Philadelphia Eagles linebacker T.J. Edwards, once a star QB for the Lakes Eagles, heads to the Super Bowl – Boston Herald
When T.J. Edwards was growing up in Chicago’s north suburbs, he imagined playing on the biggest stages in sports.
He was like countless other kids back then, of course.
But Edwards’ dreams will become reality Sunday, when the 2014 Lakes graduate will take the field for Super Bowl LVII at State Farm Stadium in suburban Phoenix as a starting linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles.
“I remember reenacting the Devin Hester kickoff return in the Super Bowl with my buddies over and over again,” Edwards said, recalling the opening play of the Chicago Bears’ 29-17 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLI in 2007.
Edwards, 26, has a chance to do something memorable in the Super Bowl too. A key defensive player for the Eagles, who will play the AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs, the 6-foot-1, 242-pound Edwards finished the regular season with 159 tackles — which ranked seventh in the NFL and was the second-most in team history.
“I haven’t had much time to think about this yet, but there was a moment after the NFC championship game where a bunch of us looked at each other and said, ‘Wow, we’re going to the Super Bowl.’”
The Super Bowl actually wasn’t the first big stage that got Edwards’ attention when he was a kid in Lake County. A talented athlete from an early age, he was more interested in the NBA and MLB.
His father Vince often coached him and remembers him as a fourth grader more than holding his own as the point guard for a basketball team of eighth graders. Edwards even showed his potential as an athlete during floor hockey games held by the local park district, his father said.
But then came sixth grade, when Edwards was allowed to play tackle football for the first time.
“He picked it up so easily, you could tell he was pretty gifted,” Vince Edwards said. “He’s super competitive, and he practices and works really hard. But playing professionally has been the icing on the cake.”
Luke Mertens, who was Lakes’ football coach from 2005 to 2016, recognized T.J. Edwards had uncommon ability. Edwards played quarterback throughout his four years at Lakes and went 17-3 as the varsity starter.
So while acknowledging the long odds, Mertens, who is the coach at St. Patrick in Chicago, said he isn’t surprised Edwards has reached this point in his career.
“I didn’t know what it would exactly look like, but I knew he would do something special because of his drive to be great,” Mertens said. “Attaining anything is a process, and he followed it each step along the way. That’s why we get to watch him play in the Super Bowl.”
Edwards’ drive and work ethic have been been put to the test repeatedly.
Recruited as a defensive player, Edwards remembers being listed eighth at linebacker on the depth chart when he arrived at Wisconsin in 2014, and he subsequently redshirted that season. Once Edwards got to his junior year, however, he began to think about continuing his career after college.
“It was similar to when I was in high school at about the same time,” he said. “I started to really make plays all over the field, and I felt like I might have a chance at the next level.”
But despite his highly decorated career at Wisconsin, where he was an All-American and a Butkus Award finalist in 2017, Edwards went undrafted.
After signing a free-agent contract with the Eagles in 2019, Edwards was told his only chance to earn a roster spot would be on special teams. He took that to heart, became a mainstay for that unit as a rookie and worked his way into a starting role in 2020.
“I’ve had to scrape for every single thing I’ve accomplished, but I wouldn’t change any part of my journey one bit,” he said.
True to form, Edwards has been treating this week as a business trip, sticking to his normal routine in the days before a game.
“I want to win this game so badly, so I’m going to try my best not to think about the external factors,” he said. “If I didn’t give this game my all, I would be doing myself and my teammates a disservice.”
Regardless of the game’s outcome, this month will be one for Edwards to remember. He will marry his fiancee in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, on Feb. 25. It’s there that he’ll receive the first of what he hopes are two substantial pieces of jewelry.
“We’ve joked about that,” he said. “If I get a Super Bowl ring to go along with my wedding band, she’d be fine with it.”
Steve Reaven is a freelance reporter for the News-Sun.
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