Julian Edelman's a Pat of All Trades
He grew up in San Mateo County, Calif., a huge 49ers fan. A largely unheralded college quarterback, he was a late-round draft pick. Now, he's a key ingredient in New England's return to the Super Bowl. But we're not talking about golden boy Tom Brady. Former Kent State QB Julian Edelman has become a jack-of-all-trades who helped the Patriots win the AFC Championship Game by playing offense, defense and special teams.
He was one of Brady’s receiving targets and found himself covering Baltimore standout slot receiver Anquan Boldin in New England’s 23-20 victory.
It was a rare display of versatility in the specialized NFL. And not bad for someone labeled as too small, who was ignored by college recruiters, wasn’t invited to the NFL Scouting Combine and didn’t even play on defense until mid-November.
“There’s an old saying about the more things you can do, the better,” said the 5-10 Edelman, who is in his third season with the Patriots. “Whenever the coach asks you if you can do something, even if you’ve never done it before, you say: ‘Yes, I can do that.’ I’ve learned never to close any windows.”
With a blue-collar work ethic inherited from his automotive repair shop-owning parents, Edelman, 25, has become emblematic of a cobbled-together defense that had just enough to get the Patriots to the Super Bowl.
“Jules is just the little guy who played against bigger athletes his whole life, so this is nothing new for him,” said his father, Frank Edelman. “He’s Mr. Swiss Army Knife who found a way to the NFL.”
There are eerie parallels between Brady, the San Mateo native, and Edelman. Brady’s love of the 49ers as a boy is well documented, but Edelman was a 49er.
Edelman was raised in the Redwood City 49ers Pop Warner program. His teams would win two national titles as he wore No. 44 in honor of 49ers fullback Tom Rathman.
In high school, Edelman wanted to be the next Doug Flutie, quarterbacking Woodside to 13-0 record and Central Coast Section title his senior year.
“Where other players might say, ‘I can’t do that or I won’t,’ Jules would never say that,” Woodside coach Steve Nicolopulos said.
Edelman landed at nearby College of San Mateo for one season, throwing for 1,312 yards, running for 1,253 and scoring 31 touchdowns. He transferred to Kent State because that was the only NCAA Division I school interested in letting him play quarterback. Edelman, a three-year starter, threw for 1,820 yards and ran for 1,551 as a senior.
Some NFL teams were intrigued with Edelman as a potential wildcat formation quarterback, but Patriots coach Bill Belichick envisioned something more and drafted him in the seventh round with the 232nd pick in 2009.
“Belichick called him and said, ‘We drafted you as a football player. I don’t know what the [expletive] we’re going to do with you, but we’re going to have you on the field somewhere,’ ” former College of San Mateo offensive coordinator Bret Pollack said.
Edelman had never played wide receiver, but Belichick put him there, and as a rookie, Edelman caught 37 passes as well as two touchdown passes in a playoff game loss. Since then, his main contributions have come on special teams, including returning two punts for touchdowns.
But this season, New England’s defense was crumbling. It ranked 31st out of the league’s 32 teams, and the secondary was in the process of giving up the second-most passing yards in NFL history. In November, Belichick went into his mad-scientist mode, concocting a Band-Aid solution that included converting Edelman — who hadn’t played defense since Pop Warner — into an emergency cornerback.
By the playoffs, he was a regular in defensive packages. Against the Ravens, he had 27 snaps each on offense and defense. He returned two punts, caught a pass for 8 yards and had two tackles.
“The situation here, with coach Belichick and having Robert Kraft as your owner, reminds me of the Niners of the old days when they had such great teams,” Edelman said. “It’s very cool being part of it.”