LAKE FOREST, Ill. — If all goes as expected, a pair of Chicago area natives will be starting for the Bears in 2023.
Lake Zurich native Jack Sanborn, who enjoyed a strong rookie season in 2022, will be joined by Lake Villa native T.J. Edwards in the team’s linebacker group in 2023. They’ll join Tremaine Edmunds as the three men behind the defense in hopes of helping the Bears climb up the ranks of the NFL.
This will be the first time these players with local ties will be doing this as professional players in Chicago, but they’ve been teammates before about two hours to the northwest of Lake Forest.
In 2018, both players were at Wisconsin, overlapping for that single season when Sanborn just arrived after a standout career at Lake Zurich High School. As he was trying to build his reputation in the Badgers program, Edwards was adding to his elite resume in college football.
The year before, the former Lakes Community High School standout was a first team All-American for Wisconsin and was a finalist for the Butkus Award, which is given to the best linebacker in college football.
“When I got there, TJ was coming off a Butkus finalist, All-American season,” said Sanborn when asked about what he remembers about Edwards back then. “He was kinda the man. He was kinda the guy in college, especially at the linebacker position. You come in as a freshman, you’re obviously just trying to learn as much as possible.”
One of the players he learned from in 2018 was Edwards as he completed his impressive career in Madison. Safe to say that the veteran remembered the rookie linebacker well.
“He came in as a young buck so really get to see his progression. When he came in, I knew there was something different about him,” said Edwards of Sanborn. “The way that back in the day as a freshman he could see the game, he understood the playbook from the start so he had really good football knowledge and he could make a lot of plays.
“He was really good with his hands and what he does. You can tell he takes pride in his work.”
Edwards saw that as he enjoyed another stellar year for the Badgers – 113 tackles, 11.5 for loss, three sacks, three interceptions, and five passes defended. Sanborn saw action in 11 games as he started his career with Wisconsin as the team went 8-5 with a Pinstripe Bowl victory over Miami.
Undrafted in 2019, Edwards joined the Eagles and made the roster, starting four games his first year before becoming a regular in the lineup the next three seasons. He’d help the team to the NFC Championship in 2022 before signing a three-year, $19.5 million deal with his hometown Bears this offseason.
Sanborn would continue his career at Wisconsin and also have success, earning All-Big Ten first team honors in his senior season, watching Edwards’ career from afar before getting to work with him during OTA and early training camp.
“He’s just a very instinctual player. That’s what you see about him is that he’s just a baller. He’s just a football guy, football player,” said Sanborn of Edwards. “He knows where the ball is, he’s going to go to the ball and he’s going to hit it. I’m excited to see him do that again.”
Edwards says the same as he watched Sanborn also find his footing in the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Bears. He played in 14 games for the Bears with six starts, making 50 tackles with five for loss and two sacks before an ankle injury ended his year in December.
“Funny kid, good kid, I’ve still got to call him a kid just because I’ve known him for so long,” said Edwards of Sanborn. “To see his progression and how he’s taken his game. I watched nearly every snap that had when he was here last year just to see how he was doing.
“Now that he comes full circle and getting to be here and get to hear all the nicknames people give him. That brings me to some old times, so it’s been awesome to be around him again.”
If all goes right, they’ll be teammates the next few years in hopes of getting the Bears closer to a championship that’s eluded them for nearly 40 years.