Julian Edelman’s college coach saw him make some amazing plays while he was at school.
So he wasn’t shocked when the wide receiver unleashed a 51-yard touchdown pass for the Patriots.
“When you’re only going to throw one pass in an entire game and you make it a perfect strike,” Doug Martin said, “that’s big.”
Edelman’s junior college offensive coordinator also was watching on television last Saturday when Edelman hit Danny Amendola with the tying throw late in the third quarter of New England’s 35-31 divisional playoff win over the Baltimore Ravens.
“I texted him after the game,” Bret Pollack said. “I said, `it reminded me of the old days’ and he said `it kind of felt the same way.”‘
Those days go back to Edelman’s time at Woodside High School in California where he carried the Wildcats to a 13-0 record as a senior.
On Sunday night, he’ll play in the AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts (13-5) after leading the Patriots (13-4) with 92 receptions in the regular season and adding eight against Baltimore.
That’s quite a journey for an undersized athlete who had to go to the College of San Mateo for one year to attract scholarship offers, received just two from four-year colleges after that and wasn’t drafted until the final round in 2009.
Pollack, since promoted to head coach at San Mateo, remembers Edelman as driven, hard-working and extremely elusive.
“He’s very tenacious. He’s unrelenting,” Pollack said. “If somebody tells him he can’t do something, all his energy goes into doing it just to say, `I told you so.’ “
During Edelman’s season at San Mateo, Martin, the coach at Kent State at the time, told him he’d have a chance to compete for the quarterback job at the Ohio school.
Edelman jumped at it.
“He has a really healthy chip on his shoulder,” said Martin, now head coach at New Mexico State. “It’s not like it consumes him, but it drives him. And I don’t think in 30 years of coaching I’ve ever had a player that’s been more appreciative than Julian of the opportunity we gave him.
“He texted me after Saturday’s game and said, `Coach, I just want to thank you for everything to give me the opportunity to be where I am today.”‘
Edelman got his NFL opportunity when the Patriots drafted him in the seventh round, the 232nd out of 256 players picked.
Playing behind Wes Welker, he caught just 69 passes as he battled injuries in his first four seasons. While waiting his turn at wide receiver, Edelman returned three punts for touchdowns — one each in 2010, 2011 and 2012 — showing elusiveness developed in spread offenses at San Mateo and Kent State.
“He made plays for us where you just shook your head and said, `Wow,'” Pollack said.
After the 2012 season, Welker left for Denver and Edelman became a free agent before signing a one-year contract with New England.
His 105-catch season in 2013 earned him a four-year deal.
“Everyone starts at a certain place, but you earn what you get in the NFL. The competition is tough,” quarterback Tom Brady said. “So a guy like Julian, for example, who has fought every single day of his life to get to this point — talk about something that strengthened him over time — obviously his experience as a younger athlete did.
“He fought every day since he got here and he doesn’t stop now.”
Edelman says he’s self-motivated, but also got a push from his father while preparing for the NFL combine.
“I’d be done training and he’d be like, `Did you outwork those guys?”‘ Edelman said, “and I was like, `Dad, I was running by myself.’ He goes, `I’m not talking about those guys. I’m talking about the three kids that are still in high school that are going to be trying to take your job in three, four years, five years.’
“I always try to think about (that) kind of stuff.”
In three years at Kent State, Edelman threw for 30 touchdowns and ran for 22.
His coach, Martin, took over in 2004 for Dean Pees. He’s the Ravens coordinator whose defense gave up Edelman’s touchdown pass.
And this Sunday night, the Patriots will face the Kent State quarterback who preceded Edelman, Colts kickoff and punt returner Josh Cribbs.
“I’ve never been around a more competitive person than Julian,” Martin said. “It’s not even close.”
Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater sees that all the time. They’ve been roommates for four years and have adjacent lockers at Gillette Stadium.
It’s somewhat of an odd couple — the religious Slater and the fun-loving Edelman — but both work extremely hard at football.
“He was raised by some great folks that really instilled him (with a) work ethic and understood that nothing was going to be given to you in this life,” Slater said. “And he’s embraced that.”
Coach Bill Belichick demands maximum effort and, he says, no one works harder than Edelman.
So even though the Patriots had never used Edelman’s pass play this season, they kept practicing it until they found just the right moment. And Martin, at home in New Mexico, watched with pride.
“I told him I was glad to see he could still throw a little bit,” he said with a laugh. “He’s just really excited to be where he is.”