Athlete Spotlight: Julian Edelman
As the blue and red confetti descended upon the victorious Patriots after the Big Game LI, few, if any, of New England’s stars shone brighter than Julian Edelman. He had had a good game, sure, with 87 receiving yards on five receptions. However, his stat line was dwarfed by one of the most spectacular moments in football history. With the Patriots down by eight and driving late in the 4th quarter, attempting to finish their climb out of a 28-3 hole, Tom Brady made a rare mistake. His ill-advised pass over the middle was intended for Edelman, but Edelman was not the first to get a piece of the ball. Robert Alford, who had returned a Brady pass for a touchdown earlier in the game, tipped it up in the air before it reached its intended receiver. It was now Edelman, all 5’10” and 198 lbs. of him, against three Atlanta Falcon defenders. Known throughout his career as an all-out, hard-nosed player, he earned these billings on this play. It bounced off arms, legs, and feet, before somehow, someway, a diving Edelman and his bright red Cutters gloves were able to corral it in as it hovered inches above the ground. What should have been an interception and the end of the Patriots’ season turned into a first down and a lifesaver for Brady and New England. Edelman will now be mentioned in the same breath as David Tyree, Santonio Holmes, and Lynn Swann, whose mesmerizing catches on the biggest stage will make them immortal in football history.
Though Edelman may always be known for his acrobatic heroics in the Big Game LI, he has forged a stellar career for himself that is noteworthy even without The Catch. Since being drafted in 2009, Edelman has cemented himself as one of the top wide receivers and return men in the league. Not only has he returned four punts for scores, but he has also compiled over 1,000 yards twice, while hauling in 90 or more passes three times. Edelman is also a fundamentally sound player who is willing to do the dirty work on any given play, including delivering bone-crushing blocks for his teammates. He has truly developed into an all-around player, one who fully embodies the selfless, versatile, and hard-nosed culture that has become a staple of New England Patriot football. And yet, few saw this kind of potential in Edelman out of college.
As a quarterback at Kent State (you heard me), Edelman had a solid career. In his final season for the Golden Flashes, he accounted for 26 total touchdowns (13 rushing and 13 passing), and over 3,000 total yards. He caught a grand total of one pass in college for an 11-yard gain. Unfortunately, as an undersized quarterback with good but not great numbers at a small school, there were not going to be many scouts interested in him come draft time. Bill Belichick and his coaching staff saw something in him, however. Though he was not even invited to the pre-draft combine, the Patriots selected Edelman in the seventh round.
He was now a Patriot, but was unsure about what his role would be. Belichick had chosen to take him based on his sheer football skill. The bottom line was that Julian Edelman was a good football player, and one that could help the Patriots win football games if he found the right niche for his skill set. He could have ended up on offense, defense, special teams, or possibly a mixture.
Turns out, it was all three of them at different points for Edelman. It started out on special teams, both as a returner and in coverage. He returned both punts and kickoffs, scoring three times in his first four years in the league. He played sparingly, as a wide receiver and as a cornerback, in the early going, but he finally got his shot in 2013.
In his first season as a regular starter on offense, Julian and Tom Brady developed a rapport that resulted in a whopping 105 receptions and six scores. He was officially a star, and had become one of the best slot receivers in all of football. While it would have been very easy to be a flash in the pan, as defenses learned to adjust to Edelman’s game, he has been able to maintain the level of production he established in 2013.
The following season, though he missed two games, he was able to nearly match his 2013 numbers, with 92 catches for 975 yards. This season another playoff moment for Edelman, as he was finally able to put his quarterbacking skills to the test at the professional level. In the Divisional Round playoffs against the Baltimore Ravens, the Patriots ran a trick play late in the game in which Tom Brady fired a backwards pass to Edelman, making him eligible to deliver a forward pass. The result was a strike downfield to Danny Amendola, and a 51-yard touchdown that tied the game at 28. The Patriots went on the win the Big Game that season, defeating the Seahawks in a game where Edelman went for 109 yards on 9 catches with a touchdown.
A foot injury ended his 2015 season after nine games, which was a terrible break for a player in the midst of his best season. However, he was still able to set a career high in touchdown receptions, with seven. Being the tireless worker that he is, Edelman was able to bounce back and haul in 98 balls for 1,106 yards in 2016, his second season eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark. Tom Brady is arguably the greatest quarterback in the history of football. In recent years, Julian Edelman has become arguably his greatest and most consistent target. He is a key part of the Patriots organization and will continue to be a driving force behind their championship runs for years to come.
With Julian Edelman though, there is much more than meets the eye. While the unheralded prospect-turned superstar narrative is a great one, it has been done before (see Brady, Tom). There is much more to this man than his football accolades, as his off-field brand is just as impressive as the on-field performance he has worked so very hard to achieve.
Julian has become known throughout his playing career as being one of the most charitable athletes in all of pro football. In order to promote child literacy, he has written a children’s book, entitled Flying High. The book centers around a perseverant squirrel (one of Edelman’s nicknames is the Squirrel) named Jules, who learns how to fly through hard work and the help of his friend Tom, the goat. Though his story is obviously biographical, it was written so that young readers could learn the values of hard work, dedication, and resilience, just as Julian has embodied throughout his career. He has read his book at numerous charitable events, including Christmas in the City, which centers on providing relief for children and their low income families, particularly during the holidays.
Continuing to focus on children, Edelman partnered with ProCamps, running an annual football camp aimed at teaching kids the game that has given so much to him. All proceeds went to the Ronald McDonald House in East New England. He also visited the Hasbro Children’s Hospital for the Dunkin Donuts Iced Coffee Day, which raises over $600,000 annually for the hospital.
Julian Edelman finds other ways to give back as well. A strong supporter of the military, Edelman makes frequent donations to the armed forces. His efforts are not limited to dollars and cents, however. He also makes times to visit veterans and those who have been injured serving our country. Edelman and several other members of the Patriots organization made it a point to visit the Walter Reed National Military Center, where injured servicemen and women who served in Afghanistan and Iraq recover from their injuries.
Clearly, Julian Edelman is not only a performer on the field, but off the field as well. As a seventh-round pick who played quarterback Kent State, it would be understandable for him to get caught up in the success he has enjoyed in recent years. It would be easy for him to carry the proverbial chip on his shoulder not just when he is on the field, but when he is off of it as well. This results in the all-too common theme of the superstar that forgets what got him to where he is today. These are the ones that lose sight of their core principles amidst all the bright lights of stardom. That has not happened to Julian Edelman. He is a man of value, who gives back to his community whenever he is not picking apart a defense. His character also extends to his devotion to his faith.
As Julian Edelman’s popularity has grown with football fans across the country, so too has his personal brand. JE11’s online database sells all sorts of Edelman apparel for men, women, and children, including shirts, sweaters, gloves, shaker bottles, hats, and more. The JE11 website is also used to promote his yearly football camps for children, ensuring that kids not only dress in Edelman swag, but play with it on the field as well. Another new item that figures to draw interest from his fans is a new memoir, titled “Relentless”—true to Julian’s character, it details his story of perseverance and the success he has achieved.
Julian Edelman’s brand might also be spreading to a store near you. Already a popular set of items in big sporting good chains, JE11 was the focus of a pop up shop in Boston during a Patriots bye week in 2016. Fans came out to the JE11 shop in droves, as the values that Edelman represents, as well as the stylish quality of his apparel, make it an attractive look to one and all. Clearly, as Julian Edelman’s success on the field and with his fans continues to flourish, so too will the JE11 brand.
The Perfect Patriot
Julian Edelman has become one of football’s greatest performers on the field, and one of its greatest ambassadors off of it. His endless motor, toughness, and dedication make him a nightmare for opposing defenses, while his devotion to his charitable work and his faith make him a dream for those in need. With any luck, the Patriots, and his community, will continue to reap the benefits of all of his hard work. Unfortunately for Julian, he will miss all of 2017 with a knee injury he sustained in the preseason. And yet, he has taken this setback in stride, and has assured all of Patriots nation that he will return as an even more formidable force next season. As someone that has spent his entire life overcoming odds, it would be unwise to bet against him as he approaches this latest hurdle. He has gone from being an unheralded 7th round pick, to being a true champion, in all facets of life.