Fifth-round pick Jared Abbrederis is the first Badgers player player drafted by the Packers since 2001.
Having grown up 90 miles away in the small town of Wautoma and later starring at the University of Wisconsin, the Green Bay Packers were, and now are, his NFL team.
So when Abbrederis -- the 176th overall pick in this year's draft and the first Wisconsin Badgers' player drafted by the Packers since guard Bill Ferrario in 2001 -- spoke for the first time during last weekend's rookie orientation camp, it was no surprise that he drew the biggest crowd.
When told of the scene in the locker room, it was like a flashback for Ferrario to his rookie year. He recalled a moment from his first season, when there was another former Badgers player on the Packers’ roster -- undrafted rookie punter Kevin Stemke, who not only played at UW but grew up in Green Bay.
"What blew my mind and has probably never happened since or will probably ever happen again, on the first day the vets showed up for camp that Stemke had more reporters around him than Brett Favre had around him just because he was a hometown kid playing for the Packers," Ferrario said.
For a player who is no lock to make the roster -- the Packers have cut two fifth-round picks in the past seven years -- it might be easier for Abbrederis to try to break into the NFL with the anonymity that a fifth-round pick might enjoy in, say, Buffalo or Cincinnati. But Abbrederis does not see it that way.
"No, I'd rather have it this way," he said. "I can just feel the support from everybody in Wisconsin. I think you'd rather have support wherever you go, and so it's been awesome."
If there's a pressure that comes with that, Abbrederis is not showing it.
"It's not a distraction to me," Abbrederis said. "I'm more about doing my thing and not really worrying about what people think or anything like that so I don't think it really bothers me, but definitely I can feel the support."
Ferrario felt it, too, both the pressure and the support, and the former fourth-round pick was not even a Wisconsin native. He grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and the Packers were not his hometown team. Outside of hardcore Badgers fans, he was not a household name around the state of Wisconsin.
Even then, he knew he was part of a special connection.
"I think there's more pressure on a player being picked from Wisconsin," Ferrario said in a telephone interview. "Even just spending four or five years in Madison, you knew what football meant to people in Wisconsin and what you meant to them. It's special."
Packers general manager Ted Thompson knew full well what he was throwing Abbrederis into when he picked him. Thompson had a similar experience when he broke into the NFL as a player. The NFL draft had 17 rounds in 1975, but Thompson came in to the league as an undrafted free agent with one of his home state teams, the Houston Oilers. Thompson grew up in Atlanta, Texas, and stayed in state to play at SMU.
"I had a ball," said Thompson, who went on to play 10 years for the Oilers. "I've told the story: There were 17 rounds; I didn't get drafted. You just swing for the fence and do the best."
Ferrario agreed that once you step on the field, it does not matter whether you're from Wisconsin or Wyoming.
"I don't think there was any negative effect on the field," said Ferrario, who played two seasons for the Packers before stints with the Redskins and Panthers. "On the practice field or the game field, I don’t think there's any difference."