April 4, 2013
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Mario Edwards, Jr.'s Florida State football career has and will continue to be about management.
Managing hype. Managing expectations. Managing his weight.
The son of former FSU and NFL defensive back Mario Edwards, the younger Edwards came to Tallahassee last summer with all of the excitement that surrounds a prospect widely considered to be the best at what he does in the entire nation. A highlight-reel creating defensive end at Denton High School in Texas, Edwards, Jr. wowed the recruiting world with his brute strength, athleticism and pass-rushing ability. Quarterbacks cowered in their cleats at the idea of having to line up against Edwards, Jr. and college coaches drooled on their team-issued polo shirts at the thought of adding him to their roster.
If the game looked easy for Edwards, Jr. that's because it was.
His talent was undeniable but he was simply bigger, stronger and better than the offensive players he was facing. As many elite prospects soon figure out, however, the field may measure the same but it's a whole different ballgame once you get to the BCS level where every player was a star in the prep ranks.
"The problem with a lot of those [five-star recruits] is that they've never failed," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "You've got to realize the higher level that ball goes, everybody equals out. So it's got to go back to technique and work ethic and being consistent. And I think that's part of those guys growing up."
For Edwards, Jr., growing up meant having to deal with a harsh reality soon after he enrolled at his father's alma mater.
Earning immediate playing time was already going to be a challenge - even for the No. 1 player in the 2012 class - because of the Seminoles' depth at defensive end. With future NFL players Brandon Jenkins, Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine already on the roster, Edwards, Jr. knew he wouldn't start from day one but he at least figured to be in the rotation.
One week before the season opener, that expectation proved to be false. Edwards, Jr. had come in overweight and out of shape and wasn't going to receieve the number of snaps necessary to make using a full year of eligibility worth it.
He was crushed. Here he was, the prospect many thought to be the best high-school football player in the United States and he wasn't going to get the chance to play as a freshman.
"Anybody that comes in as No. 1 is going to want to play, and then to be told, 'You need to sit back and learn the system and get your weight down,' it hurt at the time," Edwards, Jr. said. "... It hit me but then I couldn't blame anyone but myself. I put myself behind the eight-ball coming in overweight and I wasn't able to produce like they needed me to do because I was 315 [pounds]."
FSU's coaches wanted Edwards, Jr. at a more manageable weight -- something in the 280- to 285-pounds range. The decreased weight would help his speed, strength, ball get-off and stamina that's required of elite pass rushers at the Division I level.
Fisher told his redshirting defensive end to stay patient and that his time would eventually come. Edwards, Jr. knew what that meant: work hard at practice this year and watch diligently from the sidelines and an opportunity would come in 2013 after the departures of Jenkins, Werner, Carradine and Toshmon Stevens.
But sports, like life, don't always go to plan. Jenkins' season-ending injury in the first game of the year effectively killed all ideas for an Edwards, Jr. redshirt almost as quickly as it had been born.
"Once Brandon got hurt, Jimbo [Fisher] called me into his office and said, `All right, Bub. This is what you've been asking for; now you've got it.'" Edwards, Jr said. "So I had been asking for it and now here it is, what are you going to do with your opportunity? So I knew then I had to turn it out and get serious about what I was doing.
"... I couldn't let Coach Fisher down, couldn't let myself down and couldn't let my family down."
Playing behind Carradine and Werner, Edwards, Jr. logged snaps in 11 games as a true freshman and showed flashes of what made him such a notable prospect.
When Carradine went down with a season-ending injury against Florida, Edwards, Jr., who dipped down to as low as 282 pounds during the 2012 season, was thrust into the starting lineup for the ACC Championship Game and the Orange Bowl. Prior to FSU's title-clinching victory over Georgia Tech, Edwards, Jr. had a combined seven tackles all season but matched that total against the Yellow Jackets before adding three more stops and his first career pass break-up against Northern Illinois in Miami.
If he continues to improve during spring practices, Edwards, Jr. figures to enter the 2013 campaign in August in the same spot he left the 2012 season: as a starter.
While he continues to manage his weight, the pressure that surrounded Edwards, Jr. as a five-star recruit is still there but this time around it's different. Instead of managing expectations and living up to lofty hype, the sophomore Seminole with the famous name has to carry the torch left by that trio of NFL-bound 'Noles.
"I don't like to think of it as pressure, I like to think of it as a challenge," Edwards, Jr. said. "I like challenges. I like to go ahead and do it. It's big shoes to fill but I think I will be able to do it.
"I just think that with work and definitely keeping my weight down and working, that I can be one of those names like they were."