Julian Edelman returns to Kent State as NFL star, proud alum

Kent State University President Beverly Warren and Kent State alumnus and current New England Patriots player Julian Edelman get ready to start the Kent State Homecoming Parade on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015. Edelman returned to his alma mater to take part in the Homecoming parade as Grand Marshal. 

Jimmy Miller

 Just a week before the biggest game of his life, NFL wide receiver Julian Edelman still had his mind on Kent State.

Prior to last year’s Super Bowl, Edelman tweeted a “Throwback Thursday” with video highlights from his three years playing quarterback at Kent State. Then, just three days after the Patriots’ 40-32 win over Buffalo this season, media posted images of Edelman donning a navy blue t-shirt with gold lettering that reads “Kent State Football”. He’s a Super Bowl champion and he has the third-highest number of catches in the league so far this season, but Kent State remains important to him.

Edelman doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve, he wears it on his shirt.

“All these guys who went down to Alabama and freaking Ohio State and all these other players, they all rep their school, so I rep mine,” Edelman said during an interview Tuesday. “I’m proud to be a Flash, and I wear my Kent State shirt every day to work.”

Edelman returns to Kent State this Saturday to serve as the parade’s grand marshal and will watch his former team play the Miami RedHawks. He talked with students and alumni during a meet-and-greet session, spoke to the team Friday night at the team hotel and, if he gets the opportunity, he’ll hit up Swenson’s for some jalapeno poppers.

“I get to enjoy some of the old, good times at Kent State,” Edelman said. “I can’t wait to get back.”

Julian Edelman, the quarterback:

Edelman was born and raised in California and started his college career at the College of San Mateo, a community college in his home state. He transferred out after one season to join the Flashes, a program led by then-coach Doug Martin, who started Edelman at quarterback immediately.

Just before Edelman joined the team, former assistant athletic director for football operations Casey Wolf walked into a film room to watch the team’s newest recruit. Wolf, now the athletic director for Amherst Exempted Village Schools, said he compared Edelman to another NFL product and former Kent State staple at quarterback.

“When I watched it, my first thought was, ‘Man, this guy looks like a new Josh Cribbs,’” Wolf said. “(Edelman) came here with the mentality that he was going to play, he was going to start, and he did.”

Cribbs, who played for the Flashes from 2001 to 2004, passed for 45 touchdowns and ran for 38 more. Cribbs and Edelman were both mobile quarterbacks, but Edelman is the one who set the school record for the most single-season total yards at 3,190 and most career passing and rushing yards at 4,997 and 2,483, respectively.

Former coach Martin said opposing players and coaches approached him after games and said Edelman was the hardest person to tackle among all players they ever faced. Martin, who resigned from Kent State in 2010, said he still heard that story from players even when he arrived in Boston College to be an offensive coordinator in 2011.

“That just goes to show the impact he’s had with his college career,” Martin said. “He changed the whole dynamic at Kent State when he came in.”

Julian Edelman, the wide receiver:

The Patriots selected Edelman in the final round of the 2009 NFL Draft, 232nd overall. Coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots coaching staff hoped Edelman would be a punt returner, backup wide receiver and even a bit of a defensive back. Edelman, who finished with just one career reception at Kent State, eventually filled in for an injured Wes Welker.

“Watching (Wes), watching Randy (Moss) and taking some little things from all the receivers, it really helped,” Edelman said. “(Wes) made position what it is now, so he was definitely a huge help with my career.”

At Kent State, Edelman recognized his future in football wasn’t at quarterback, and so did Martin: The team experimented with Edelman by putting him onto special teams for some games and having him return punts.

“That’s a much more difficult transition than people think,” Martin said. “When you have to go up there and learn how to run routes and learn how to block and do those types of things, it’s difficult, but it’s his work ethic, his desire that made that happen.”

Although Martin says it’s the university that should thank Edelman—he led the team to a six-win season in his first year on the squad, a historically a good season for Kent State—it’s Edelman coming back Saturday to thank the university.

“I learned a lot of football at Kent. That was the foundation of learning the fundamentals of the game,” Edelman said. “It was great to work with coach Martin and his staff. They gave me my opportunity.”

Julian Edelman, the alum:

Although busy, Edelman still maintains his ties with the Flashes. He co-hosted an athletics department auction in 2014 and, despite being jammed with football activities, still texts his former teammates and coaches. When asked to name a few players he was best friends with when he played with Kent State, Edelman listed 11 different guys and said he could’ve named more.

Martin said Edelman remains a close friend even after both left the university and that they exchange texts about once a week.

“I’ve said it in the past and I’ll say it now, he’ll always have a special little spot in my heart,” Edelman said.

Edelman also said he owes a lot to Wolf, who is his lifeline to Flashes football and Kent State itself. Wolf was the first person to text Edelman when he saw the Homecoming schedule lined up perfectly with the Patriots bye week.

“I like to keep him up to date with what’s going on at Kent because he’s proud to be from here,” Wolf said. “I didn’t have to beg him (to be the grand marshal).”

“He’s never lost sight of where he came from,” Martin said. “He’s very appreciative of Kent State for giving him an opportunity. A lot of times, guys lose sight of that. I think that says a lot about who he is.”


Jimmy Miller is the senior editor of The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].