It's been a long ride for former walk-on wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, but the fifth-year senior is a game away from capping his career as perhaps the best receiver in Wisconsin history.
A native of Wautoma, Wis., Abbrederis earned all-state honors and a state championship as a senior in high school, but wasn't recruited by any major colleges. He walked on to Wisconsin's football team in 2009, earning a job as the spread quarterback on the scout team and earning the respect of his scholarship teammates in the process.
"I knew how good of an athlete he was from the get-go," said Wisconsin fifth-year senior Chris Borland, who was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year this season.
Abbrederis combined that athleticism with a remarkable work ethic, setting and achieving new goals as he worked his way into a starting role and became one of Wisconsin's best players. As a freshman, he played every game and earned a spot on Rivals.com's Freshman All-Big Ten team.
Next came a sophomore season where he started all 13 games and established himself as a dynamic returner, ranking third in the nation in yards per punt return (15.8) and garnering an honorable mention on SI.com's All-America team.
Abbrederis was awarded a scholarship in January of 2012, then collected consensus first-team All-Big Ten selections at receiver in both of his final two campaigns. Now, with only the Capital One Bowl separating the senior from the end of his college career, Abbrederis ranks second all-time at Wisconsin in career receptions (197), receiving yards (3,110) and touchdown receptions (23).
He registered just the fourth 1,000-yard receiving yard season in school history with a 73-catch, 1,051-yard, seven-touchdown campaign this season, and he owns the school record for kick return average (25.8) to boot.
"It's been great to watch him grow and become one of the best receivers in our conference and maybe in the country," Borland said. "He comes to work every day and it's been impressive. It's been something I can look to and try to emulate. It's been a pleasure playing with him and seeing him grow, a good friend and teammate."
Abbrederis is just six catches from breaking Wisconsin's career reception record - set by Brandon Williams in 2006 - but maintains that winning, rather than his position in the record books, will be his priority on New Year's Day.
"It's not all about the records and things like that," Abbrederis said in Monday afternoon's press conference. "If I get it, that'd be nice. At the end of the day, I just want to win the game. If we win the game and I don't have a catch, I'm happy with that."
The 6-foot-2, 190-pounder won't be the focal point of Wisconsin's ground-and-pound offense, but knows the importance of the role he plays as the deep threat in the Badgers' play-action passing game. Abbrederis said he feels he needs to have a big game to get the ball rolling on offense and open up opportunities for his teammates against South Carolina.
"If they're going to stack the box, we've got to make sure to keep them honest and hit a couple of bombs over the top," said Abbrederis. "That's obviously something that we missed a couple over the past couple of games, and that might change the game. So you've got to make sure whenever you take a shot, you've got to land it, and that'll definitely help out the run game, and the pass game will kind of go hand in hand."
Abbrederis said he didn't know before Monday that Vegas had listed Wisconsin as a slight favorite over South Carolina, but doesn't put much stock into what outsiders say.
"I just watch film and try to prepare in practice and let the game take care of itself," the senior said. "It doesn't matter if you're favored or not, but they've got a great team and we're going to have to show up."
Abbrederis talked about how much he'll miss the relationships with his teammates and coaches when his college career comes to a close, but says he'll wait until after the Capital One Bowl to reminisce on his career.
"I'm just focusing on this game," Abbrederis said. "Once this game is over, you'll have time - the rest of your life - to kind of reminisce on how you did in your playing days, but you want to go out with a victory. All eyes and all focus have been on this game, and just trying to prepare for that."
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