its opening loss at Muhlenberg. He averaged 26.7 yards on three catches. … Utica finished just outside the D3football.com preseason Top 25 poll, grabbing the 26th-most votes. It won its 15th straight season opener Saturday, holding off Rochester 20-17. … Moravian had nine penalties for 80 yards in its opener.
Stephen Miller is a freelance writer.
https://www.mcall.com/2023/09/08/lehigh-valley-college-football-saucon-valley-grad-ian-csicsek-perseveres-to-make-debut-at-muhlenberg/ Csicsek makes debut at Muhlenberg