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April 7, 2013

Abbott eying starting job

There are certain pro quarterbacks that every aspiring signal-caller likes to emulate. From Peyton Manning's knowledge and vision to Drew Brees' leadership, college quarterbacks across the country pick and choose the attributes of the elite and try to apply them to their own game.

Derik Abbott is no different, but the Robert Morris quarterback is modeling himself after a fresh face in the NFL that most QBs wouldn't think about imitating. And it's all because of a nickname bestowed upon him by his wisecracking teammates.

"They all call me Russell Wilson out here because they think I look like and play like Wilson," Abbott said. "I actually have been watching a lot of him and I go on Madden and play with him and run the different patterns."

Abbott and the Seattle Seahawks starter do have a lot in common. Wilson earned high marks at North Carolina State and Wisconsin for his accuracy and mobility, and Abbott did the same in high school. Abbott threw for over 2,000 yards and completed 63 percent of his passes his senior year at Freedom High School in Orlando.

Oh, and they're both 5-foot-11. Underrated and overlooked because of his height, Wilson wasn't given a chance to star in the NFL. Then he led Seattle to the playoffs and tied Manning's NFL record for touchdown passes as a rookie.

"The man's my favorite player now," Abbott said with a laugh. "He really is. The style he plays is very similar to mine. You work your game to what the best things you can do. My best attribute is not standing back there and shaking linebackers and defensive ends off. I'm not that big. My best attribute is getting timing with receivers, being accurate, and just being smart out there."

Dreams of the NFL are a long ways off for Abbott. His focus is only on making Robert Morris look extremely smart for being the only Division I school to offer him a scholarship. Dogged by the height question his entire young career, Abbott's let his play do the talking.

"I know for a fact that if I didn't think I could play, regardless of my height, I wouldn't be here. I wouldn't even play football," he said. "That's the mentality you have to have. If you don't believe you can be on the field, then you shouldn't be at all."

Abbott believes he can play, and he has his eyes set on the starting quarterback job. Four-year starter Jeff Sinclair graduates in May, and most would assume highly touted transfer Paul Jones is the logical name to start. It may work out that way, but Robert Morris has left the competition open, and Abbott is doing everything he can to seize the position.

"Paul's been working his butt off to do everything he can to win. I've been doing everything I can to win the job," Abbott said. "He's been a great leader, and I'm trying to be a great leader as well."

Abbott's experienced a fairly rapid acceleration of his career. He was brought on campus as a true freshman last August as someone RMU viewed as a future contender for the starting quarterback job. Sophomore Matt Layman, though, appeared likely to take over for Sinclair. Then Layman transferred out, Jones transferred in, and Abbott is suddenly the most experienced player when it comes to running Joe Walton's offense.

"I feel like I've been here for 30 years now, like I'm the old veteran on the team," Abbott quipped, adding that he used the offseason to adjust to college life and dip into the playbook more. "I'd get up in the morning, get all my classes done, and this is like my fourth class of the day. Come learn and study the Joe Walton playbook."

Abbott had the basics down last fall. He was Layman's back-up for two games while Sinclair served a two-game suspension to start the season, even briefly getting into action at North Dakota State when Layman was injured. But he spent the bulk of the season running the scout team, quickly digesting the opposition's plays in order to prep the defense.

"The scout team kind of helped me, because it really slowed the game down for me. It's obviously a different speed from high school to college," Abbott said. "I think that part helped me get game experience, then coming up and studying, I already knew the basic stuff of the offense."

Abbott is calm and confident about his game. He knows he has things to work on, from taking command as a field general to improving his strength and accuracy. He wants to be a smart player, capable of reading and reacting instantly. But he also wants what's best for Robert Morris; he wants to be the starter, but if Jones deserves the gig, Abbott vows to strongly support him.

He wants success, not just for himself, but for his team as well. It's why Abbott found time to throw with his teammates in the offseason, even in the bitter cold of December.

"This obviously isn't Florida where I can go throw with my guys 24/7 in the middle of December," Abbott said. "But we still came out here and threw, because we all want that championship."

ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at achiappazzi@yahoo.com.

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