© Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Ferrell Edmunds never forced football careers upon his three sons, but they chose to follow in his footsteps anyway.
Edmunds played tight end for the Dolphins and Seahawks for seven years, the height of his career culminating in two Pro Bowl appearances in 1989 and 1990. His three sons— Trey, Terrell, and Tremaine — grew up hearing tales about their father in Ringgold, Virginia. They learned the game from Ferrell, competed against each other, and eventually blossomed into stars.
After Saturday, the final day of the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft, there’s a high possibility that all three Edmunds boys will be NFL players.
Tremaine, one of the top linebacker prospects in the 2018 class, is projected as a first-round pick, with the potential to be selected in the top-10. Terrell, a multi-positioned defensive back, is projected as a mid-to-late-round selection. Trey, the oldest of the three, recently finished his rookie season with the Saints this past season.
Football was the main source of activity and conversation in the Edmunds household. That was the kids’ decision more than the parents.’
“I let them choose,” Ferrell said. “Football was my life. They understood how much football meant to me, but it was up to them to find their niche. As a dad, you try to introduce your kids to a lot of different things (and) find something they are good at.”
Each of his sons chose football, with Tremaine emerging as the most exciting prospect of the three Edmunds brothers.
He is an intriguing option for San Francisco with the No. 9 overall pick in Thursday evening’s draft. Tremaine is a 19-year-old, physically gifted linebacker coming off a 108-tackle season with Virginia Tech. With the uncertainty of the Reuben Foster saga looming over the 49ers, it would not be surprising if they use their first-round pick on Edmunds, who has never smelled trouble by all accounts.
Tremaine, the youngest of three, wanted to emulate his older brothers, who had helped mold Dan River High School, a 700-student school, into a Virginia power.
Ferrell was their head coach during their high school careers. He imparted his football knowledge, emphasizing the mental aspect of the game. After eating dinner, most nights the three Edmunds brothers watched film with Ferrell.
“It was amazing because their work ethic was just unreal,” said Dennis Saunders, Dan River offensive coordinator. “(They are) the highest character athletes that a coach ever wants to coach. (There is) never anything negative, and the more you put on them, the more they absorb.”
When Tremaine was a ninth grader, Saunders predicted to their mother, Felecia Edmunds, that Tremaine would be the best football player out of her three sons. Tremaine’s eye-popping athleticism, silent leadership, and addiction to film study separated him.
“I don’t know if he gauged himself on what his brothers did, but his desire to get to that level or surpass it was definitely there,” Saunders said.
Tremaine was naturally an observer. He inundated Ferrell with questions about formations and blocking schemes. Ferrell taught Tremaine to watch the other players on the field, both on his team and the opposition, rather than himself. He began to understand the game at an intimate level.
“He was a coach on the field for us,” Ferrell said.
The Edmunds’ homegrown competitiveness trickled into other sports. Football was always their biggest passion, but they also played basketball and ran track and field.
In 2014, Tremaine and Terrell starred on the Dan River basketball team that won the state title — by 26 points. Throughout their championship run, the Edmunds brothers demanded they guard the opposing team’s best player.
They were relentlessly hard workers, always finding time to film study or train — even surrounded by leisure. During Tremaine’s sophomore year in high school, the Edmunds took a cruise vacation. There was a mandatory policy that he and Terrell take a couple hours out of each day to work out.
The instigator? Their mother.
“We call her the drill sergeant,” Saunders said.
Felecia was a star track athlete at Southern Illinois University. During football offseasons, at least once per week, she checked in on her boys at Dan River to ensure they were conditioning. She kept them on a straight path, emphasizing the importance of school, dressing well, and treating others with respect.
She knew her boys wanted to follow Ferrell’s footsteps to the NFL, but it would only materialize if they worked hard.
“She instilled in them that if you want to do that, you have to work to do that yourself because you can’t get in on your father’s merit,” Saunders said. “You have to run this race by yourself.”
They rarely acted pretentiously, despite their distinguished status in Dan River as Ferrell’s sons. They were typical high school kids, according to Saunders.
Tremaine and his brothers return home to watch Dan River play whenever they have the opportunity. Their influence has attracted college coaches, helping enable other Dan River standouts earn scholarships. Four players have played Division I football since Tremaine graduated in 2015.
“They were everyday guys,” Saunders said. “That even though I got money, hanging with my friends is the best thing I could have.”
Each of the three Edmunds boys graduated high school one year early. Both Trey and Terrell played at Virginia Tech — Trey later transferred to Maryland — leaving Tremaine with a tough decision: join them, or carve his own path. Among his dozen offers was one from Maryland, where his father is immortalized as one of the best players to come through the program.
Tremaine wanted to share his ongoing football experience with Trey and Terrell. Tremaine felt he could cement his own legacy playing under Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster, considered one of the top defensive minds in college football.
“That was a dream situation for ‘Maine,” Ferrell said.
Tremaine added 20 pounds of muscle during his freshman year, maturing into a 6-foot-5, 250-pound specimen of length and speed.
His freshman season was primarily spent on special teams, while playing some outside linebacker and occasionally moonlighting at tight end. During his sophomore year, he became a cog in the Hokie defense, compiling 106 tackles, 18.5 for a loss.
As an 18-year-old junior, Tremaine anchored the Virginia Tech defense in 2017, amassing 109 tackles, 14 for a loss, and 6.5 sacks. He earned first-team All-ACC honors and third-team AP All-America. He was named a finalist for the Butkus Award, given to the nation’s top linebacker.
In a place where Hokie football reigns supreme, Tremaine became one of the most recognizable figures on campus. It was widely expected that he would declare for the NFL after his junior season, but he continued to treat academics as a priority, rather than an afterthought.
“He was quite a good student in the classroom,” said Jared Wooly, a journalism professor who taught Tremaine’s video production class. “He didn’t blend in physically, no. His classmates, Hokie nation knew who he was. But he didn’t come across like anything other than willing to learn.”
Ultimately, though, Tremaine wanted to pursue his NFL dream. He consulted with his parents and confidants, including Saunders, who encouraged Tremaine to make his own decision regarding the 2018 NFL Draft — not his mother or father’s.
It was a no-brainer. Scouts raved about Tremaine’s ‘transcendent’ combination of speed and strength. The words ‘upside’ and ‘freak’ are commonly attached to Tremaine’s NFL prospects, as a 19-year-old just scratching the surface.
Tremaine validated those characterizations at the 2018 NFL Combine, clocking a 4.51-40-yard dash, producing 19 bench repetitions, and scoring 117.0 in the broad jump.
The 49ers will shop linebackers in the upcoming draft, whether Foster remains on the team or not. Edmunds would bolster the current linebacking corps of Malcolm Smith, Brock Coyle, and Korey Toomer that has struggled with injuries and consistency.
Edmunds will hear his name called sooner rather than later Thursday evening. His older brother, Terrell, will likely have to wait a day or two.
This wasn’t necessarily Ferrell’s plan.
“Everyone dreams of playing in the NFL, but we never talked about that,” Ferrell said. “I try to keep them in the moment. I tell them all the time, ‘Just enjoy the journey.’”
He sent his boys to college hoping they would emerge with a good job that would eventually lead them to support a family, NFL career or not. Ferrell continues to approach the draft process as their dad, while sprinkling in some life coaching.
‘Relax and soak in the moment,’ he tells them. ‘But when your numbers are called, be ready to show the world your talents.’
Soon, he will see all three of his boys in NFL uniforms, continuing the Edmunds-NFL pipeline, as they build their own legacies.
“It is very surreal,” Ferrell said. “It’s all about them.”
Brad Almquist is KNBR.com’s 49ers beat writer. Follow him on Twitter @Bquist13.