To most ACC fans, it has to seem like Jon Abbate has been at Wake Forest forever.
Hailing from Powder Springs, Georgia, Abbate led the state in tackles in 2002 with 207 but received little recruiting attention because he lacked the ideal frame to play the position on the next level. Wake ended up landing a gem, as he really burst on the scene in 2004 after redshirting his true freshman season.
As a redshirt freshman, Abbate had a huge year, as he was named honorable mention All-ACC after leading the Deacons with 101 tackles and four tackles for a loss. He was the first Wake freshman to earn league honors of any kind since 1976. Abbate was runner-up for ACC Rookie of the Year, and he was selected as the Bill George Award winner as the team's most outstanding lineman. A consensus freshman All-American, Abbate was the heart and soul of Wake's defense.
He battled nagging injuries in 2005, but still had a very good year. In just ten games, he led Wake in tackles (76) and added six tackles for loss, two sacks, and two interceptions. Abbate was again tabbed an honorable mention All-ACC selection, as he was the first player to lead the Deacons in tackles in consecutive seasons since Kevin Giles in 1993-94.
Despite not making a bowl game last year, the Deacons entered the 2006 season with high expectations, as a load of starters returned on both sides of the ball, including nine on defense.
However, the year began horribly for Wake, as starting quarterback Ben Mauk and starting tailback Micah Andrews were lost to season-ending injuries just a couple of games in. That hasn't stopped the Deacons from jumping out to a 5-1 start, in large part due to the play of its defense and Abbate.
Through six games, Abbate leads the Deacons with 48 tackles and has three tackles for loss, two sacks, and two pass breakups. The junior is well on his way to earning more postseason accolades, as he is a member of the 2006 Chuck Bednarik Award watch list. An experienced player and a terrific leader, Abbate has the reputation of being a very physical player that can really shed blocks and use his intelligence and instincts to make a lot of plays.
NC State head coach Chuck Amato thinks highly of Abbate and the entire Wake Forest football team.
"He reminds me of a linebacker, his last name ends in a vowel, that plays for NC State right now... it's a sometimes vowel though," said Amato. "He's good... they are a tough football team. They'll wake you up if you're not awake at 12:05 now.
"They are tough. They don't give up big plays, and they swarm to the football."
NC State's offense is starting to click with quarterback Daniel Evans at the helm, but after a tough loss to Clemson, Abbate and company will be looking to get back on track this week against the Wolfpack.
To have success, Evans and the offense has to find No. 5 at all times and make sure he is blocked or he will be wreaking havoc from his middle linebacker position.