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NFL starters Tremaine, Terrell Edmunds inspired by big brother on practice squad

Tremaine and Terrell Edmunds were still at Virginia Tech last season when they watched their older brother’s NFL debut on "Monday Night Football."

Trey, an undrafted running back, returned a kickoff in the game for the New Orleans Saints.

He had made it.

“It was an accomplishment for everybody,” Tremaine said.

And the younger siblings weren’t far behind. In April, they became the first brothers drafted in the first round in the same year in NFL history. Tremaine, a linebacker, was selected by the Buffalo Bills with the 16th overall pick. Terrell, a safety, was taken by the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 28.

They’re both starting as rookies.

Terrell, the middle child, was thrust into the role when a teammate was injured.

Tremaine, the youngest, was virtually a starter from the day he was drafted. Approaching the midpoint of the season, he is one of two NFL rookies with more than 50 tackles and a sack.

And now Tremaine will become the last of his brothers to play in the national spotlight when the Bills host the New England Patriots on "Monday Night Football" at New Era Field.

This time, his older brothers, now both with the Steelers, will be watching him.

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Trey said. “I’m excited. I know he’s excited. It’s just another milestone that he’s able to achieve.”

“It’s a prime-time game, so you’ve got to make plays because everything is going to be exposed on Monday night," said Terrell, who had an interception in his Monday night debut last month. "You either make a name for yourself or everything goes downhill.”

'An adjustment'

Tremaine Edmunds can’t legally drink alcohol until after next year’s draft. The Bills’ starting middle linebacker turned 20 years old in May. He is the second-youngest player to appear in a game in the modern era; defensive tackle Amobi Okoye was 39 days younger when he played for the Texans in 2007.

But the 6-foot-5, 250-pound baby of the family displays an uncommon maturity.

Tremaine is the quiet brother, the most austere and most frugal, the one who scans the menu and sees the prices before he decides on his meal. He’ll never dominate a social setting.

“That’s just not his makeup,” Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “He’s a good listener, and when he does speak, he’s an intelligent guy. But he’s just not going to be that – he’s going to be true to himself and laid-back.

"He’s kind of unassuming. Now physically he’s not. But you may not even hear from him if he was in a group setting. But I love the kid. I love the family. They’re really good people.”

Because Tremaine followed his older brothers to Virginia Tech, he has never lived alone before coming to Buffalo, something he called “an adjustment.”

“He was excited because he got to pick out furniture,” his mother, Felicia “Cookie” Edmunds, said. “You know how that is, when you pick out your own things for the first time.”

Terrell Edmunds, right, celebrates an interception and brother Tremaine, left, is there with during their playing days at Virginia Tech. (Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

The Edmunds family is a tight-knit group.

“I try to talk to them every day,” Tremaine said, “but sometimes we try to get away from the football side and just talk about life in general.”

Of course, there’s plenty of football.

The boys’ father, Ferrell Edmunds, was a two-time Pro Bowl tight end who played six seasons with Miami and Seattle in the late 1980s and early '90s.

Ferrell watched film with his boys when they were children and coached them at Dan River High School in Southside, Va. In many respects, it’s a role he still embraces.

Tremaine regularly speaks with his dad about playing in the NFL, whether adjusting to the speed of the game or dealing with losing with greater frequency than he’s ever experienced.

“He’s adjusting well,” Ferrell said. “He’s getting in and realizing how the game in the NFL is played. He’s getting his reads down. He understands that in the NFL, a lot of film work is required to be successful. And he’s definitely one of those kids that’s up for a challenge. That’s something he looks forward to every day, being up for a challenge.”

Felicia was a hurdler at Southern Illinois in the 1980s and the one who’d put the kids through extra conditioning drills and might have been q stricter coach than their father.

“When everybody else is sleeping,” she said, “you need to be up working.”

Tremaine’s parents worked hard to give their children the skills to handle adult issues such as finances, first putting the boys in charge of their own checking accounts in high school. Back then, the kids were already cooking meals.

Their parents also made sure their sons understood life's challenges. Ferrell and Felicia have taken in 21 foster children through the years and made them part of the family.

“We all knew that we were going to have to grow up one day,” said Terrell, who turns 22 in January. “We were all prepared for that. We were always prepared for this moment because this is a moment that we always wanted.”

“We’ve been preparing for these moments,” Trey said. “It just so happened that two or three of us were always together. But we’ve been preparing for these moments our whole life, and we’re definitely ready. Our parents and our support system have put us in a tremendous position, where now we kind of can let the reins off. We don’t have to be guided by another individual. We’ve been equipped with the tools where we can go out and do what we’ve been doing our whole life, even on our own.

“Having someone there that’s your brother, that’s always a good feeling. But even if that’s not the case, we still find a way to get it done.”

Today, Ferrell and Felicia are working to encourage their boys to eat correctly, and it’s not unusual for Tremaine and his brothers and parents to swap recipes.

He’ll shoot video of his homemade meals – he’s a fan of baked chicken and pork – and sometimes even FaceTimes with his family while cooking.

“Mostly, he’ll do it after the meal is completed,” Felicia said. “They’ll show what they fixed. They’ll do a video. And we have done FaceTime while cooking, too, just to see if the consistency looks right, to see if the color looks right, does it look done, that type of thing.”

'Stay hungry'

Tremaine and Terrell always looked up to their oldest brother, Trey, now on the Steelers’ practice squad and living with Terrell.

“We look at him as a motivation, really,” Tremaine said. “And just seeing what he’s been through and seeing that he’s still positive and made it, it means a lot.

“We continue to look up to him every day.”

Trey, 23, had a difficult path to the NFL. He switched positions from linebacker to running back after arriving at Virginia Tech and his three-year career in Blacksburg was marked by injuries to his leg and collarbone, and he received limited playing time in 2015, when all three brothers were Hokies teammates.

Trey transferred to Maryland, his father’s alma mater, where he played a partial season as a graduate student. It was cut short by a broken foot. But Trey still managed to reach the NFL, signing with the Saints as an undrafted free agent in 2017 and earning a spot on the team’s 53-man roster.

“I think it provided inspiration for them,” Felicia said about Trey’s impact on his younger brothers. “And it provided that thing that says, 'You know what, if Trey did it, I can do it.' And particularly Trey, he had to overcome injury and he was able to do it. So it can be done. I’ve just got to work hard, make the right choices, stay positive, and if it’s for me it’s going to happen.”

Trey Edmunds spent last season with the Saints. (Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Trey regularly contributed on the Saints’ special teams last season but was waived in September after the team signed Mike Gillislee.

He jumped at an opportunity to sign with the Steelers’ practice squad, reuniting with Terrell.

“I was excited,” Terrell said. “I was ready for him to get up here. And I already had two bedrooms in my house, so the door was open for him.”

Tremaine continues to pick his oldest brother’s brain from afar.

“You don’t know how things are until you actually experience it,” Trey said, “so different weeks he asks me different questions just about the game in itself. I try my best to watch as many of his games as I can, so if I see something, I’ll let him know, the good and the bad.”

One of their recent conversations, after the Bills’ humbling loss to the Colts, ended with a bit of encouragement.

“I just told him just to stay hungry and just that each game is a new task,” Trey said. “You don’t really pick up from the last game. You have to really start all over, prepare all over again, starting from scratch each week. I just told him that.

“And just understand that this league is so cutthroat that you have to prepare hard each day, because you’re going against professionals and before I could even finish the sentence, he cut me off and finished my sentence. That’s how I know that this guy is so ahead of his time, in a sense. He understands stuff a lot quicker than probably myself and a lot of other guys would have understood it at his age.”

There’s no jealousy or bruised egos based on their standing in the league, the oldest on a practice squad, the youngest first-round picks.

“I’m going to always grind,” Trey said. “I’m going to have the same mentality, whatever position I’m in, so I don’t ever look at it from that standpoint. But I’m so proud of them and so happy for them that those thoughts really rarely cross my mind.

“All I can control is what I can control, so I come out here each and every day and go hard and give it all I have. I look at it as if you do that, then at the end of the day, whatever is going to happen is going to happen. So all you can do is just try to put yourself in the best position, and let the good man above handle it from there.”

'The pinnacle'

Ferrell and Felicia try to attend as many of their sons’ games as possible, often traveling separately so the boys have at least one parent in attendance.

They also have DirecTV and three televisions set up in the family’s Southside Virginia home, where they’re able to watch three games at the same time.

This week is the first time they both will be able to attend their boys’ games together. They flew to Pittsburgh to watch the Steelers play the Cleveland Browns on Sunday and plan to drive to Buffalo to watch the Bills host the Patriots.

“Sometimes, I just have to take a look back and say, ‘Wow, is this really happening?’ ” Felicia said. “But it’s a wonderful thing. They are in an elite category. They’re at the pinnacle of their careers, just because they have made it.

“Some people think, well, you don’t get to that pinnacle until you do X, Y, Z. Our X, Y, Z is you made it. You made it to the NFL. And you can continue to go higher. But the pinnacle is that we made it. Because there is elementary, middle, high school, collegiate and then it’s the NFL. Now we can start all over again in the NFL, and you rewrite your goals, and now we start climbing again.”

Terrell Edmunds has been a starter for the Steelers for most of the season. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Tremaine knows there is much room to grow.

While he leads the Bills with 54 tackles, he has also struggled in both run defense and coverage, according to Pro Football Focus.

The analytics website notes that opponents are picking up a first down or touchdown on 50 percent of their targets into Edmunds’ coverage, the 14th-highest rate surrendered by an off-ball linebacker.

Additionally, Edmunds’ 12 missed tackles are the third-most at his position and his seven missed tackles in coverage are the worst.

“I think he’s making progress,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said. “When you play a position like middle linebacker, there’s a lot more that goes into every week than playing a position where you’re not making calls, you’re not making checks, adjustments.

“There’s a lot more that goes into it than just going out there and playing your position. I think he’s off to a good start. He continues to grow and get better and most importantly, he’s eager to learn and embraces that growth mindset.”

Tremaine and Terrell are slated to play against each other for the first time at any level next season.

The NFL rotates matchups against divisions each year, and in 2019 the AFC East is scheduled to play the AFC North, meaning the Bills will face the Steelers.

“It’s going to be amazing whenever that day comes,” Tremaine said.

The brothers have all achieved their lifelong goal of being in the NFL, Trey and Terrell in Pittsburgh, Tremaine in Buffalo. They couldn’t ask for much more.

“I always thank God for the opportunity the boys have,” Ferrell said.

But maybe, one day, all three will get to wear the same uniform again.

Perhaps representing the AFC in the Pro Bowl.

“That’s what I’m saying,” Terrell said. “Hopefully that happens.”

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