MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Danny O'Brien wasn't at Wisconsin when Jared Abbrederis first arrived as a walk-on whose first big break was quarterbacking the scout team.
After transferring from Maryland and arriving in Madison this summer, it didn't take O'Brien long to realize that his new No. 1 wide receiver still takes a grounded approach to the game.
"I think being initially a walk-on, you can still kind of see that attitude and that pride and that work ethic," O'Brien said.
The attitude might be the same, but the role has changed dramatically for Abbrederis, a redshirt junior from Wautoma, Wis. With the departure of Nick Toon, a fourth-round draft pick by the New Orleans Saints, Abbrederis is now the clear-cut No. 1 receiver for the 13th-ranked team in the country.
Don't try telling him that, though.
"Not everything is given — you've got to earn everything that you get," Abbrederis said. "Even at the beginning of this camp, people are like, 'You're the No. 1 guy, you're one of the best,' things like that. I don't ever listen to that. Don't let that get to you. You've got to act like you're not and just keep working hard to earn that. That's just kind of the mindset it takes every day."
After catching two touchdowns in the Badgers' season-opening 26-21 victory over Northern Iowa, Abbrederis expects to get more attention from opposing defenses every week going into Saturday's game at Oregon State.
"I knew that would happen," Abbrederis said. "Obviously, I've got to keep playing my best, and everything will take care of itself."
It has so far.
Abbrederis said he only occasionally thinks about how far he has come since arriving at Wisconsin, but acknowledges that it didn't necessarily seem like he would get a chance to climb this high during his first season.
"As that spring came, I got some opportunities to play — I knew I could play with these guys," Abbrederis said. "After that first year, it was exciting to be there, and I knew I could be a player here."
Abbrederis began to show that in 2010, catching three touchdowns in 13 games. Then came his breakout season last year, when he caught 55 passes for 933 yards with eight touchdowns. He also averaged 15.8 yards per punt return and 24.6 yards per kick return. Abbrederis actually led the team in yards receiving last season but still was overshadowed by Toon.
"I believe he's a little underrated," Badgers star running back Montee Ball said of Abbrederis. "But I'm sure he loves that — just fly under the radar and play your game."
O'Brien said Abbrederis is more than just a hard worker — he has physical skills, too.
"I think people don't give him enough credit for how athletic he is, and how just straight-line fast he is," O'Brien said. "Certainly, he's just a really smart football player. You can tell he's played a lot of football, knows how to get open, understands the schemes, the coverages. And he's a great worker, too."
Abbrederis said he still has room to grow in his on-field chemistry with O'Brien.
"We had all summer to throw, all camp," Abbrederis said. "I guess camp was a little bit tougher this year because we didn't have a starter named. Even in the summer, too, we wanted to work with all the quarterbacks. It's not like we were just working with one guy. So that kind of halted a little bit of the chemistry. But at the end of camp, we started getting a little bit more, and now as the season goes along, and practice goes, we'll be able to get more chemistry."
Beyond doing whatever it takes to help the Badgers win this season, Abbrederis has some personal goals: Eliminating turnovers, hitting the 1,000-yard receiving mark and scoring at least two touchdowns in the return game.
"I want to be one of the top receivers in the Big Ten," Abbrederis said.
Ball said Abbrederis is a natural in his increased role.
"He's doing a great job with it," Ball said. "He's a leader for this team, a leader for this offense, and a playmaker. He's doing a great job, and we need more of what he's doing."