Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
Badgers receiver lauded
Jared Abbrederis, right, senior wide receiver for the University of Wisconsin, accepts the Burlsworth Trophy from Robert Smith, ESPN football analyst, Monday, Dec. 9, 2013 during the trophy ceremony at the Northwest Convention Center in Springdale. The award, presented by the Springdale Rotary Club, is given an outstanding college football player who started as a walk-on.
SPRINGDALE - When Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema said he wants to build an impact walk-on program with the Razorbacks, wide receiver Jared Abbrederis is the kind of player he’s talking about attracting and developing.
Abbrederis, a senior who played four seasons for Bielema at Wisconsin including a redshirt freshman year, won the Burlsworth Trophy as the nation’s most outstanding player who began his college career as a walk-on.
The trophy was presented by the Burlsworth Foundation and Springdale Rotary Club during a luncheon Monday at the Northwest Arkansas Convention Center. It is named in honor of the late Brandon Burlsworth, an Arkansas walk-on offensive lineman who earned a scholarship and became an All-American.
Abbrederis was among three Burlsworth Trophy finalists along with Missouri guard Max Copeland and Tulsa running back Trey Watts.
“You think about all the hard work you put in through the years to bring you to where you are today,” Abbrrederis said. “All those memories come back, and you’re definitely honored and blessed.
“Brandon Burlsworth was a great guy and someone that kind of set the standard for us.”
Abbrederis, from Wautoma, Wis., has career totals of 197 receptions for 3,110 yards and 23 touchdowns in 52 games going into Wisconsin’s Capital One Bowl matchup against South Carolina. This season, when he has 73 catches for 1,051 yards, Abbrederis became the first Wisconsin receiver to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors in consecutive years since Al Toon in 1983 and 1984.
“Starting off as a walk-on, you have to set goals,” he said. “First, you want to get on the team. Once you do that, you want to try to get on the field.Then you want to start.
“You just keep setting higher goals. Then you’re an all-conference player. It’s been a lot of fun, and it’s a tribute to all the coaches and teammates that you’ve had. I wouldn’t be anywhere without them.”
Abbrederis said he owes a lot to Bielema for believing in him and putting him on scholarship during his redshirt sophomore season. Bielema coached at Wisconsin for seven seasons before taking the Arkansas job a year ago.
“We had a really good relationship, I’m thankful for all the opportunities he’s given me,” Abbrederis said. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him.
“We haven’t been able to keep in touch as much the last year. I’m sure he’s been busy trying to get to know everybody over here, but down the road sometime, maybe when things cool off a little bit, we’ll be able to talk.”
Bielema was recruiting and unable to attend Monday’s luncheon, but Arkansas was represented by three people who were with Abbrederis at Wisconsin: director of football operations Mark Taurisani, assistant director of operations Pete Weiden and graduate assistant coach Aaron Henry.
Taurisani, Weiden and Henry posed with Abbrederis for pictures with the Burlsworth Trophy.
“Coach Bielema wished he could have been here, but it just wasn’t possible,” Taurisani said. “But he’s very proud of Jared and excited for him. We all are. He’s a special kid.”
Henry played safety at Wisconsin and went against Abbrederis in practice.
“His worth ethic is through the roof,” Henry said. “He’s always trying to out-work people, and he was really, really good at it.
“People look at him and think he’s deceptively fast, but he’s just plain fast. He became a great route-runner, and he never drops anything. It’s awesome to see him make the transition from being a scout-team guy to the player he’s become now, a guy who is going to play in the NFL.”
Bielema met with Wisconsin’s players and told them he leaving for Arkansas before he was formally introduced as the Razorbacks’ coach.
“I think right away everybody was kind of shocked and confused, and it was emotional,” Abbrederis said. “But as you further dissect it, you can’t be mad at a guy for following his dreams and doing what he really wants to do.
“Coach Bielema had to do what’s best for him. That’s not for me to decide.”
Abbrederis said Bielema always treated walk-ons the same as scholarship players.
“You were family,” Abbrederis said. “Everybody looked after each other. Nobody thought he was better than the guy next to him.
“Any time that anybody was deserving of a scholarship, he rewarded them. I think that’s why the walkon program at Wisconsin is so good. You knew if went there and worked hard and did your job, you would earn a scholarship in the future.”
Wisconsin is 9-3 this season under new coach Gary Andersen while Arkansas went 3-9 in Bielema’s first season, including an 0-8 SEC record.
“I wish Arkansas the best,” Abbrederis said. “I think it just takes time.
“You see a lot of coaches switch jobs, and their first year might not be the best year. But once they get the people they want in here and the program is set up, I think it will take off.”Past winners 2010 Sean Bedford, center, Georgia Tech 2011 Austin Davis, quarterback, Southern Miss. 2012 Matt McGloin, quarterback, Penn State 2013 Jared Abbrederis, wide receiver, Wisconsin
Sports, Pages 17 on 12/10/2013