The first snap against Northern Iowa. That was when redshirt freshman and newly crowned No. 2 wide receiver Jordan Fredrick knew he had officially locked up a starting wide receiver spot, donning the jersey of his hometown team, the very one he grew up cheering for.
A lifelong Madison resident and Memorial High graduate, the surprise experienced by every Badger fan when they opened up the first depth chart of the season this August was matched only by Fredrick himself. Despite never setting foot on a college field in uniform, he was the first man in line behind far-and-away No. 1 option Jared Abbrederis, who led Wisconsin with 933 yards in 2011.
“I didn’t think it was going to come that fast,” Fredrick said. “Had a good camp and obviously that first game was at No. 2 so that was a good feeling.”
On a receiving unit loaded with youth but short on experience aside from Abbrederis, Fredrick was an opening-day starter, playing in front of the seats that held many of his childhood memories as a season-ticket holder.
While receivers like Big Ten Championship Game hero Jeff Duckworth had more experience, Fredrick said he won over coaches during fall camp with his consistency. He made the occasional big play, taking advantage of his big, athletic frame, but it was more the lack of mistakes that earned him the surprising nod.
And in his third game on a college football field against Utah State, he turned into Wisconsin’s de facto No. 1 receiver with his mentor sidelined with a concussion.
“He’s a Wisconsin-type player all-around,” wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni said. “He puts in all the overtime – he (and Abbrederis) watch more film than probably anybody I have.”
Recruited as a linebacker and suiting up as a defensive back for his first three years of high school, head coach Bret Bielema gave the former all-state player two options: continue as a linebacker, or make the full-time switch to wideout, which he also played in high school.
After glancing over at a linebacking corps with a mainstay of talent in Mike Taylor and Chris Taylor – each with multiple years of eligibility remaining – he realized his best chance to see the field was as a receiver. Former UW standout Nick Toon would depart for the NFL after his redshirt year, and the competition was wide open.
Little did he know, a year later he would be starting in front of his parents and friends at Camp Randall.
“It definitely means more when you have that background of being a Badger,” said Fredrick, whose father played tight end for the Badgers from 1979-81. “It’s not just a college team. You’re not just playing at the next level; you’re just playing for a lot deeper meaning. It means a lot more to you.”
Playing on an offense that has struggled to build an offensive rhythm and averages 156.3 passing yards per game, Fredrick’s numbers are modest – four receptions for 67 yards through his first three games. The stat-padding downfield bombs increasingly rare this season, Azzanni said his young crew of receivers must show offense coordinator Matt Canada they can consistently complete such plays.
But Fredrick has tried to take every cue he can from his more accomplished counterpart. Building a tight bond with Abbrederis over the summer – often on the golf course – the redshirt freshman understands much of his role is creating better looks and serving as a decoy for UW’s top target.
“Just encouraging them as they go along their way,” Abbrederis said of how he helps his young teammates, adding that he will return to the field against UTEP this weekend. “There’s not much I can do – I can’t just make them go out there and make plays.
“But if I go out there and do what I do, try to make plays, they’ll follow suit and they can do the same thing.”
Fredrick admitted he can’t match Abbrederis’ speed and he won’t trip up cornerbacks with ankle-breaking cuts on his routes, but he does have one obvious advantage: size. Listed at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, he has the frame of a physical receiver who will overpower rather than outrun.
Flashing a wide grin when he speaks, Fredrick looks more linebacker than wide receiver, in stark contrast to the undersized Abbrederis. His position coach noted the first-year player “likes contact,” and with a few years of experience, it’s easy to imagine the Madison native as an intimidating downfield threat.
And though he has started two of the Badgers’ first three games, he understands he has much to learn from Abbrederis’ tutelage.
“[Abbrederis] is a playmaker, and that’s what I … hope I will be when I get that opportunity,” he said. “When he’s in the big games, big situations, he’s made those plays. That’s one big thing I want to do is definitely just be that playmaker that he’s been.”
Fredrick – whose best performance came against Northern Iowa with two catches for 39 yards – is hesitant to make predictions about the player he can turn into in the coming years. But the coaching staff is hoping the bumps in the road this season will pay off.
They’re banking on the future.
“We have some guys that can make those plays,” Azzanni said. “We just don’t know if they can do it yet.”