The following is adapted from Relentless: A Memoir by Julian Edelman, published by Hachette Books. Copyright © Julian Edelman 2017.
Canada seemed the likeliest destination for me to play pro football. Canadian Football League (CFL) scouts checked me out at Kent, and I was still committed to playing quarterback. The CFL, with its wider field, was a nice fit for a dual-threat guy like me.
It made sense. After all, I grew up idolizing Doug Flutie and patterned some of my game after him. There was no better CFL quarterback than Doug, so maybe it was the best fit for me. As a senior, I ran for 1,370 yards, threw for 1,820, and I was still getting better at the position.
Relentess: A Memoir
by Julian Edelman
The Super Bowl champion wide receiver for the New England Patriots shares his inspiring story of an underdog kid who was always doubted to becoming one of the most reliable and inspiring players in the NFL.
It’s not like the NFL would be crying if I went to Canada. I wasn’t even invited to the Combine in February 2009, where all the best prospects were evaluated by NFL teams. I knew I wasn’t going to play quarterback in the NFL at 5' 10". I’d have to convert to wide receiver—which I’d never played—or become a kick-return specialist (which I’d also never done except for my awkward returns in my last game at Kent). Josh Cribbs had made the conversion, but would I get the same chance? Making it to the NFL was going to be an uphill climb.
Meanwhile, the CFL’s British Columbia Lions claimed my negotiating rights. Their player personnel director, Bob O’Billovich, thought I had a lot of promise.
That kind of situation meant I needed some representation and advice, but the agents that approached me at Kent didn’t impress me. Finally, Coach Martin stepped in and recommended me to his agent, Don Yee, at Yee and Dubin Sports in Los Angeles.
Coach sent Don a highlight film, and we heard back quickly. Don said, “We want to fly you out to LA. We want to meet with you.” I was like, “Hell yeah! It was L.A., a big-time agent. When I found out they represented Tom Brady, I thought, “Holy sh**!”
When I got to LA, I sat down with Don and Carter Chow. Carter was new at the time but is now still my agent and one of my closest advisers. Don asked me, “What do you want to do?” I told them I wasn’t sure. The NFL was my ultimate goal, but I didn’t know if it was realistic.
Don said, “Well, after watching your film, I want to call you ‘Dizzy,’ you make defenders spin so much. I personally think if you go to the NFL in the late rounds or even undrafted, it’s gonna be hard for a team to cut you.
Coach Martin had said the same thing Don did: I would be hard to cut. They both believed I could be a returner and special teams guy. And a slot receiver. Like Wes Welker. But the BC Lions made their offer. It was an incentive-based deal that had a base of about $60,000 and a maximum value over $150,000.
Take that, or take a shot at chasing the NFL dream?
I thought, “A hundred grand! Hell yeah, that’s a lot of money!” So I said, “What do you think, Don?”
Don said, “I think you can play in the NFL.”
Well, I didn’t grow up dreaming of playing in Canada. And that’s when I made the decision that it was time to change positions. Which started me on a grueling path to the NFL draft.
I went home to work out with Dad and we’d go run the Jerry Rice Hill that he supposedly ran at Cañada College.
Since I wasn’t invited to the Combine, I had to make a big impression at Kent’s pro day. Teams from around the NFL sent scouts, coaches, and personnel men to the one-day workout where we’d be tested for strength, speed, smarts, you name it.
Don asked if I wanted to train in Los Angeles or Cleveland. I was still taking night classes so I decided I’d train in Cleveland at Speed Strength Systems in Euclid. Tim Robertson was the owner and was known for being a Combine training guru. He’s still going strong training athletes, including last year’s No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, Ben Simmons, and dozens of other NFL players.
It was like Rocky IV when he was training in Russia. I’d get up at 5:45 and drive fifty-five minutes in a pickup truck with no heat to get to a huge tin building that felt like an old factory.
One important thing I learned was nutrition. I didn’t know how to eat, so I would just eat off the dollar menu at Burger King or McDonald’s like a poor college kid. It made me change my routine. In the morning I had to eat two cups of oatmeal, four eggs, and two pieces of toast, then drink thirty-two ounces of water and sixteen ounces of orange juice. No butter. I used fat-free Pam. Everything was super clean. I’d cook up four egg whites and one egg yolk because I liked the taste of the yolk. I would cut up some deli turkey and that was my breakfast.
I went out to Walmart and would buy everything in bulk, things like 64-ounce pieces of tilapia. Cheap as hell, but it’s a really healthy meal and clean, nothing really in it. I would have a four-ounce tilapia with a cup and a half of brown rice. Then I would have two cups of frozen broccoli and thirty-two ounces of water. At lunch, I would come home and make healthy sandwiches. If we went to Subway, I would eat a clean turkey sandwich with no mayo, no nothing, and an apple. I didn’t eat anything bad, literally. I didn’t eat real sugar for about three months.
Within four weeks, I could definitely see the results. Working out six days a week, eating five meals a day, drinking protein between meals, I was losing weight down to 190 but I was stronger and more defined. It was cool to see results, but when you stay disciplined, you sacrifice fun. My cheat days would be having a salad at Ruby Tuesday with some ranch dressing on it.
I had a phobia about being late or underprepared, so I’d be in bed by 9:00 p.m. My routine: Up at 5:00 a.m., eat breakfast and leave at 5:45. Work out at Speed and Strength from 6:30 to 11:00. Then I’d go back to Kent and have someone punt to me. At night, before I went to class, I’d go to the indoor track facility and catch about four hundred balls. Why? Because I was so far behind. Dad kept telling me, “You’re ten thousand balls behind these guys because you haven’t caught balls for four years. These guys you’re competing against are like little fine-tuned machines, all coming from four-year programs.”
I was miles behind. How could I impress NFL scouts as a receiver if I barely knew how to run routes? Enter Charlie Frye.
Charlie taught me some of the basics: How to cut sharply and not roll the route. That was one thing I could do. Even though I was inexperienced as a wideout, my lateral quickness and cutting ability was better than the guys I was training with. Getting open isn’t all speed. It’s precision and creating separation, and when you’re quick, you can open up space with one step.
My daily routine evolved into leaving Speed Strength at 11:00 a.m., slamming a protein shake and Charlie taking me and maybe another two guys to Subway. He’d buy us sandwiches and bust my balls because of the way I ordered it. “Bro, no chips? No mayo?” I always had the apples and never got the cookie. Then we’d drive forty-five minutes to Akron and run routes. We did that four days a week. Some guys would cancel, but I went every time. I had tunnel vision.
I worked out at Kent for Miami, Chicago, Green Bay, and Cleveland. I was so appreciative of every team that came to see me. Miami flew me down for a visit. Tony Sparano was the head coach and Jeff Ireland was the GM. I dressed in a nice suit, was very quiet and respectful. Don and Carter kept reminding me, “It’s a job interview. Everything you do and say counts.” I was definitely a little nervous, and the teams like to see you nervous to see how you deal with stress.
In Miami, they asked me about a citation I got at Kent for having an open container of alcohol. There were two houses side by side where there was a party and I walked on the sidewalk to go from one to the other. When I did, a cop popped out of a van parked on the street and he cited me. I was pretty surprised they had that on me.
The next week, New England sent out Scotty O’Brien, the special teams coordinator. He wanted to see me catch kick-offs and punts. I was struggling on the punts because he had the kid punting them so they weren’t turning over. I didn’t know how to read the punt.
Finally, Scotty said, “Hold up, hold up, hold up. Come over here. What’s the first thing a punt returner does?” I said, “Check the wind?” He said, “No. You have to check how many guys are on the field to see if you’re legal. And you don’t know how to read a punt.” I said, “No, I don’t.”
Coach O’Brien told me, “If it’s a right-footed punter and the tip comes down when it’s descending [that’s called “turning over”], you play the ball on your right titty because it’s going to go left and long like a spiral. If it doesn’t turn over, you play the ball on your left titty and you have to circle it because it’s going to go short and to the right.”
Once he told me that, I said, “Ohhhhh, that’s how you do it.” The key to catching punts is to catch them with your feet. Where you go as it’s coming down determines if you’re going to have an easy catch or not. So he taught me that and I started catching punts.
I really liked Scotty O. But I didn’t think I’d see him again. The Patriots didn’t bring me in for a visit, so I thought that was a bad sign in terms of their interest. In the end, I worked out four or five times and went on three visits. We were counting down to draft day hoping to hear my name called.
I didn’t worry too much about the early part of the draft. I knew I would be a second-day guy and I was thinking I had my best shot with Miami. Then the Dolphins drafted Pat White, a quarterback from West Virginia. Dual-threat guy. Well, there goes Miami. I didn’t know what to expect but I had gotten my hopes up, and I let my feelings get hurt by that. On Sunday, we gathered at the house on Highland. It was family and a bunch of buddies, including Jack Williams from Kent, who was with the Broncos at that point. It was getting toward the end of the draft and I was hoping maybe I’d be a Niner. By the end of the sixth round, my phone rang. It was my agent, Don, and he said a bunch of teams were offering priority free-agent contacts. That meant they weren’t going to draft me but they wanted me to sign with them and they’d give me like $20,000 or something.
I thought, Well at least I’ll get $20,000 out of this, even if I wasn’t getting drafted. I said to Don, “Where do you think I should go? I’m not really informed on how this works.”
We decided on Green Bay. I fit their system, they didn’t really have a slot guy, it was a special franchise with history, and who knows? Maybe I’d go to the Packers and be a part of Green Bay history, me and Aaron Rodgers.
As the seventh round started, Don called and said, “You never know, but the Patriots have a couple of seventh-round draft picks. I’m not saying anything, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they call.”
I was thinking, They ain’t calling. They didn’t have me in for a visit. I’m going to be a Packer.
Then I get a call from a private number. It was Berj Najarian, the director of football and head coach administration for the Patriots. He said, “I wanted to call and let you know we have selected you in the seventh round, pick 232. Here’s Bill Belichick.”
I walked out the door to get some quiet because everyone was asking, “Who is it? Who is it?”
I’m like, “Yo, be quiet!” I was nervous. I got outside and Coach Belichick gets on the phone and goes, “Hey, this is Coach Belichick. We are going to draft you. We really don’t know what you are going to play but we know you can play football. Nancy Meier [the Patriots’ director of scouting administration] will call you tonight to get you situated. Have a good one.”
That was it. I’d just gotten drafted. It was probably the best day in my life to that point. I’d thought of it when I was a kid, but this was the pinnacle. All my friends were there and they were going crazy.
Then the question popped into my head: “How many guys do they have? Can I make this team?”
Don said, “It’s going to be tough, but you’re too good a football player so I don’t think they’ll cut you. You are going to play yourself onto this team, but you have a long way to go. It’s no walk in the park here.”
Don knew because he’d done all of this with Tom. But while everyone was going nuts and was so proud and yelling, I was obsessing about actually making the team.