Abbrederis inches closer to childhood dream

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Jeff Potrykus, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Sunday, October 6, 2013

MADISON—About 18 years have passed since a young boy growing up in Wautoma first shared with his mom what sounded like an implausible dream.

“I remember this as clear as if it was yesterday,” Lisa Abbrederis, 46, said by phone from the family home in Wautoma. “He was about 4 and I was putting him to bed. And usually I sit and talk to the kids and pray with them before they’d go to bed.

“I was ready to leave the room and he said: ‘Mom, you know what I want to be when I grow up?’”

Lisa Abbrederis turned and asked Jared Abbrederis, the youngest of her three children, to open his heart.

“He said: ‘I want to be a pro football player,’” she said. “I just looked at him and said ‘Jared, you just work at it and you can do it…’

“He was such a little squirt.”

That little squirt, now 22, is a fifth-year senior at Wisconsin, carries 190 pounds on his wiry 6-foot-2 frame, is one of the top receivers in the Big Ten and appears talented enough to realize his dream sometime next year.

“He’s the full package,” UW coach Gary Andersen said. “He understands zone coverages. He’s going to get into the holes. He’s very talented when it comes to catching contested balls. Jared is not deceptively fast. Jared is fast….

“So all those things combined, and then his ability to be able to get into man coverage. You can see it when he gets into guys, leans, gets himself back off. He just has a great feel of breaking off routes to cause separation.”

So how does a 4-year-old boy growing up in Wautoma decide he wants to play professional football?

He watches the Green Bay Packers, week after week, with the family.

“His mom is a Packer freak,” said Jared’s father, 46-year-old Scott Abbrederis. “She loves the Packers.”

Jared Abbrederis does, too.

“I’d watch them on Sundays and then I’d go outside and play with my buddies or throw the football with my dad,” he said.

Jared Abbrederis, who has been married for 14 months, is on the cusp of realizing that dream he shared with his mother as a child.

With UW (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) in the first of two bye weeks in October, Abbrederis entered the week fifth in the nation in receiving yards (572) and 11th in receiving yards per game (114.4). Going against one of the better cornerbacks in the nation in Ohio State’s Bradley Roby, Abbrederis had 10 catches for 207 yards and a touchdown.

The journey from his bedroom in Wautoma to the UW campus has been filled with physical pain, disappointment, perseverance, triumph and, through it all, humility.

Abbrederis competed in football, track and field and wrestling in high school. He was moved from wide receiver to quarterback as a freshman after the team’s starter was injured.

Abbrederis weighed about 160 pounds as a sophomore and in October of that season his right leg was crushed by an opposing lineman.

“He gets hit by a 300-pound D-lineman,” said former Wautoma coach Dennis Moon, who works for Bigger Faster Stronger, which specializes in high school athletic weight training. “He tore his ACL and his femur was broken off. He was done for the season.”

According to Moon, Abbrederis was still using a wheelchair when classes resumed after winter break.

“But he started training shortly after that,” he said. “Lo and behold by May the kid qualifies for the state track meet in the hurdles. That was unheard of.

“Right there I knew there was something special. I thought nobody does this kind of stuff.”

Abbrederis didn’t follow to the letter the orders of his doctor.

“The doctor wasn’t sure if I was going to play again,” he said before proceeding to downplay the seriousness of the injuries. “My ACL just pulled off the bone. Luckily it wasn’t really torn. They just had to sew it back on. I mean, it was a bad injury…

“But I came back six months from the surgery.”

Abbrederis not only qualified for both Division 2 hurdles events at the state meet, he placed in both. Abbrederis finished fourth in the 110-meter hurdles and fifth in the 300 hurdles.

“Jared is pretty determined and once he has got a goal in mind he just goes after it,” Scott Abbrederis said. “And he worked his butt off to get back.”

Jared Abbrederis is a devout Christian. According to his mother, that faith was bolstered rather than tested when he suffered the injuries.

“That injury was pretty devastating,” she said. “I know his faith took a giant leap because of that. I think the Lord just went before him and he put his faith in God.”

That strong faith, and his humility, would serve him well once he arrived at UW as a walk-on in 2009.

But before he arrived on the UW campus, Abbrederis demonstrated the humility instilled by his parents.

A talented dual-threat quarterback, Abbrederis was the star of Wautoma’s team as a senior in 2008 and led the Hornets to the WIAA Division 4 state title.

On the bus ride down to Madison, he handed out several copies of a letter he wrote for his teammates.

“His faith is unwavering and he gives all credit to God every time,” Moon said. “It was an unbelievable letter saying how proud he was to play with all these guys and how humbled he was to be on the team. You just don’t hear that kind of stuff….

“We had a lot of average high school football players who played a lot better just because he was on that team.”

Asked about that story, Abbrederis, who recalled almost every detail about his injury, said he couldn’t remember sharing such a letter with his teammates.

Don’t believe him. The original letter remains on the family computer. Abbrederis doesn’t believe in boasting.

He also doesn’t complain about trying times, such as the uncomfortable situation he experienced at UW in 2011.

After catching 20 passes for 289 yards as a redshirt freshman in 2010, Abbrederis was told he would be put on scholarship for the 2011 season.

However, he learned that wasn’t going to happen after UW added quarterback Russell Wilson, who transferred during the summer from North Carolina State.

“And even at that, he wasn’t upset about it,” said Lisa Abbrederis, adding the family had to scramble that fall to deal with the financial ramifications. “He said if Russell is good for the team…whatever is going to help the team win, he is all about it.”

With Wilson leading UW to the 2011 Big Ten title and the Rose Bowl, Abbrederis caught 55 passes for 933 yards and eight touchdowns and was placed on scholarship in January 2012.

He led UW in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns in 2012 and is on pace to do so again.

Yet you never hear him talking about his in individual accomplishments.

“His mother and I have talked to him about being humble and having humility,” Scott Abbrederis said. “Win with humility and lose with pride. There is a lot to be said for that.

“If you win, be humble about it. Because somebody is gunning for you and somebody is going to knock you down at some point.

“But if you lose and you did everything you could do and left it all out on the field in whatever sport, then you should be prideful about it. Somebody was better than you that day.”

Whether playing quarterback in high school or wide receiver at UW, Abbrederis has been better than his opponent on most days.

Now 18 years after a boy not yet 5 shared his aspirations with his mom, an NFL career looks more like a certainty than a dream.

“Nobody would have said that,” Moon said when asked if he saw NFL potential in Abbrederis years ago. “I wouldn’t have said that. I never thought it would be possible.

“I thought: walk-on at Wisconsin? Yeah. Could he play some day for them? Yeah.

“But the kid is very goal-oriented. His mom and dad tell stories about him having signs up in his room as a young kid about going to state in wrestling and in football.

“Playing in the NFL? You kind of laugh that off. But I tell you what. When this kid sets his mind to something don’t ever bet against him.”

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