Competition fuels Edelman's fire

Kent State lost in overtime. A disheartened Lainhart, who picked off three passes, asked rhetorically, "What else could we have done?" Edelman growled, "[Expletive]! We've got to do more.'' Edelman knew he had no future as an NFL quarterback. Martin allowed him to return punts on a day scouts were in the stands so they could be exposed to his versatility.

"Truth was, we muffed a few punts in previous games," Edelman said. "If things weren't going right, I'd go up to the coaches and say, 'Let me do it.' Coach Martin was the kind of guy who would actually let me.'' With the 232rd pick in the seventh round of the 2009 draft, the Patriots selected Julian Edelman, Kent State, quarterback, personal punt protector and resident agitator. When Bill Belichick called, he said, "I don't know what we'll do with you, but we'll find something.'''

Edelman's early attempts at punt returning were a series of misadventures. He was booed by the discerning New England fans and retreated to the film room, asked for extra reps after practice. Four years later, he's now one of the premier returners in the game.

The task of transitioning from quarterback to receiver was painstaking, at times demoralizing, and required the one thing Edelman did not possess: patience.

"People can criticize all they want, but he had never played receiver in his whole life," Frank Edelman said. "Now he's battling how to get out of press coverages. I'm so proud of him.''

Last season, Edelman was being groomed as a replacement for Wes Welker, his good friend and mentor, who was approaching free agency. But Edelman broke his foot and his narrative -- the little tough guy who can't stay healthy -- dogged him.

New England later signed injury-prone receiver Danny Amendola to a multiyear contract worth millions. Edelman received a tiny nibble from the Giants but returned to New England for short dollars.

"It was frustrating for Julian,'' Lainhart said. "It was frustrating for him going into camp. He had to rehab.

"Everyone else was in minicamp, OTAs, and all he could do was ride the bike.''

Amendola was billed as the able replacement for Welker, but that was wrong. The overlooked kid from Kent State and San Mateo and Woodside and Frank Edelman's backyard is the one who stepped up.

"One thing I've learned from everyone around here is be prepared for your opportunity,'' Edelman said. "Whether it's taking actual reps, or mental reps, or watching extra film, make sure you're ready.

"Sometimes it's gone my way and sometimes it hasn't. But I don't want to go back one day and say, 'I wish I had done this' or 'I wish I had done that.'''

Frank Edelman says he wishes he wasn't so hard on his son. He frets he did the wrong thing. Julian Edelman won't hear any of that.

"I wouldn't be here now without my father and the love of my mother,'' Edelman said. "It was a great balance. They are my foundation.''

He will not be overlooked this time in free agency. He and Brady are kindred spirits, establishing a solid connection from offseasons of "gentlemen's bets,'' tallying points for bad throws or missed catches. Edelman's leap in production from last season is stunning: from 21 catches to 105, from 235 yards to 1,056.

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