No matter what sport they play, it is important for players on a team to have trust in one another. It is especially the case in football, in which all 11 players must be on the same page at the same time to be successful.
One way to build that trust is for players to build a strong sense of community with one another, almost like a family.
This is one thing that new Wisconsin wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni has stressed this season to his Badger wide receiving corps.
Azzanni was previously the offensive coordinator for Western Kentucky, but he served under Urban Meyer both at Bowling Green and Florida, so he knows what it takes to win big-time college football games.
He feels it is essential for the wide receivers to be a tight group that feeds off one another. His philosophy seems to be rubbing off on the Badger wide receivers.
“Without a doubt [we have a close relationship],” redshirt sophomore wide receiver Chase Hammond said. “Coach Z [Azzanni] is the one to credit for that. He’s brought us together. He’s recommended we do events together. We just listen to what he says and it’s turned out really well for us.”
By working hard together in the off-season as well as doing other team-building events, the wide receiver corps has developed a close-knit family structure—a band of brothers, if you will.
“We all pick on each other in a brother-type fashion and I think that I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Hammond said. “I love this group of guys and I would do anything for them. All in all, I’d say the room is about as close as it can get and we all really love it.”
While Azzanni has brought the brother-like mindset to the Badger wide receiving corps, the glue that holds together this strong bond between the Wisconsin receivers seems to be redshirt junior wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, who has assumed a leadership role with this group.
“He’s a great mentor. He’s a good leader,” Azzanni said. “He leads by example—his work ethic, how he watches film, how he prepares for the game. He’s a calming voice—he’s been through a lot and he’s an even better person than he is a football player, so that’s a good example for those guys too. So, yeah, they go as he goes.”
The way Abbrederis goes about his business, his personality and the way he makes plays on the field has caused the rest of the wide receivers to look up to him and consider him the big brother of the group.
They have been inspired by Abbrederis and want to duplicate his success—so much so that this wide receiving corps has proclaimed itself “Team Abby.”
“We started calling ourselves that because we really like him and his work ethic and what he does,” Hammond said. “We just want to emulate it and get out on the field and make plays like he does.”
Despite their strong admiration for their big brother and their desire to be like him, the rest of Team Abby has been unable to make big plays down the field this season.
Abbrederis has caught 33 passes for 627 yards and five touchdowns, whereas the Badgers other receivers have combined for 30 catches for 306 yards and no touchdowns.
While these numbers do not appear to be a formula for success, they should not be a big cause for concern. This is because the rest of Team Abby do not have to be game changers; they just have to contribute.
“[Redshirt freshman] Jordan Fredrick, [redshirt sophomore]Chase Hammond, [sophomore]Kenzel Doe, [redshirt junior] Jeff Duckworth and [redshirt freshman] A.J. Jordan, all those guys are taking pressure off [Abbrederis] and working their butts off,” Azzanni said. “They don’t have to go out and be Randy Moss, they just need out and catch some balls just to take a little pressure off him and they’re working every day to do that.”
The Badgers might not have a defined No. 2 guy who can take the top off the defense like Abbrederis, but what they do have is a tight-knit group of capable wide receivers who are willing to do the little things to help their team win and help their big brother succeed.
“You want a No. 2 wide receiver, but if you’ve got three, four, five, six wide receivers that can go out there and play and catch the ball and do everything that’s coached, then why not have five, six players,” Doe said. “We don’t get as many deep balls, but we’re contributing. You might see Abby go deep for a touchdown, but the plays before that Jordan or I or Chase might have made led to Abby catching that ball.”
This group of wide receivers might not be the best the Wisconsin Badgers have ever had, but they are a tight-knit family with strong leadership that is willing to do anything for one another.
These ingredients can only mean good things for the Badger receiving corps the rest of this season and in years to come.