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UCLA's Andrew Abbott won't forget his biggest loss

Andrew Abbott, a walk-on who has become a key member of the Bruins' defense at safety, was a junior at Mater Dei High when his idol — his older brother, Marque — was shot to death. 'I always remember the role he had in my life,' Abbott says.

October 18, 2012|By Chris Foster, Los Angeles Times
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Andrew Abbott wears his heart under his sleeve.

The senior UCLA safety straightened his left arm and opened up his world. The tattoos begin with "LB" for Long Beach, where he grew up. The journey to his wrist includes "Josie," his grandmother's name, a symbol for change, the Bruins logo and "26," his number.

At the end is simply "8-20-06."

That's the date of the night Abbott's path was altered, yet he has never wandered off course.

Marque Allen, his older brother, was visiting relatives in Lynwood. He was killed in a drive-by shooting. He was 23. Abbott, then a junior at Santa Ana Mater Dei High, had lost his role model. But he has never let him go.

He starts every game remembering his brother, a security guard for Boeing who had put away 10% of his pay for Abbott's education. Before the game, Abbott goes to the 24-yard line.

"That was his number," Abbott said. "I kneel and talk with him. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I laugh. I know he has been smiling over this whole process I have been through."

Abbott, a history major, plans to attend graduate school. He has gone from walk-on to team captain. He has been a momentum-shifter for the Bruins, with his three interceptions setting up touchdowns this season.

He shares that pregame with the one person who matters most.

"Andrew went everywhere with Marque," said Teshia Watkins, their mother.

In 2001, Watkins married Barry Watkins, who formed a close bond with Allen and Abbott. Before that, she and her sons were alone in Long Beach. Allen, seven years the elder, took care of Abbott while their mom was at her job as a quality assurance manager at Boeing.

"I taught them that we had to look after each other," Watkins said. "Marque got Andrew ready for school, made sure he was where he was supposed to be. He took him to football practice, baseball practice, basketball practice. I would meet them in the park in the evening."

Abbott idolized his brother.

"When he played Pop Warner, I used to put on a fake little football costume and run behind him, just mad that I couldn't play," Abbott said.

Allen secured a job at Boeing, where his mother and grandmother worked. He was studying to be a probation officer and was saving money so Abbott could go to college.

On Aug. 20, 2006, Allen "was in the wrong place at the wrong time," Abbott said. The slaying has never been solved.

"It was tough," Abbott said. "It's life. You deal with it. You don't ask why."

But, he said, "I always remember the role he had in my life."

And continued to have. Teshia Watkins said, "We found out that Marque had named Andrew as his beneficiary. That's how he paid for his first two years at UCLA."

It was football that Abbott clung to after the tragedy.

"At that time, he was really in search of something to feel normal again," Barry Watkins said. "He didn't want to let his teammates down."

USC quarterback Matt Barkley, a teammate at Mater Dei, marveled at Abbott for being "resilient." He said, "Andrew handled it like a man."

Abbott had 12 interceptions in his career at Mater Dei. As a receiver, he had 46 receptions for 790 yards and eight touchdowns as a senior.

But college recruiters, who had come in huge numbers to see Barkley, Khaled Holmes (now of USC) and others, mostly ignored Abbott. He seemed too small at 5 feet 8 and 160 pounds.

Nick Holt, then USC's defensive coordinator, came to Mater Dei one day and ran into Abbott in the football office.

"He asked me, 'Can you hook me up with some film? I want to watch some of your guys,'" Abbott said. "I knew he wasn't there to watch me. That was cool. I was getting some exposure."

UCLA assistant Angus McClure, at a Mater Dei game to evaluate other players, watched as Abbott caught two touchdown passes, one for 97 yards, and intercepted a pass.

"I said, 'This guy needs to be a part of our program,'" McClure said.

A day before players were to report for training camp in 2008, Abbott got a call from UCLA.

"They told me I had been admitted to school," Abbott said. "I ran to my room and packed everything I had. I went to the freshman barbecue the next day. It was supposed to be for your mom and dad. I had 16 or 17 people with me."

The Bruins offered him a chance as a walk-on. Of course, that's very different from being on scholarship.

Each day, Abbott, who was voted captain in August, cut into the odds.

"The second day, we were doing one-on-one drills," Abbott said. "I didn't know if walk-ons were allowed to do those, but I wasn't going to watch anymore. I jumped into a drill and batted away a pass. I was like, 'I'm here now.'"

Abbott was in the nickel package in 2009. He was given a scholarship in 2010 and started five games. Still, he was to be replaced in 2011, and played only "a couple of snaps," he said, in the opener.

By the end of the season, Abbott had started seven games. His interception with two minutes left clinched a 28-25 victory over Washington State.

There was no doubt that Abbott had earned his place. Each Saturday, before the game, he tells his brother all about it.

"Everything I'm doing today," he said, "I owe to Marque."

chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes

Times staff writer Gary Klein contributed to this report.

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