August 5, 2021

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Julian Edelman’s evolution: From training camp…

3 min read
Julian Edelman's evolution: From training camp...

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — In one of Julian Edelman‘s first training camp practices with the New England Patriots in 2009, he was struggling so badly to field punts that fans serenaded him with boos.

Welcome to New England, kid.

No one could have predicted that day how stunningly successful Edelman’s transition from college quarterback at Kent State to Patriots receiver/punt returner (and occasional defensive back) would unfold. He was the undersized underdog, a 5-foot-10, 196-pound seventh-round pick (232nd overall) who always had a glacial chip on his shoulder.

The first four years of his career were survival. Injuries were a problem (he totaled 69 catches and four TDs), he had yet to develop a special rapport with quarterback Tom Brady like receiver Wes Welker did, and when Edelman hit the free-agent market after the 2012 season, only the New York Giants expressed a mild level of interest — essentially at a minimum salary.

So Edelman returned to New England on a prove-it one-year deal worth about $1 million … if he reached all incentives.

Whenever he walked by reporters that training camp, his fire was impossible to miss. He wasn’t interested in interviews; in fact, he might have skipped them altogether — perhaps a bit peeved that the Patriots had watched Welker sign with the Denver Broncos in free agency and then paid Danny Amendola big bucks to take his place.

Edelman seemed determined to prove them wrong. Everyone wrong.

And finally, in Year 5, things turned in his favor. Amendola struggled with injuries and Edelman exploded by totaling 105 receptions for 1,056 yards and six touchdowns, which was the start of a remarkable stretch that will ultimately land him in the Patriots Hall of Fame (first year eligible, 2025).

His modest one-year contract was rewarded with a four-year, $17 million pact, with Edelman — of Redwood City, California — declaring that Foxborough, Massachusetts was now his home.

He seemed to revel in the fervor surrounding the region’s successful pro teams, regularly attending Red Sox, Celtics and Bruins games and wearing custom jerseys. His own style of play — fearless, relentless, with an edge — endeared him to fans. The way he shot out of the tunnel before games, and sprinted from end zone to end zone before exploding into the air with a fist pump, often made Gillette Stadium roar before the first kickoff.

In his retirement video, Edelman directly addressed fans, saying: “You welcomed me and my family to a region we didn’t know. But now I’m one of you.”

Edelman also noted his personal growth over that time, which included more openly embracing his Jewish roots, and using his platform against anti-Semitism. The morning after winning Super Bowl LIII against the Los Angeles Rams in February of 2019, following his MVP news conference, Edelman bumped into a reporter and shared how proud he was to be the first Jewish MVP.

He had come a long way since that 2009 training camp practice when fans were booing him off the field, unforgiving of a player who was fielding punts for the first time in his career.

In Edelman’s famous words from the sidelines of Super Bowl LI — when the Patriots roared back from a 28-3 second-half deficit to shock the Falcons thanks to the most remarkable catch of Edelman’s career — it truly was a “helluva story.”