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Selfless 'Jabo' living in the moment at 'special place'

By Jacob Knabel on Jun. 30, 2023 in Football

Slipping into the Cornhusker red felt like a dream come true for Lincoln native Austin Jablonski. Starting about fourth grade, Jablonski would maneuver up and down the steps of Memorial Stadium, hawking bottled water amidst roughly 90,000 fans on Husker game days. Like many native Nebraskans, Jablonski pictured himself one day sporting that red ‘N’ fastened to that white helmet.

Born in Wichita, Kansas, and adopted by birth by his parents Gregg and Sheri Jablonski of Lincoln, Austin has known nothing but The Good Life. His love for football can be traced back to those game day Saturdays as a youngster when literally anything seemed possible.

“Those things were like 45 pounds, and I could barely lift them,” Jablonski recalls of his time as a Memorial Stadium vendor. “I went up and down the stairs selling water. I grew up around Husker Football and I loved it from the start. Things came to fruition where I was able to be in a successful environment at Pius and things worked out for me to be able to walk on at Nebraska. It was like a dream come true for me. I had a lot of great experiences there. I’m still friends with everyone I played with. It was a blessing. I loved it so much.”

Jablonski spent two-and-a-half years as a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln while feeling his way through college life. A studious young man who helped lead Lincoln Pius X Catholic High School to a state basketball championship, Jablonski has always excelled academically. He was named Academic All-Big Ten (among his many academic honors) while playing receiver for the Huskers. However, Jablonski did not see playing time and began to wonder if there was something else out there for him. Maybe he should hang up the cleats. Or maybe he should find a college football program that would allow him the chance to play quarterback, the position he starred at for three state playoff qualifying Thunderbolt teams.

On Aug. 21, 2021, Jablonski officially announced (via Twitter) that he had entered the transfer portal. As Jablonski said both then and now, it was “God’s plan.” Less than two months later, Jablonski tweeted about his new destination: “Blessed to announce my commitment to play quarterback for Concordia University.” Head Coach Patrick Daberkow didn’t want to start any kind of hype train, but he was clearly excited about what Concordia was adding to the locker room.

Said Daberkow, “We had him on campus and had him for a visit. We talked about how we saw him fitting in. He has not disappointed. If he’s not a 4.0 student, he’s pretty close. He shows up on time. He works hard. He sets a great example and is a great leader. He’s a vocal guy. He’s tough. He’s hungry to win. He’s a lot of fun to coach.”

Now three semesters deep into his Concordia career, Jablonski is grateful to have sifted through another recruiting process that resulted in him becoming a Bulldog. He says there was plenty of interest when he re-opened his recruitment (a period he called a “hectic moment” in his life). Ultimately, Jablonski traded the No. 47 he wore at Nebraska for No. 16 at Concordia and the opportunity to play quarterback. Two games into his first season as a Bulldog, original plans were scrapped and Jablonski was back at receiver. Daberkow and his offensive staff found creative ways to allow Jablonski to catch, run and throw for touchdowns in an offense that became much more explosive.

At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, Jablonski quickly developed into a real headache for opposing defenses. He finished the 2022 season with 36 receptions for 483 yards and three touchdowns while also running for three scores and throwing for three. This wasn’t what Jablonski had in mind when he committed in December 2021, but he shook off some of the disappointment and put the team first. The chance to make big plays, no matter the position, helped him rekindle his love for the sport.

“It was hard,” Jablonski admits of the position change. “It would have been after our game with Hastings. I got benched about halftime. That next Monday, Dab pulled me aside and said, ‘Hey, obviously things aren’t going as we planned.’ He said he still wanted me on that field. It wasn’t easy. Whenever you’re not succeeding, you have to swallow your pride a little bit. I was willing to help the team anyway I could. Making the switch was kind of a hit to my pride and my ego, but – God’s plan. Things work out the way they’re supposed to work out. It was better for the team. If I had to do it over, I would do it again.”

There are three specific plays from this past season that are etched in Daberkow’s mind. Each of them paints a picture of the explosive athleticism that Jablonski brings to the field. The first of those plays was a screen pass that resulted in a 55-yard gain versus Jamestown. In that instance, Jablonski caught the ball out wide to the right, slipped a tackle and outraced three defenders to the sideline for a gain of 55 yards. Next came an incredible, leaping 22-yard touchdown grab against Dordt off the toss from DJ McGarvie. Finally, Jablonski flashed his vision and elite speed on a screen pass he turned into an 87-yard touchdown in the season finale versus No. 1 Morningside.

On the other side of the field, Korrell Koehlmoos shattered school receiving records. Jablonski had helped completely transform the attack. Said Jablonski, “With the offense we started designing, it puts you in position to make a play. Luckily enough I was able to make a few of those with the help of my teammates. At heart, we’re all competitors. I just love to compete and had a blast doing it.”

Said Daberkow, “His style of play made it pretty easy to see the transition to receiver. It was a move we felt put our best 11 on the field. It was selfless on his part in that it wasn’t the plan. Then we started the season 0-2. As a coach, you have to recalibrate and re-evaluate. What can work? We had gotten really thin on the offensive line and we were having a hard time moving the ball. When we put him out at X receiver opposite Korrell Koehlmoos, we started having success. He’s a big reason why Korrell had the season he had. If teams singled up Jabo, we went after that corner. I’m really excited to see what he’s going to bring to the table this year.”

For a serious student like Jablonski, the college experience isn’t limited to accomplishments on the football field. When he decided to leave the University of Nebraska, ‘Jabo’ made academics a priority, in addition to his desire for a shot to play quarterback. He has high praise for the professors at Concordia.

“Everything about it,” Jablonski said in what he liked about Concordia. “It’s hard to pinpoint one thing, but I’m an accounting and finance major and the professors in the college of business are unparalleled in my opinion. With the classes at UNL, they jam a ton of people into those lecture halls. Here at Concordia, the class sizes are around 20 to 25 for business classes. Professor Johnson, Langewisch, Moberly and Heidorn structure their classes like it’s a conversation. They push you hard. It was a new challenge for me to take on and a chance to make an impact. One thing I was really interested in academically is they offer the entrepreneurship concentration.”

With a year-and-a-half at Concordia under his belt, Jablonski can see how he’s grown in his faith in just a short time. He’s enjoyed the chance to become more well-versed in the Bible while immersing himself in a Christian atmosphere. Growing up, his faith was always an important aspect of life. It’s also an important part of life at Concordia. Says Jablonski, “It didn’t take me long to realize it’s special. If you’re going to live your life by your faith, you have to incorporate it into your life. I really love that aspect of Concordia.”

How long Jabo’s time at Concordia lasts is still to be determined. Academically, Jablonski could play one more season, complete his academic coursework and be off to another chapter of his life. Or he could stick around and play again in 2024.

Both options bring promise for Jablonski, who is a leader and someone who is highly respected by his teammates. He may want to continue those strong relationships with fellow Bulldogs such as McGarvie. Said the blossoming young quarterback McGarvie, “When he was at quarterback – we always pushed each other. He made me so much better throughout that first three-to-four weeks when he was at quarterback.”

There’s no telling what the on-field production may look like this fall (and perhaps beyond). Jablonski recently took advantage of an opportunity to work out in front of personnel from a couple of NFL teams as part of a function put on by the coaching staff at Nebraska.

In life and in football, Jablonski has so much more to accomplish. Right now, he just wants to live in the moment. Says Jablonski, “It’s one of those things where you just take it one day at a time. It’s God’s plan. That’s my saying and that’s what I live by. Whatever God’s plan is, it’ll happen. There’s no point in stressing about two years from now. I don’t even stress about tomorrow. Just leave it in His hands and I know it’ll take care of itself.”