Jared Abbrederis might miss Nick Toon as a friend and former teammate.
But Abbrederis, a junior, is doing everything in his power to make sure the University of Wisconsin football team won’t miss its departed No. 1 wide receiver on the field this season.
To call Abbrederis the Badgers’ No. 2 receiver last season doesn’t do him justice. He had a team-leading 933 receiving yards — the most by a returning receiver in the Big Ten Conference — and he averaged a healthy 17 yards per catch.
Abbrederis caught 55 passes and scored eight touchdowns. Toon finished with 64 receptions for 926 yards (14.5 average) and 10 TDs.
“I didn’t look at myself as the No. 2,” Abbrederis said. “Obviously, (Toon) took some of the coverage, but this year it doesn’t feel really any different being the guy, or anything like that.”
Perhaps the biggest change is Abbrederis’ move to flanker, which was Toon’s spot. So, Abbrederis will normally be lined up on the boundary side of the field, after being mostly on the field side last season as the split end.
That means having less room to operate and needing to run more precise routes. The flanker is usually on the line of scrimmage, which makes him more susceptible to press coverage. But Abbrederis did play the position in the past — when Toon was injured.
“The (flanker) is typically a guy that’s singled up, by himself,” new wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni said. “That’s typically your guy you feel best about matchups on the single side of the field. So. he’s got to be the guy that’s going to have one-on-one coverage over there. He’s got to be able to go get it.”
‘A goal-oriented kid’
A former prep quarterback from Wautoma, Abbrederis is another great walk-on story at a school known for them. He went on scholarship in January and becoming UW’s top receiver is another step in a plan laid out by him a long time ago.
“He’s a goal-oriented kid,” Azzanni said. “He’s got certain goals set for himself and this team. That’s how he’s been, his dad told me, since he was 4 years old. He sets goals and goes after them.”
Abbrederis was recovering from a foot injury in the spring, so Azzanni didn’t get a chance to coach him on the field until camp. One thing Azzanni has learned is the relentless way Abbrederis practices.
“You always gauge how tired your guys are based off your workhorse,” Azzanni said. “If he’s slowing down a little bit, you know you must be really getting after them, because he doesn’t slow down.”
Abbrederis has outstanding hands and can recall only one obvious drop from last season.
He had an incredible performance in the Rose Bowl while playing on an injured foot. His 346 all-purpose yards against Oregon were one short of Ron Dayne’s school record and featured a career-high 119 receiving yards.
But it also included a fumble along the sideline, when Abbrederis was fighting for extra yardage after a catch, with about 4 minutes left in UW’s 45-38 loss.
Abbrederis goes into Saturday’s season opener against Northern Iowa holding school records for career kickoff return average (25.8) and punt return average (14.1).
That should help him in the new offense, which features more short passes and puts an emphasis on yards after the catch.
“I love having the ball in the open field,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun, especially when you’re one-on-one with the DB most of the time. You’ve got to make one miss or two miss and you’re good.”
New challenges for new No. 1
Abbrederis manages to get so open, it’s frequently said his speed surprises defensive backs. But that overlooks his strengths as a route runner and the tricks he has learned.
“As you get older, you become a student of the game,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s tricking them or what. You learn how to get yourself open.”
Abbrederis saw the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Toon make impressive catches last season in which he somehow came down with the ball, despite pass interference being called on the defensive back.
Those are the catches the 6-foot-2 Abbrederis wants to make this season and he’s put on about eight pounds, up to 188, from last season to become more physical. That should also help him against press coverage.
If Abbrederis does start attracting extra attention from defenses, it’ll be up to the tight ends and other receivers to make plays — just like he did for Toon.
“It’s going to be a little bit harder for (Abbrederis) to get open at times,” Azzanni said. “But we’ve got to do a good job as coaches, too, trying to move him around, trying to mix him in with play action.
“Those other (receivers) have got to step up a little bit, too. I think they will. They don’t have to go out there and be Larry Fitzgerald, they’ve just got to go out and catch a couple passes and take some pressure off No. 4.”