MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Jake Abbott jokes that his high school alma mater has a running joke on campus that the West Virginia football team should become the “Mountain Bears,” and he may not be too far off.
Fairmont Senior has had a run recently of sending players up Interstate 79 and suiting up for the Mountaineers, including Abbott, a 2017 Polar Bears graduate. Some names are more well known than others — the Stills brothers, Darius and Dante — were highly-recruited and sit atop the depth chart along the defensive line. Their father, Gary, also happens to be one of the best linebackers to play at WVU.
Rhett Heston became a walk-on this offseason after helping Fairmont Senior win the Class AA state championship a year ago, and big 3-star offensive lineman Zach Frazier is committed to be a part of the 2020 recruiting class for Neal Brown and staff.
But then there’s Abbott, who is entering his third year in the program as a redshirt sophomore. A former walk-on himself, he won the 2016 Chuck Howley Award, given to the state’s top high school linebacker.
While he also played quarterback for the Polar Bears, Abbott knew his future at the next level was going to be defense.
“Taking someone’s pride from them in the middle of the game and being on defense, just smashing it to them … there’s just something about it that I really like,” Abbott said.
Though an offer never came from West Virginia, being a Mountaineer was always a goal. As a walk-on, though, that wasn’t going to be easy. Abbott redshirted his first year and played sparingly last season, but started to get more playing time toward the end. He played 10 snaps against Oklahoma, followed by 11 in the Camping World Bowl against Syracuse — both primarily on special teams.
With a new coaching staff this offseason, Abbott knew he had a chance to prove himself and start fresh. That hard work paid off, earning him the Tommy Nicklovich Award at the end of spring practice. The award has been presented annually since 1991 to the WVU walk-on who distinguishes himself through “attitude and work ethic” each spring.
“You talk about Jake, and you talk about a guy that’s all-in,” Brown said following the spring game. “He’s all-in on being a Mountaineer. He’s a guy that has great effort, great attitude every single day.”
That attitude helps Abbott understand that special teams is a critical aspect of any team, so accepting a role there is a way to get on the field and contribute.
“My focus this year is to play meaningful snaps on special teams and be a big-time special teams role player,” he said. The coaching staff “explained that in the NFL, some of the most meaningful players on their rosters play a lot of snaps on special teams. Special teams is a big part of the game and you have to look at it from a football standpoint — you’re still playing the game.”
Abbott learned that work ethic from his father, J.L., who was also his head coach at Fairmont Senior. After Jake graduated, the elder Abbott decided he was also done with high school football, stepping down after nine seasons that spanned two separate stints.
“It’s really nice being able to see him after the games and he’s always in good spirits, too,” Jake said. “It’s always good because I know when he was coaching, it wasn’t always easy on him. He had the stress of leading the team — losses, wins, it didn’t matter.
“Now that he’s out there just being one of the fans, it’s really easy on him.”