CHICAGO – He’s not the first to complete the journey and he probably won’t be the last, either. But that doesn’t make what T.J. Edwards has done this week any less special, especially considering his path to being a linebacker for the Bears.
That’s because the Lake Villa native’s road to joining his hometown team on a new three-year, $19 million contract began under center for his high school.
“The question that may be on your mind is why the heck did you play him at quarterback,” said Luke Mertens, who was Edwards coach at Lakes Community High School and is now in that position at St. Patrick High School in Chicago. “Some people insinuate that I screwed up, like, ‘How did you not have him at linebacker?’”
Some could ask that question since Edwards was a starter at that position for the Philadelphia Eagles for a good part of his four years with that team in the NFL after being an All-American at Wisconsin.
But Mertens had his reasons for having Edwards be his quarterback with the Eagles, occasionally using him as a free safety on defense during his time at the school. There were characteristics that he saw in the young player that made him a perfect fit for that position.
“His integrity as a human being. That is so important,” said where Mertens starts out with his description of why Edwards was a great fit at quarterback. “When you’re the quarterback, you’re the face of the team. You’re the face of the program. So I wanted to make sure that we had someone that was a good student, was a good son, was a good friend and, most importantly, was a great teammate.”
Mertens also describes Edwards’ “Michael Jordan competitive sense” as another reason why he stuck with him as a quarterback and what led him to be able to get an offer from Wisconsin. Once arriving in Madison, coaches quickly moved Edwards to the linebacker spot, where he immediately thrived.
He was named a two-time All-Big Ten first team selection, was a 2017 first team All-American, and was even the 2017 Cotton Bowl MVP in a win over Western Michigan.
Despite being undrafted, Edwards managed to catch on with the Eagles, working his way up from special teams to a starting role for the majority of his last three years in Philadelphia. He was a starter on the NFC Championship-winning team in 2022 as Edwards took part in Super Bowl LVII in Glendale, Arizona in which the Eagles lost to the Chiefs.
“He also just refuses to listen to what others think, and I think his career shows that,” said Mertens. “If he just read the media reports on him, if he read what the NFL scouts said about him, good or bad, I don’t know if we’re having this conversation right now.”
But he is, talking about a player who has come full circle in his career in a number of different ways. From a quarterback at Lakes Community High School to now continuing a proud tradition of linebackers for the Bears, it’s a moment of celebration for Mertens and others who like watching another homegrown player join their home team.
“When news broke that a great Illinois high school football player was coming home to play for the hometown franchise, it was an indescribable day,” said Mertens.
Yet the path Edwards took is one that the coach is more than happy to describe as he returns home.