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Football, life a family affair for Tremaine Edmunds

Bears linebacker Tremaine Edmunds
Bears linebacker Tremaine Edmunds

Tremaine Edmunds didn't suddenly become an ultra-competitive hard worker after stepping onto Virginia Tech's campus or being drafted by the Buffalo Bills.

Those characteristics were instilled in the new Bears linebacker as a child, growing up with a father who played in the NFL and two older brothers—Trey and Terrell—who also followed their dad into the league.

"Man, it was competitive," Tremaine told "It was a competitive household. Whatever we did, we competed. But I think that's what molds you, and that's what makes you who you are. That's your identity. As a family, we demanded a lot out of each other. We expected a lot out of each other and anything less than that just wasn't good enough."

That environment helped Tremaine, 24, and Terrell, 26, become the first pair of brothers to be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft in league history. In 2018, Tremaine was chosen by the Bills at No. 16 and Terrell, a safety, was picked by the Steelers at No. 28. Older brother Trey, 28, a running back, had entered the league a year earlier as an undrafted free agent with the Saints. 

The work ethic the Edmunds brothers all possess came from their father, Ferrell, a two-time Pro Bowl tight end during seven NFL seasons with the Miami Dolphins (1988-92) and Seattle Seahawks (1993-94).

The oldest boy, Trey, was born in December 1994, two months after Ferrell had played in his last NFL game. But all three brothers learned the sport from their father, who served as their head coach at Dan River High School in Ringgold, Va. 

"It was a good opportunity for me to spend time with them and also spend time with their friends to teach them about football," Ferrell said. 

"The main [lesson] was whatever you do, make it mean something. No matter what you do in life, don't do it just to be doing it. When there's time to put in work, put in work. Don't live with regrets. Make sure you're the most prepared person out there. If you're the most prepared person out there, your athletic ability will take over. If you don't allow yourself to put in the work before you get out there, then you've got to rely strictly on athletic ability and you're a step behind. There are a lot of talented people in the NFL. The edge is the hard work, the work you put in."

The three brothers were all in high school together for one year. When Trey was a senior, Terrell was a sophomore and Tremaine was a freshman. In youth football, Tremaine always played up with Terrell so the Edmunds family wouldn't have to attend three different games every Saturday. 

"Tremaine was a real mature guy," his father said. "His maturity was always there. It was just him being comfortable more than anything else."

Tremaine feels he benefitted from playing with his older brothers and their friends.

"That's what made things fun," he said. "I had two brothers I could compete with in everything who were just as talented as me, if not better. And just being able to learn from them and being able to get better by competing with older guys because I'm the youngest, it made me a better player."

“As a family, we demanded a lot out of each other. We expected a lot out of each other and anything less than that just wasn’t good enough.” Tremaine Edmunds

Mature beyond his years, Terrell became the second youngest player to be drafted in NFL history. After declaring for the draft following his junior year at Virginia Tech, he was 19 years 11 months 24 days old when he was picked by the Bills.

As a 20-year-old rookie, Edmunds became the youngest NFL player to intercept a pass. A year later, he was voted a captain by his Bills teammates.

Edmunds, who signed a four-year contract with the Bears last Thursday, started all 74 games he played in his five seasons in Buffalo, registering 565 tackles, 32 tackles-for-loss, 6.5 sacks, five interceptions and two forced fumbles. The 6-5, 250-pounder recorded at least 100 tackles in each of his five years and was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2019 and 2020.

Those numbers no doubt are impressive. But the life lessons that Edmunds learned from his parents extend well beyond football. Growing up, he and his brothers shared their home with 16 foster children through the years.

"It just lets you see stuff from a different perspective," Tremaine said. "Be grateful for the little things. Just seeing them and being able to see how you could change people's lives, that means a lot. Seeing how my family was able to affect somebody else means a lot to me; just knowing that we put a smile on their face and trying to help better somebody's life."

The kindness and empathy he learned from his parents shaped Edmunds—and will continue to impact him long after he retires from the NFL.

"That's me," he said. "Because once football is taken away from you, you've got to stand for something. If your whole identity is just football and you don't know who you are as a person, it's going to be hard to navigate through this thing called life."

Take a look at new Bears linebacker Tremaine Edmunds in action. The 6-5, 250-pounder comes to Chicago having started all 74 games he's played, registering 565 tackles, 32 tackles-for-loss, 6.5 sacks, five interceptions and two forced fumbles.