GREEN BAY – Jared Abbrederis won’t have to travel far this weekend for the start of his professional football career.
Lambeau Field is only 87 miles from his hometown of Wautoma, and only 135 miles from Camp Randall Stadium in Madison.
His journey – from walk-on quarterback to go-to No. 1 receiver to NFL fifth-round draft pick – was a lot longer. And it’s only just beginning – again.
The Green Bay Packers selected the former University of Wisconsin standout with the 176th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft Saturday, and as he processed the news surrounded by family and friends in Wautoma after the Packers called him, Abbrederis couldn’t contain his feelings.
“It's crazy right now,” Abbrederis said in a conference call with Wisconsin reporters. “Being a walk-on at Wisconsin, and then realizing my dream to play in the NFL, and on the Packers … I'm excited. I can't really explain it. A lot of emotions."
Abbrederis leaves Wisconsin having led the Badgers with 78 catches for 1,081 yards last season, and he finished his career tied for the school record for pass receptions (202). He also ranked No. 2 all-time at Wisconsin in receiving yards (3,140) and touchdowns (23).
Abbrederis earned consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors as a junior and senior, and won the Burlsworth Trophy, which goes to the best player in the country that started their career as a walk-on.
“He's the full package,” Badgers head 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. That is the bottom line.”
Nevertheless, Division I college scouts didn’t share the same opinion of Abbrederis as a high school senior. He received little-to-no consideration out of high school, despite being a first-team all-conference pick at quarterback and cornerback during his senior season. To do so, he overcame a devastating right leg injury that jeopardized his football future and landed him in a wheelchair for roughly a month.
After a redshirt season at Wisconsin, a position switch to receiver and a year spent in the shadow of former all-conference receiver Nick Toon, Abbrederis was promised a scholarship from former UW coach Bret Bielema for the 2011 season. That didn't happen, though, due to the summer arrival of current Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. Discouraged but not defeated, Abbrederis caught 55 passes for 933 yards and a career-high eight touchdowns that year and finally got his scholarship the following season.
“It kind of speaks towards his mindset when he first entered college,” Packers wide receivers coach Edgar Bennett said. “He walked on and that’s been his mindset, having to earn it each and every day. And that’s something that we love here. We want all our guys to have that same mindset and that competitive spirit, where you want to prove it over and over and over again. So you love those qualities about him.”
Abbrederis remained a student of the game, working not only as an inside and outside receiver during his final three years at UW, but also became a valuable member in the return game, returning 55 career punts for 587 yards (10.7), including a TD, and 31 career kickoffs for 800 yards (25.8).
“He did everything but sell hot dogs down there,” Packers general manager Ted Thompson said with a chuckle. “He did all the returning on kicks and punts and all that sort of stuff, and then you watch him play his junior and senior year and every game they played, the Big 10 quality corners are on him and he still gets open, he still catches the ball and he still runs with it.
“We think he’s a very versatile guy.”
That versatility could play into Abbrederis’ favor, especially this season.
In the last two years, the Packers have lost three top pass catchers in Donald Driver (retired), Greg Jennings (signed with Minnesota as a free agent in 2013), and James Jones (signed with Oakland as a free agent in March). The Packers current top two receivers – Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb – are both entering contract seasons as well.
Despite the Packers drafting two other wide receivers -- Fresno State’s Davante Adams at No. 53 and Saginaw Valley State’s Jeff Janis at No. 236 – there is more opportunity to break into the receiver rotation than there has been in a long time, and it is clear Thompson was looking to create some depth at wide receiver.
For Abbrederis, this serves as motivation.
“I like having that competition,” he said. “Competition brings the best out of you. Obviously you’d rather play against the best. That’s the way you get better. So obviously they have a lot of great guys. They have a great team. I’m just excited to be a part of that, work hard and do my best to work hard and contribute.
“I'll do whatever they ask me to do, whether that’s running down on kickoffs, catching punt returns, returning, whatever it may be, I’ll do whatever they ask.”
Nick Bornheimer covers the Packers for ESPNWisconsin.com. Follow him on Twitter https://twitter.com/nickbornheimer .