TEAM: New England Patriots
POSITION: Wide receiver
SIZE: 185cm, 89kg
If you watched last year’s Superbowl you’ll remember "Minitron" for spinning into the end zone with the game-winning pass. What you might have forgotten? In the 2009 draft Julian Edelman was selected 232nd. It wasn't the first time he came up short. Edelman was a quarterback in high school and at Kent State University, but at 185cm, that wasn't his pro future.
Related: Get a career assist from Steph Curry
He spent four years as a special teamer and fill-in, even on defense. "You develop value by making yourself versatile," he says. "I showed I could learn new positions. I focused on my role in practice, on improving on specific plays." He was a quick mover, though – and a quick learner. "You work with guys like Wes Welker and you learn the craft of running routes," says Edelman, who hauled in 97 passes for 972 yards (889m) last season. On any play, a receiver may have 2-5 options, depending on the defense and his QB's signals. But first he needs a body that can react instantly.
Stoke Your Speed
To become faster, stronger and lighter, Edelman focused on explosive lifting (squats and deadlifts) and movement exercises (ladders, hurdles and hopping) with strength and conditioning coach Chang Lee. Do these drills 2-4 days a week:
(1) Fast feet: take 5cm steps as fast as you can in a figure-eight pattern for 10 seconds. Repeat twice. (2) Single-leg hops: hop forward five times on the same leg, sticking the landing. Switch legs. Do both sides three times. (3) High-knees two-in two-out: using a ladder, lead with your left foot and touch inside each square with each foot, then outside (so you're straddling the square). Do five reps linearly and five laterally.
Strengthen Your Grip
Edelman uses a bucketful of dry rice: (1) squeeze a handful of rice in each hand for five seconds; (2) Rotate your hands, palms open; (3) dig to the bottom; (4) squeeze the rice between your fingers; (5) circle your thumbs. Do each drill for 30 seconds. He also does farmer's walks with heavy dumbbells (each weighing half his body weight): walk 20 metres, do eight squats, walk back, and do eight more squats.
Mind-Meld with Your Leader
Tom Brady and Edelman practice together in the off-season up to three times a week. Typically they do 7-10 plays the length of the field, rest two minutes, and do it again. A session might last 70 plays. "It's tough because I have to run the route right, and TB is making adjustments, calling out defensive changes that might mean taking a 5-yard cut pattern to 10 yards." Focus is key: "When I was younger, I'd try to work so hard, TB would tell me, 'Hey Jules, it's not always about working harder; it's about working smarter. Go out with a purpose on what you need to do to get better.' "
Your Fuel/Sip the Ultimate Recovery Shake
Edelman pounds a post-workout shake created for him by performance dietitian Denise Barry-Alvey. The recipe: 1 3/4 scoops vanilla protein powder, 1 teaspoon of the amino acid leucine, 1 cup each of frozen strawberries and frozen blueberries. Add water and ice as needed. Edelman also takes a 1000 mg fish oil supplement to help reduce muscle inflammation.
Your Challenge/ The Hill Interval Speed Scorcher
In the off-season, Edelman lives in San Mateo, California, and runs intervals on "The Hill", an Edgewood Park landmark made famous by 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice. "It's about 80 yards with a 45-degree incline." After a warm up, Edelman does 10 sprints. "I run up as fast as I can, driving my knees and taking small steps. Then I walk back down and repeat. By the end, my legs are wobbling and I'm close to puking." If there's no hill around, find some steps or set a treadmill at its steepest incline. Aim to sprint for 7-10 seconds and then recover for about 20 seconds, says Lee. Repeat 10 times.