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Patriots Receiver Julian Edelman Grinded Out His Comeback with a Lot of Help

By Kevin Duffy - Boston Herald, 10/12/18, 8:00AM EDT


FOXBORO — The final workout of Julian Edelman’s intense September training took him to the Union Point Sports Complex, an indoor turf field in Weymouth.

Edelman arrived with an interesting crew.

There was Mark Hartsell, the 44-year-old Brockton native and Boston College graduate who spent five years in and out of the NFL. He was the quarterback.

There was Rob Ninkovich, the former do-it-all Patriots linebacker who now dabbles in local media. He provided coverage near the line of scrimmage as Edelman ran routes.

And then there was a cameo from Frank Edelman, who dropped by to ensure that even basic warm ups became exceedingly difficult for his son.

He’s been doing that Edelman’s entire life.

“At his age, he’d jump right in,” Hartsell said. “He was pulling his arms, he made every catch harder.”

If Hartsell’s passes were on target, Frank demanded inaccuracy. If Edelman was jogging to his left, Frank insisted that the ball be thrown behind him to the right. Hartsell obliged.

Frank even got in the mix at safety when Edelman ran routes against Ninkovich.

“Meeting Julian’s dad was an awesome experience, just to watch them interact,” Hartsell said, who noted the entire month of September was a thrill.

Five days a week, Hartsell served as Edelman’s personal quarterback, an indirect backup to Tom Brady. He re-arranged his schedule — he works in medical sales — to squeeze in the throwing sessions in the early afternoon. Each night, Hartsell awaited a text from Brian McDonough, who owns Edge Performance Systems in Foxboro and trained Edelman while the receiver served his suspension. McDonough would inform Hartsell of the time and location for the following afternoon; Edelman preferred to switch up the scenery to keep his workouts private.

The group, minus Edelman’s dad, who arrived only for the final weekend, frequently convened on a grass field behind the Ahern Middle School in Foxboro. They worked on the soccer field across from Harvard Stadium, found a grass field at The Rivers School in Weston and visited Milton Academy where the student body noticed.

“I turn around and there’s like three kids and then there’s 15 and there’s like 100 kids watching,” Hartsell said.

The purpose of the workout was simple: Edelman sought to replicate game speed and timing so he could seamlessly transition when he returned from his four-game PED suspension. Wearing helmet and shoulder pads, he started at his own goal line, ran six straight plays, usually five routes and a “running play,” in which he would charge at Ninkovich to hone his run-blocking skills.

“Full blast,” Hartsell said.

Edelman’s routes were of the option variety, so he’d read Ninkovich’s location and make the proper adjustment. They’d do this all the way down the field, and Hartsell’s sixth and final pass would hit Edelman in the end zone. They’d rest as they walked back to the opposite goal line, and then they’d immediately repeat the set. Edelman aimed for a daily tally of 50-60 routes, a little more than what he’d run in a typical game.

It took a while for Hartsell, who helps coach at Bridgewater-Raynham and conducts quarterback training sessions, to become accustomed to Edelman’s world-class agility.

“He ran the first route and I looked back (at McDonough) and was like ‘Oh God, that’s not even real,’ ” Hartsell said, laughing. “It’s like an Indianapolis 500 race car. His build benefits the way he runs. He’s built low to the ground like a race car — the big, wide tires. He comes in and out of breaks full speed and he’s zero to 100 in two steps. That’s why he can’t be covered.”

One afternoon in the pouring rain, Hartsell approached the car as McDonough and Edelman pulled up.

“You guys still want to do this?” he asked.

“This is a good opportunity to get better,” Edelman told him. Unsurprisingly, Edelman’s focus and intensity stood out as much as his incredible quickness.

“I have two boys, and I made sure they came and watched,” Hartsell said. “The second he put his helmet on and started the workout with Brian and myself, he never looked at his phone once, it was all business.”

Edelman began every morning at the Celtics facility. He’d get to the field around 11 a.m. for speed work, agility and conditioning. Ninkovich would participate. Edelman would run routes and catch passes from Hartsell. And then he’d head to McDonough’s gym or the Harvard gym for a lift. A full day.

On the Saturday before he returned from suspension, the crew assembled at the Ahern school. This session was not nearly as grueling, as Edelman focused exclusively on his hands. Hartsell must have thrown 300 passes. His arm was finally sore.

Just five days later, Hartsell traveled to Las Vegas for a sales meeting. He caught Thursday night’s game after work, and found himself rooting so hard for Edelman that “it was kind of like watching someone in your own family playing.”

“Obviously it’s fantastic that he’s back, but I kind of miss doing it,” Hartsell said. “It was the highlight of my day. I’m 44. At work. I coach high school football. The highlight of my day was meeting them and throwing. I loved it.