Edelman continues to prove doubters wrong with Patriots

Miami Dolphins quarterback punter Brandon Fields chases New England Patriots Julian Edelman, who returned a punt 94 yards for a second-quarter touchdown. The Patriots defeated the Dolphins, 38-7, at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, Sunday, January 2, 2011. (MCT)

Julian Edelman has always been told he can’t play football.

While at Woodside High School, Edelman threw for 2,237 yards and 19 touchdowns and rushed for 964 yards and 13 touchdowns. Even after posting Division I-caliber statistics, the undersized Edelman didn’t receive a single scholarship offer and chose to take the junior college route by enrolling at the College of San Mateo.

Edelman impressed opponents during his freshman season at San Mateo, and when Kent State head coach Doug Martin realized he needed a new quarterback, he decided to start the search among the junior colleges in California. Martin contacted various junior college coaches and received the same response from all of them.

“We made the decision that we had to have a junior college quarterback,” Martin said. “We went to California and started asking around and every junior college gave us the same answer: ‘(Edelman) is the best quarterback we’ve played against.’”

Kent State wasn’t the best example of mid-major success even before Martin took over. The Flashes had only two winning seasons in its previous 25 years, but they were in need of a quarterback that could make an immediate impact. Kent State wasn’t the only school pursuing Edelman, though.

Boise State was also very interested in the quarterback, but didn’t have a scholarship available, which would have forced Edelman to spend another year at San Mateo. Taking this fact into consideration, he chose Kent State, where he would make an instant difference.

Former Flashes’ safety Brian Lainhart arrived on campus for the start of his freshman season at the same time Edelman completed his transfer to Kent State. Lainhart saw firsthand Edelman’s immediate influence on the culture change at Kent State.

“His attitude (was the difference),” Lainhart said. “We came in the same year. He came in competing right away and that just spread throughout the whole team.”

Edelman entered camp with the goal of winning the starting quarterback job, which he wasn’t afraid to make his competition aware of.

“It was fairly quick,” Martin said. “He came in and competed during camp and after the first scrimmage, it was evident that he was the best option and one of the best players on the field.”

A program that had become accustomed to complacency at the top of its depth chart saw competition spread throughout the team, which led to immediate success. Led by Edelman, Kent State finished 6-6 in 2006.

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“It was the first time Kent State was bowl-eligible in a long time,” Martin said. “He had an immediate impact on the program and really it was (Edelman’s) personality that changed it.”

Edelman’s team-first mentality is defined by Martin’s memory of a play late in a victory over Buffalo during Martin’s time at Kent State. Facing a third-and-12, the Flashes needed one first down to seal the win over the Bulls. Edelman took control of the game, as he often did, broke two or three tackles and dragged a defender past the first down marker to secure the victory for Kent State.

“I remember saying over the headphones to our coaches ‘That play right there epitomizes that kid’s whole career (at Kent State),’” Martin said. “That play was the most important play in his life. That’s how he played every play.”

Edelman went on to break Kent State records previously set by current Cleveland Browns wide receiver and return man Joshua Cribbs, and it became apparent that NFL scouts were eyeing Edelman as a possible late-round draft selection. Knowing Edelman would not be drafted for his quarterback skills, Martin began to insert Edelman in special teams packages as a kick and punt returner toward the end of the 2008 season.

“Going into his senior year, I really felt like he would have the opportunity to play wide receiver or kick returner in the NFL,” Martin said.

Exposure to a new role enticed many NFL teams to take a closer look at the 5-foot-10 quarterback. After multiple private workouts, the New England Patriots selected Edelman in the seventh round with the 232nd pick of the draft. The selection came as a mild but pleasant surprise to Martin, who knew that Edelman had the skills and work ethic necessary to make it in the NFL.

“I was a little bit surprised he got drafted, but looking back on it, the Patriots did the best job of evaluating him,” Martin said.

Edelman has made an impact on the Patriots’ well-publicized success. In his rookie season in 2009, Edelman scored his first professional touchdown in a preseason game versus the Philadelphia Eagles, which earned him a roster spot at the conclusion of training camp. Edelman made his first professional start at wide receiver in week two of the 2009 regular season, in which he led all receivers with eight receptions for 98 yards.

Since his rookie season, Edelman has remained a mainstay in both New England’s receiving corps and special teams, but 2011 presented a new challenge to the versatile wide out. Facing multiple injuries to the Patriots’ defensive backfield, New England head coach Bill Belichick inserted Edelman on the defensive side of the field. The move made Edelman the NFL’s only three-way (offense, defense, special teams) player, and has helped lead the Patriots to an AFC Championship and appearance in Super Bowl XLVI.

“Everybody told him he wouldn’t play quarterback at Kent (State),” Lainhart said. “Everyone told him he couldn’t play wide receiver in the NFL and he’s proving them all wrong.”

No matter what level of football Edelman is playing, he has always maintained his desire to be the best on the field, which has made him a perfect fit with New England.

“He’s the most competitive football player I’ve ever been around,” Martin said. “He’s special that way. He changes the team. The way he approaches practice, games, he’s a total team player and very unselfish, and that’s what the Patriots are all about.”

“I think it’s a perfect fit for him where he is right now,” Martin said.

Edelman has a chance to help earn New England its fourth Super Bowl victory in the last 12 years Sunday, against the New York Giants. Lainhart, who lived in the same house as Edelman and former Flashes’ linebacker Cobrani Mixon during their three years together at Kent State, is currently waiting to sign with an NFL team and will be watching the game and cheering on his former roommate.

“It’s great to see how well he’s doing and to keep our friendship up,” Lainhart said. “I’m excited for him. I hope he gets himself a ring this weekend.”

Kickoff from Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis to start Super Bowl XLVI between the New England Patriots and New York Giants is slated for 6:29.

Contact Nick Shook at nshook@kent.edu.

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