WVU’s Jake Abbott Follows In Footsteps Of Award’s Namesake
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – As awards get older, ties to those for which they are named fade away. While people are familiar with the Heisman Trophy, not many people know the details behind the coach for which the iconic award is named. Ask today’s players who Fred Biletnikoff is, and you’ll probably get blank stares.
On a smaller, and more local scale, our Tommy Nickolich Award, now in its 29th year, is still important to us at the Blue & Gold News, as its namesake exemplified the traits which we hold in high esteem. Thus, it was especially gratifying to hear this year’s winner, Fairmont’s Jake Abbott, say that he was very familiar with the player that passed away in 1983 after a battle with cancer.
Bob Bucy, one of the founders of the Blue & Gold News in 1988, instituted the idea of the Nickolich award as a way to honor his childhood friend. He got the buy-in from West Virginia’s coaching staff to award it each spring to the walk-on who shows courage, determination and spirit. In Abbott, those qualities and more have been evident, as he has carved a niche for himself on the team.
“I really wasn’t expecting it,” Abbott said after hearing his name called just prior to the game. “There are so many walk-ons on the team that work hard. I guarantee it was a really tough decision. They said, ‘redshirt sophomore linebacker Jake Abbott,’ and my stomach shrank a little bit and my heart fluttered. Tommy Nickolich is from my high school, so that means a lot to me.”
The Nickolich Award, which is chosen by WVU’s coaches, was first presented in 1991, and since then there have now been 29 walk-ons earn the honor. A number of them have been from northcentral West Virginia, and a couple even from Marion County, where Fairmont is located. But Abbott is the first to share the same high school alma mater as Nicholich – Fairmont Senior.
“When I walked on, one of my goals was to win that award,” Abbott continued. “All through high school I’ve heard the story about (Nickolich) playing for the Blue & White (of Fairmont Senior) and then getting to put on the old gold and blue jersey along with him, that’s pretty cool.”
WVU head coach Neal Brown noted that Abbott has been garnering notice from the coaching staff, and that he is making a strong push for a role on the field this year.
“First of all, (he’s) very deserving. You talk about Jake and you talk about a guy that’s all in. He’s all in on being a Mountaineer,” said WVU’s first-year head coach. “He’s a guy that has great effort (and) great attitude every single day. We do a game changer of the day for special teams. He’s won that multiple times this spring. Here’s the deal – I’ll tell you right now, he’s going to be a factor on defense. He will be a factor for us in the fall on defense. (He had a) great winter, (and) carried that into a great spring. I think he’s got a chance to be a really plus player for us on special teams. He’s continuing to grow and his role’s going to increase on defense, and I think as he goes through his career, he’ll be a leader for us as well.”
For Abbott, such words are a spur to even more achievement.
“I love this state, and I love everything about this program,” said the 6-foot, 220-pound linebacker. “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for Coach Brown and this staff. If Coach (Vic) Koenning came up and said, ‘Run through this wall,’ I’d say, ‘Which wall first?’ That’s the kind of attitude you have to have as a walk-on. You have to be willing to take that step that most kids aren’t.”
Somewhere, Tommy Nickolich is looking down on a kindred spirit.