A.J. Edds credits football for many of the successes that have come his way in life.

The lessons and experience he gained on the gridiron got him to Iowa, where he starred as an All-Big Ten linebacker from 2006-2009, and eventually led him to the NFL where he enjoyed a five-year pro career.

With his football playing days behind him, Edds remains involved in the game. He’s now in the business world, selling the benefits of new football equipment that helps kids stay safe on the gridiron while still having fun and enjoying the experience.

Edds, 29, is a regional manager for RockSolid — a company that makes soft shell football helmets and shoulder pads. The helmets and pads are made of lightweight foam, adding a layer of protection for participants in flag football leagues or for non-contact practices where players aren’t wearing full pads.

Former NFL linebacker Joe LaRoque founded the company in 2013, and teamed up with former NFL quarterback Caleb Hanie to get RockSolid off the ground. The idea for the company came about when LaRoque saw two youth football players collide in a non-contact football drill. He saw an opportunity to make the game he loved safer by adding protective gear into the equation.

“We are actively trying to change football at the youth level by protecting the player, promoting the game and enhancing their experience,” Edds said. “What gets me out of bed in the morning is the chance to impact kids so they have a positive experience with the game of football. It really spoke to me to have a chance to help kids stay safe, enjoy the game and ultimately leave the field with a smile on their face and want to come back for more.”

The former Hawkeye has been with RockSolid since Sept. 2016. He met LaRoque through a mutual acquaintance at USA Football, and LaRoque offered Edds a job an hour after the meeting.

As a regional manager, Edds is focused on expanding the business in the Midwest. He works in the Chicago-land area, spending his days meeting with youth football league officials, high school programs and other football teams to educate them about the advantages and long-term benefits of RockSolid’s products.

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Although still in its infancy, RockSolid has grown immensely since LaRoque founded the company in 2013. LaRoque said he expects to have 200,000 youth football players, 60,000 high school kids, 50 Division 1 programs and 18 NFL teams using their products this year.

He credits the company’s success to the former Hawkeye and other members of the RockSolid team because of their like-minded approach on spreading the vision of protecting players and enhancing the game.

“We’re going to take the football community by storm this year, and it’s because of guys like A.J.,” LaRoque said. “He has dominated the industry and created a lot of traction in a very short time. When you look for people in a company you want someone who adds value and has values. A.J. is the prototypical person we look for in this company. There is nothing about A.J. I would change, and when we look for new people to come on board we’re looking at how close they are to being like A.J.”

“Rock solid” would also be a good way to describe Edds’ collegiate football career. He played in 38 games for the Black and Gold, recording 217 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and seven interceptions.

The linebacker saved his best season for last. He was a team captain as a senior in 2009, earning second team All-Big Ten honors. Edds’ 78 tackles ranked fourth on the team that season, and his five interceptions were tied for the second-most in the Big Ten.

“The things I still carry with me from my time at Iowa are the big wins, the statement victories, and everything from that 2009 season,” he said. “I’ll always remember getting to know your teammates, going through hard situations together, grinding together and coming out of it a better person for it. That’s what separates a place like Iowa from anywhere else. The friendships I made with the staff and the players are things I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.”

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The Miami Dolphins picked the linebacker in the fourth round of the NFL Draft. He played five seasons in the pros with the Dolphins, Patriots, Colts, Jets, and Jaguars, recording 14 tackles in 17 career games.

The former Hawkeye has aspirations of getting into Athletic Administration one day, and others have seen that role as a good fit for Edds, as well. Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz once noted that the Hawkeye linebacker “would probably go after Gary Barta’s job as soon as he gets out of football.”

While an AD job may be his future someday, Edds is currently focused on building up his knowledge of the business world and continuing to share his passion and love for the game of football.

“I’m trying to do what little bit I can to help educate parents about the benefits of the game of football and long-term upside of getting a kid involved,” he said. “Being new to the position I’m working hard to attack my daily and weekly goals of getting in front of as many people as I can so I’m making a tangible impact. It’s one thing to talk about making an impact but until these kids are wearing the helmets it’s just talk and nothing is being done to enhance their experience. I want to get work done, not just talk about getting work done.”