GREEN BAY – As a sophomore at Wautoma High School, Jared Abbrederis suffered a severe leg injury that left him with a broken femur and damage to the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. There was no guarantee the all-conference quarterback would ever lace up his cleats and compete on a football field again.
Beginning his collegiate career as a walk-on, he wasn’t assured of ever seeing any meaningful playing time, much less that he would leave the University of Wisconsin tied for most receptions in school history, or in second place on the Badgers’ all-time receiving yards and touchdowns list.
And as a 6-foot-1, 195-pound receiver and fifth-round draft pick by the Green Bay Packers, he is from a sure thing to make the 53-man roster.
This is where Abbrederis finds his motivation. The non-stop, gym-rat work ethic he possesses is obvious to current and former teammates alike.
“I played with Jared, and know what we’re getting,” Packers backup quarterback Scott Tolzien, who played with Abbrederis for two years at Wisconsin, said during the team’s recent minicamp. “The type of kid he is, the type of worker he is, and the type of teammate he is. I’m lucky enough to have played with him and know what you’re going to get day in and day out.
“I think guys are already realizing what a special player he is.”
While the veterans – including Tolzien, who is in his fourth NFL offseason – plan on taking time off during the break between the end of minicamp and the start of training camp, Abbrederis said he plans to spend his first summer as a rookie training near Lambeau Field, and working hard enough to earn a secured spot on the team’s 53-man roster.
Last year’s two fifth-round picks, Micah Hyde and Josh Boyd, each made the team coming out of training camp. The team’s 2012 fifth-round pick, North Carolina State linebacker Terrell Manning also made the roster as a rookie – although he was cut at the end of camp last year. In fact, the last time a fifth-round pick didn’t make the roster coming out of camp was in 2009, when tackle Jamon Meredith was cut.
Abbrederis isn’t taking anything for granted, though.
“I’m going to stay here,” Abbrederis said regarding his summer plans. “Work out here at the stadium, so that will be nice. Hopefully get the playbook and all that kind of stuff, so that is what I’m planning on. I’ll just be getting ready for camp.
“This next month will be good. Just fine-tuning some things and be ready to go, but its been a good off-season. It has just been fun to be out here just competing and I’m excited to get to training camp and put on my pads and really start competing.”
Coming out of college, scouts and analysts raved about Abbrederis’ sure hands and route-running ability. He is now focused on learning the Packers’ offense.
“Once you kind of understand the playbook a little bit more, you start playing against other guys, you start to understand the way they play and you can kind of change your game a play a little bit faster,” Abbrederis explained. “It has been a lot better since Day 1 to now, and I can see definite improvement. I’m excited to get the pads on (in training camp) because that’ll be another step up in the competition.
“It will be fun to get out there and compete.”
The competition at wide receiver will be fierce. Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson are both shoo-ins and the clear-cut starters. Jarrett Boykin will be looking to build on his breakout 49-catch, 681-yard season. Youngsters Myles White, Chris Harper, Kevin Dorsey and Alex Gillett return, and the Packers drafted Davante Adams in the second round and Jeff Janis in the seventh in addition to Abbrederis.
Abbrederis will compete in the return game as well – as he did at Wisconsin – and special teams coach Shawn Slocum has already said that he has “unique skills,” and called him “a good runner with the football who makes good decisions” and is “smart.”
If that sounds familiar, the Packers had a second-round pick in 2011 who was described similarly -- Cobb.
“We have a lot of similarities,” Cobb said of Abbrederis. “I think just the way we are built. He’s a quick, shifty guy, (who can) work the slot, work the underneath stuff and can go deep. I think we have a lot of similarities in the way we run our routes, more so than anybody else out of this group because of our body style.”
Now, Abbrederis is ready to make a name for himself just as Cobb did – and he has plenty of in-state fans pulling for him. Although he takes comfort in knowing that his fans, close friends, family and wife are a short car ride away, he is focused on his relentless pursuit of his next goal.
“There’s nothing better than being a hometown kid,” he said of seeing his No. 84 jersey being sold in the team’s Pro Shop. “Obviously walking on at Madison, that was a dream come true to be able to play and become a contributor there. Every other kid is dreaming in Wisconsin to be drafted by the Packers and I have that opportunity. Now it’s just time to go and prove all the work that’s been put in.
“I got drafted, that doesn’t mean I make the team. I know that a lot of work has to be put in, so my mindset was just get ready to go. Obviously I was ecstatic to be drafted by the team that I grew up with, but still need to be ready to go.”
Tony Cartagena covers the Packers for ESPNWisconsin.com. Follow him on Twitter attwitter.com/tonycartagena.