Micah Abernathy’s journey to the National Football League began before he was even born.
His grandfather, Ralph David Abernathy, was a close friend of Martin Luther King, Jr. and was himself an icon of the civil rights movement. Though Micah never met his grandfather, the impact he had on Micah’s life and career is palpable to the Green Bay Packers’ safety and those lessons served him well on the long road to the NFL.
“I felt like my parents and my grandma, his wife, Juanita Jones Abernathy, did a great job letting us know who he was and not just as a civil rights leader but as a family man,” Micah told Acme Packing Company earlier this week. “He was a man who worked very hard for his goals and he didn’t let anything deter him.”
Being a professional athlete can be a rollercoaster and the path Abernathy has had throughout his career has had a lot of “ups and downs,” much like his grandfather’s efforts to promote civil rights. “I felt that when was I going through what I was going through in the football world.”
While Abernathy has football at the front of his mind, he’s also aware he can help continue his grandfather’s legacy. In an age where division is basically the rule of the day, he has a great example in his grandfather to show him the way forward.
“I felt like, growing up, the best way that I could carry on his legacy was being a great person and exemplifying the things he talked about in his speeches and while he was preaching,” Abernathy said. “I carry that every day with the diligent work I have on and off the field.”
He’s also focused on using his platform “to show that the situation that you’re in currently is not the end result and if you work hard enough, you’ll be able to get what you want.”
A graduate of the University of Tennessee, Abernathy’s path to Green Bay ironically enough started with one of the Packers’ divisional rivals, the Minnesota Vikings. It was there in the summer of 2019 that he was exposed to one of the NFL’s premier defensive minds in former head coach Mike Zimmer. His time in Minnesota helped him adapt to the NFL and despite not making the roster, he was able to learn a lot from watching one of the league’s best safeties in Harrison Smith.
“How to be a rookie was probably the biggest thing I took away from the Vikings,” Abernathy said. “I was there with [Smith] and I sat next to him every day in the meeting rooms and the things he would whisper in my ear about playing safety, I kind of took that away from being with the Vikings the most.”
Abernathy also said he learned “tough love” from Zimmer, though unfortunately that did not result in a 53-man roster spot.
Following brief stints with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts later in 2019, Abernathy found himself with the Dallas Renegades of the XFL in 2020. Unfortunately, that opportunity was lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the league’s eventual bankruptcy. That put Abernathy back at square one and he was out of football for over a year before he signed with the reborn USFL’s Houston Gamblers during their inaugural season this spring.
This meant Abernathy was playing in games while NFL teams were doing their offseason programs and organized team activities (OTAs), but the Packers safety says he’s thankful for the experience and wasn’t concerned about wear and tear.
“It did help me get my groove back,” Abernathy said after he was out of football for around a year or more. “I felt like I needed to warm up, get my feet back, get my football instincts back.”
By the time the end of the USFL season rolled around, Abernathy felt like he was playing the best football he could have, and that gave him the opportunity for a return to the NFL.
Six weeks later, that opportunity came via the Packers.
What Abernathy put on tape with the Gamblers undoubtedly aided the Packers in offering him a workout, and he said other teams were interested as well. Green Bay eventually brought him in as a member of the 90-man roster right before the first preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers.
In other words, Abernathy was off and running.
“I knew at that point, I just needed to learn the playbook as much as possible because I know how good of a player I can be and what I have in my heart, showing what my strengths are as a player,” Abernathy said. “So I felt like as long as I learned the playbook, I could go out there and make plays and do what I needed to do and I felt like I did that.”
Anyone in attendance at Lambeau Field for the preseason game against the New Orleans Saints would agree.
It was in that game that Abernathy put up a career performance, making a big interception that proved just how much of a student of the game he really is. After having joint practices against the Saints earlier in the week, Abernathy immediately recognized a formation New Orleans lined up in and knew he very well could make a play.
Spoiler alert: He did.
“We were doing two-minute against the Saints and they have that exact play, different personnel but that exact play,” Abernathy said. “I missed that play in practice and then [during the game] I keyed the formation. I could see it was two-minute as well, it was a sudden change as well. So they were going to try and get the ball to specific players, their best players out on the field at the time.”
That player on the field in this circumstance was a former Packer: quarterback-turned-tight end Taysom Hill.
Before the snap, Abernathy heard secondary coach Jerry Gray on the sideline calling out what was about to happen, though Abernathy had an inkling the play was coming. “I figured the play was coming and he [Gray] kind of confirmed that for me,” he said. “I was on our near sideline and they ran that exact play.”
Remembering missing that play in practice, Abernathy knew where the football was headed. When Hill fell, Abernathy knew he was going to have to leap over him to make the play.
It was that play that caught everyone’s attention and put Abernathy squarely in the competition to earn a roster spot, despite joining the team halfway through training camp. It was also his first taste of the home crowd at Lambeau Field and the reaction of the crowd to the interception is something Abernathy won’t soon forget.
“It’s definitely different. It’s one of the legendary stadiums in the NFL and I definitely felt that,” Abernathy said. He said the environment was unlike anything he had seen since his college days at the University of Tennessee: “The screams and the cheers that you hear are honestly very similar to a college stadium and that’s not something that you particularly see in an NFL stadium.”
With the Titletown mystique comes the legends of Green Bay, and Abernathy got to see one up close and personal in quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Facing off against the two-time reigning MVP is a daunting task for any defender, but once Abernathy earned his way into some reps against the starting offense, he quickly learned how different of a quarterback Rodgers is.
“Seeing him work against our starters, it was honestly eye-opening,” he said. “Some of the things that he does and the things that he sees and the checks that he sees, he sees the game differently.”
Abernathy recalled watching film one time and thinks Rodgers “checked a play because of the demeanor that I had as a safety and he realized I was coming down in the box” despite Abernathy not taking a step in any direction. “He knew what I was going to do just because he’s that smart of a player.”
That experience was not a waste for the young safety, however. “That play right there, honestly that just changed how I view myself pre-snap and the things and the tells I can give away to an offensive player,” Abernathy said. So Rodgers once again is the wave that lifts all boats.
It appeared initially that earning his way up to practice reps against the starters secured Abernathy a spot on the initial 53-man roster. Unfortunately, as is often the case, those first rosters are called initial for a reason. Abernathy was released the day after he thought he made the team but was eventually brought back as a member of the practice squad.
Far from discouraged, Abernathy knows his best chance of being elevated to the active roster will likely be on special teams and not necessarily on defense. After watching every Packers game from last season, something Abernathy said he did before he joined the team, he knows there’s a lot of room for improvement there and said the team emphasized that.
“I can definitely make an impact,” Abernathy said before adding the team already has a lot of good players on special teams. “We have a lot of speed, a lot of strength, and a lot of power and I feel like I fit that mold that they’re trying to bring in.”
Until that time comes, however, it’s the practice squad for Abernathy. He’s keeping his goals in perspective for this season and just wants to be a sponge, both on special teams and on defense. He wants to “learn as much as I can, as many positions as I can,” in terms of special teams and “learn from the veterans,” adding he’s already learned a lot from them.
As for defense, Abernathy just wants “to just learn from the starters and the guys we have on the 53 as much as I can and if I get an opportunity I want to go out there and show that I can play and that I belong.”
After making such a quick impression and big splash in the preseason, does anyone really want to bet against him?
We wouldn’t recommend it.
Get ready for Abernathy to bring the Abernasty to Green Bay.