HOUSTON – (Special to Digital Sports Desk by The Sports Xchange) – A self-described NorCal kid, Julian Edelman grew up idolizing Bay Area legends Joe Montana, Steve Young and a man named Brady.
Tom Brady, who like Edelman was a high school and college quarterback, would eventually become his quarterback with the New England Patriots, as the tandem marches into their third Super Bowl together — Brady’s seventh.
“I was a little star struck at first,” said Edelman, who caught the game-winning touchdown pass from Brady in Super Bowl XLIX two years ago in Glendale, Ariz.
At the time, Edelman played second fiddle in the receiving corps to tight end Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski is out for the season after undergoing back surgery. Since losing the All-Pro tight end, Brady has locked in on Edelman more frequently.
“Julian is so dependable, when he’s open I’m trying to get him the ball,” Brady said Tuesday.
He caught 98 passes for 1,106 yards and three touchdowns in the regular season, continuing his climb up the depth chart with a blue-collar work ethic and contagious verve for football that makes him popular among teammates.
“Opportunity (was the difference). You put in your work, earn your stripes, and be ready for your opportunity,” Edelman said Tuesday.
Edelman was not able to play football as a junior at Woodside High School — the entire season was cancelled — but he got the attention of Kent State and eventually Patriots head coach Bill Belichick because of his toughness and playmaking ability.
In 2007 as a junior at Kent State, the Golden Flashes were on the road playing Ohio State. Belichick watched that game, a 48-3 win for the No. 3-ranked Buckeyes, and noticed not the final score or Edelman’s woeful stats (four of 10 passing, 49 yards, eight rushes for minus-7 yards) but how he never lost an ounce of fight even as he was pummeled by a defense with multiple NFL prospects.
“He’s playing quarterback against Ohio State and carried the ball a lot, was obviously under some pressure in the passing game in that game,” Belichick said. “If you just watch that game — that game alone — I don’t think there could possibly be any question about his toughness.”
In 2009 Belichick felt compelled to use a seventh-round draft pick on Edelman. Where he might play, after working him out as a defensive back and wide receiver prior to the draft, was going to partly be up to Edelman. That’s when Edelman turned back to the backbone of his success.
“That’s all I know is hard work,” said Edelman. “I’ve had a father who I watched growing up that I wouldn’t see in the morning and he’d come home at 5 o’clock at night and he did that every day. I don’t know if that’s from him or it’s in the blood or whatever, but that’s kind of how we do it in my household. My mom has been a hard worker, whatever she had to do, she did it. I guess it would have to go through there.”