Jared Abbrederis not shy about his faith
GREEN BAY—Athletes praising God is the norm. Half-expected. After wins, after losses, so many players automatically shift to this mode.
Then players like Jared Abbrederis make you wonder. The Wisconsin wide receiver maintains faith was a driving force behind his rise. There’s a sincerity to his words.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without him,” he said. “It helps you play with a different mentality. You’re not playing for yourself. You’re playing for God. That’s definitely been huge in my life and will definitely continue.”
This year’s class of wide receivers is heralded as one of the best ever. Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans and Brandin Cooks headline a deep group. No, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Abbrederis does not possess one eye-popping athletic or physical trait. He runs crisp routes. A former walk-on, he’s known for his diligence.
And whenever faced with adversity—a broken femur, assimilation to college, a Hail Mary whiff—Abbrederis says he turned to God. He’s counting on this journey of faith leading to a long NFL career.
He traces this all to that sophomore year at Wautoma. Abbrederis was the quarterback, running the read option down the line. As soon as the defensive tackle crashed down on the fullback, he pulled the ball out and raced upfield toward the free linebacker. Abbrederis cut, planted all his weight on that right leg and then a defender from the backside sandwiched him in two.
For the first time, football was taken away from Abbrederis. He spent one month in a wheelchair, multiple weeks in crutches, rehabbed and was at the state track championship six months later to the day. Abbrederis took fourth and fifth in hurdles.
That experience taught Abbrederis to let go.
“You’re not just going to sit around and not do anything,” Abbrederis said, “not work to get where you want to be. But what God wants, that’s what’s going to happen.”
From there, as Madison legend goes, Abbrederis matured from walk-on long shot to one of the Big Ten’s top receivers. Last fall, he had 78 receptions for 1,081 yards and seven touchdowns. His position coach, Chris Beatty, says both NFL scouts and coaches are calling Abbrederis one of the best route runners in the draft.
“He’s one of those guys who pays attention to every little thing in the meeting,” Beatty said. “He’s a film guy and he’s been in a pro-style offense for four years, five years. He knows what those routes look like—he’s run them over and over. So he knows what comebacks look like, where sometimes the spread-offense guys don’t have that background.”
In a showdown with Ohio State’s Bradley Roby, a first-round cornerback prospect, Abbrederis erupted for 207 yards on 10 catches with a score.
Beatty says Abbrederis “double-moved him to death.”
“I mean, the guy couldn’t keep up with him,” Beatty said. “That kid’s a great player. Not a good player. Roby is a great player. Jared made him look average on that day.”
In between walking on and torching Roby, Abbrederis turned to his faith. Often. His first semester in Madison—a campus with a sterling party reputation—Abbrederis said he made decisions he regrets.
Nothing too vile. He didn’t spend any nights in jail. Still, Abbrederis admits he was heading in the wrong direction. He partied too much, hung “with the wrong crowds” and felt “empty.”
“A huge part of someone’s life is your freshman year of college,” he said. “You leave your parents. You leave your community that you had and grow up yourself. … If I didn’t go through that, I don’t think I’d be as strong as I am today.”
Abbrederis started getting involved at Blackhawk Church in Madison. He joined Bible studies, where he met Rachel Otto, a hair stylist out of school. Like him, she was searching for answers. Walking home that day, Abbrederis told teammate Ethan Armstrong, “I’m going to marry her,” and did exactly that.
Some teammates are religious, some aren’t. Beatty says Abbrederis isn’t overbearing.
For two years, the receiver led the team’s own Bible study on Fridays before games. With 15 or so other teammates, Abbrederis held discussions for a half-hour.
A few passages particularly appeal to him. Joshua 1:9, one of his tattoos, is his favorite. That one states, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
There’s Psalm 18, the title inked on his left biceps. He used to write that title on his gloves before each game. There’s Psalms 31-35 where, as Abbrederis says, “he talks about how he makes the feet like a deer, arms that bend a bow of bronze.” The analogies in the Bible come to life to him.
Abbrederis insists this all helps him as a player. It’s not for show. Rewind to Wisconsin’s 2012 loss to Michigan State, the heartbreaker that thwarted national title hopes. On the field to bat down Kirk Cousins’ Hail Mary, Abbrederis mistimed his jump.
“It wasn’t a reaction from people who understand football or true fans. But obviously on Twitter people can say something and get away with it,” Abbrederis said. “It’s football—people are going to make or not make plays.”
This disappointment, again, made Abbrederis learn how to let go. If you don’t let go, he said, your play suffers.
“At the end of the day, I’m not trying to please other people,” he said. “I’m trying to please my heavenly father.”
By the end of his collegiate career, Abbrederis was a fixture on campus. He frequently spoke to various groups, wearing Christianity on his sleeve. Now it’s on to the NFL. Teams will look at the tape, he says. And first round or undrafted, Abbrederis doesn’t care when he’s drafted.
The former walk-on has been at the bottom before. His faith strong, Abbrederis hopes this is a new beginning.
“It’d be nice to be at the top,” said Abbrederis, laughing, “where you don’t have to work your way out of a hole or anything like that. But either way, I’ve been there before. I know the work that it takes.”