MIRAMAR, Fla. — It doesn’t matter to Brian Edwards that he is one of six defensive backs joining Florida this summer.
Nor does it register any significance to him that the recruiting services rank him behind the Gators’ other incoming cornerbacks, for whatever that’s worth. He has a saying when it comes to star ratings.
“I wasn’t really into stars — it was really about taking stars, taking somebody’s stars,” Edwards says.
So, no, the competition does not intimidate him. It never has or he wouldn’t be where he is now.
It started on his local Optimist Club teams, where the depth of talent was so great he couldn’t even get on the field at times. His mother Karen Edwards would get so frustrated that she’d go up to the coach to give him an earful, all the while telling her son to stay patient — that his time would come.
It continued early on at Miramar High School, which has developed a reputation of attracting top-end talent at wide receiver — Edwards’ first position — and by extension at defensive back where he’d ultimately make his mark.
So signing on at Florida as the last of those five cornerbacks to make it official on National Signing Day back in February — along with C.J. Henderson (ranked 15th nationally at corner in the 2017 recruiting class), Brad Stewart (No. 20), Marco Wilson (No. 28), Shawn Davis (No. 43) and safety Donovan Stiner — just represents the latest challenge and chance for Edwards (No. 58 on that Class of 2017 cornerbacks ranking) to prove himself.
Make no mistake, he intends to be on the field as soon as possible for the Gators.
“I embraced it because anywhere you go you’ve got to work, you’ve got to grind,” Edwards says. “If I went somewhere else it would probably be a senior or a junior that’s in front of me that I’ve got to compete with, but going to Florida, they needed DBs, so going in that class, I’m not really, you could say, looking at nobody else or what they can do. I’m looking at what I can do and (how) I can help that program. I know I’m going to grind and work. Those guys, they’re going to help me get better as well, so going in with that big class and competing is going to be great and fun.”
Spend any time around Edwards, who has an engaging and outgoing personality, and it’s easy to realize he doesn’t put any limitations on his abilities.
In one breath, he’ll mention wanting to possibly pursue the Olympics as a high jumper one day, and in another he’ll project himself as a college football talent in the mold of former Alabama star DB Eddie Jackson. “But way better,” Edwards adds, drawing laughs around the family’s dining room table.
It’s all in good fun. After all, defensive backs have to have “that swag,” as he puts it.
No, Edwards isn’t worried about the competition that awaits in Gainesville. That much is clear.
“It’s been a long journey, but I’ve still got a long journey to go. Still got more to go,” he says. “I’m just ready to get started.”
Everything leading to this
Edwards won’t settle in on campus at Florida until this summer, but his preparation for his freshman season has been ongoing for quite some time.
It starts at sunrise most every Sunday morning as he joins his uncle Junior Webster, and when he’s in town, his cousin and Iowa State defensive back Romelo Webster on Hollywood Beach for intensive workouts.
They usually run 3 miles, among other drills, using the resistance of the sand and the water to make those physical skills all the more pronounced on the football field.
“Rain, sleet or snow, we’re out there,” his uncle says.”We do it all in about two hours, then we leave, go eat and go to church. Sometimes we’re up at 5, sometimes we’re up at 6. … The best day we had out there was one of the worst days (weather-wise). Some days I know they’re like, ‘What are we doing out here?’ But I always say to them, ‘Where are your friends right now? Sleeping. All right, so we’re good. Let’s go.’ We work.”
This has been a regular routine for five or six years, Edwards’ mother says. Webster made it clear to his nephew from the start that if he was going to take part, he had to make the effort to get up on his own. He wasn’t going to call his sister and have her rustle him from bed.
“Some days he wouldn’t answer the phone, but then he’d wake up, ‘I missed the call!’ And she’d call me and say, ‘He’s spazzing out,'” Webster says.
“He would go nuts,” his mother adds. “When they leave him, he would go nuts.”
The beach workouts connect with the family’s Jamaican heritage, Karen Edwards says. The family moved from Jamaica in 1985, first to New York and then Florida, well before Brian was born. She was a track athlete when she was younger.
“In Jamaica we run on the beach because when you run on the sand, when you hit the pavement, the flat, you go faster,” she says.
Adds Romelo Webster, Edwards’ cousin who completed his redshirt season at Iowa State last fall: “If you can develop your skills on the sand, it’s crazy what you can do on the field. The sand is like 100 times harder.”
That’s just one part of Edwards’ journey.
He’s known he wanted to pursue a future in football from as far back as he could remember. Maybe even earlier, the family jokes.
Karen Edwards tells the story of when she was taking newborn Brian back home for the first time and being pushed in a wheelchair by a nurse or hospital staffer out to the car.
“As he’s pushing me in the wheelchair I had the baby in my hands and he looked down and he goes, ‘Wow, you’ve got a quarterback there,'” she recalls. “Yeah, he did. What we say at times we don’t know what we’re saying, but it’s amazing. He’s not a quarterback, but he’s playing football.”
“He probably said ‘cornerback,'” Brian says, drawing laughs from the room again.
His older sister Kendra Edwards adds that it was hard to go into a store with Brian when he was young because he’d always find a ball of some sort.
“You just knew, sports was going to be it. We didn’t know until he was 5 that, OK, football is what he was going to choose. But we always knew,” she says.
If it wasn’t football practice (or track practice), or later the beach workouts, it was Edwards setting up cone drills on his own in the yard. Or on family vacations.
Everything has been leading to this.
“Over the years watching him grow he’s always had energy and passion for football and it hasn’t changed,” Kendra Edwards says. “As he grew into a young man you could see the passion grow deeper and deeper. … I’m looking forward to seeing him take off, especially his freshman year because I know the drive that he has.”
Coming from Jamaica, Karen Edwards wasn’t very familiar with — or fond of — football at first.
Brian recalls that she sent him out to his first practice wearing jean shorts, and after he was on the receiving end of his first big hit, she was ready to steer him in a different direction.
“I ran out there and said ‘No, no, no, no, no.’ Because it was too much of a contact (sport). I really didn’t want (it) for him, I prefer what we call football is soccer. So we took him to the soccer field like, ‘No, this is what you need to do.’ Because I didn’t want that contact,” she recalls. “And he kept going back, ‘No, I want to play football.'”
“I already knew,” Edwards says.
Wanting to play and getting on the field in games were two different things, though.
The youth football program in the area produced top-tier talents like NFL quarterback Geno Smith, brothers Joey Bosa (Los Angeles Chargers defensive end) and later Nick Bosa (Ohio State defensive end), Auburn quarterback Sean White and many, many other notable players then and thereafter.
“The team was stacked,” Junior Webster says of those youth squads. “Like if you as a parent came to that park brand new, you might as well (go) to another park because the crew came back every year. You couldn’t break into the lineup.”
The Edwards family’s next-door neighbor LeVan Porter chimes into the conversation.
“But all those things happened for a reason, though,” he says, as the group discusses Edwards’ path to this point. “That’s what got you out there tearing up your momma’s lawn. That determination is what drove you.”
They all agree on that point.
“He played at that Optimist park where 33 kids from that park from his age group and my son’s age group are in college,” Junior Webster says. “So the team he was on, (from) starters, the second-team, I’ve never seen a kid(s) team like that. … It’s been (ingrained) that you’ve got to compete.”
Get to know incoming Gators DB Brian Edwards. Send in questions!
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High school wasn’t any easier in that regard.
A.J. Scott took the head coaching job at Miramar High School this winter, returning after a year away. Before that he was the defensive coordinator through Edwards’ first three high school seasons.
He explains that the spread offense Miramar runs attracts top-end receiving talent, which in turn leads to a lot of leftover options for the secondary. Once Scott would identify who was emerging as the team’s top few receivers, he’d talk to the others about moving to defensive back.
Not that they were lacking depth on that side of the ball either, but he rattles off a handful of his players before Edwards who made that switch from wide receiver to defensive back on the way to landing college scholarships. Like former Miami star Tracy Howard, who is now with the Cleveland Browns, former Hawaii DB Marrell Jackson, Florida Atlantic safety Herbert Miller and so on.
“We have some DBs that would sit the bench for three years and only play their senior year,” Scott says over the phone. “Even now I think I have 17 DBs competing. The tradition goes on and on with the different DBs that came through Miramar. I tell kids all the time, if you don’t like pressure you’re at the wrong school. At Miramar it’s nothing but pressure — pressure in games, pressure in practice. He’s not going to run away from it because he’s dealt with it his whole (time in football).”
Edwards’ breakout moment came during spring practice leading into his sophomore year.
Going up against Kahlil Lewis, now a wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bearcats, Edwards got everybody’s attention.
“We’re hitting and I just stood him up. I didn’t even bring him down, I just stood him up, and everybody’s going crazy,” he recalls.
“I remember this,” Romelo Webster, his cousin, adds. “That was rare. Most people couldn’t even get a hold of him.”
Says Scott: “He was able to compete against some of our top receivers. It’s like showtime at Miramar with one-on-one (drills) with the DBs and wide receivers. It always has been since Geno Smith was there. Once I saw him compete, with his length, he’s swatting the ball, I thought, ‘Man, this kid’s going to be something special.'”
And he wasn’t the only one.
As Scott remembers, one of the Miami DB coaches was watching practice that day and took notice of Edwards. Edwards, meanwhile, remembers a coach from South Florida coming up to him that day. The bottom line is his stock as a prospect was officially on the rise.
“From that point on he just blew up,” Scott says.
Scott worked Edwards in behind the veteran defensive backs during his sophomore year and recalls he had an interception return for touchdown that season, and his role and stature only continued to grow from there. If he recalls correctly, he says, Edwards added a couple more pick-6s his junior year, including one against vaunted IMG Academy.
Miramar would use him at cornerback some games or at safety other times, depending on what the matchup demanded. Scott lauds Edwards’ football IQ and ability to adjust on the fly as a game dictates.
The coach takes pride in saying he runs a complex and varied defense, with a greater emphasis on off-the-field study than other high school programs he’s been around. He believes his players are highly prepared for the jump to college as a result and expects Edwards to catch on quickly at Florida.
And while Edwards, who is completing his senior track season at Miramar as one of the best high jumpers in the state, isn’t officially gone yet, Scott says he’s already identified his “next Brian Edwards.”
He hasn’t told the player yet so as to not set the hype too high, but that’s the legacy Edwards leaves at Miramar.
From the kid who couldn’t crack the lineup in the park league to one the younger players are now trying to emulate.
“He don’t know I’m raving over (him). I haven’t told him, but he’s going to be my next Brian Edwards,” Scott says of the unspecified up-and-comer. “But I’m proud of Brian. I’m expecting big things out of him and I will be watching.”
So will many others.
Porter, the next-door neighbor who took a personal role in getting Edwards and the other neighborhood kids involved in sports and activities at an early age, says he also uses him as an example now.
“Once the kids see that, see that it can be done with Brian doing it, I mean come on, everybody’s jumping up for joy,” Porter says. “I tell him, his story’s going to be a story that he’s going to be able to tell to help somebody else out.”
His mother, meanwhile, just thinks back to those frustrating car rides back from the park, after she’d get into an argument with the coach when he wouldn’t give her son a chance to get on the field even late in games.
“I’m driving home and he’s in the back of the car and he’s crying, ‘Mom, I can play. I know I can play,'” she says. “… I said to him, ‘Brian, just keep going. One day you need to let that coach sit in his living room and watch you play (on TV).'”
Next stop, The Swamp
Edwards says he already has a strong connection with those other incoming Florida defensive backs, especially the other three from South Florida.
He says Wilson was trying to talk him into joining him at American Heritage School and later played an active role in urging him to join forces in Gainesville.
He and Davis played 7-on-7 football together growing up, and he and Henderson were in contact perhaps the most during the recruiting process as both went down to the wire deciding between Miami and Florida.
“We all figured out that we wanted to go to Florida,” Edwards says. “And the other two DBs in the class (Stewart and Stiner), we were on our official (visit) together and we were talking like, ‘Man, we could really do something good here.’ So me and them have a good relationship, all the DBs that are going to come in.”
Karen Edwards admits she initially was hoping her son would choose to stay close to home at Miami. She had formed strong relationships with the coaches there, and Brian admits that ultimately telling them no was one of the toughest parts of the recruiting process.
But he grew up a Florida fan, watching games on Saturday and telling his mother how he loved The Swamp even back then. She didn’t know what he meant at the time, but she’ll find out soon enough this fall.
The family discussed the decision, with Edwards’ older brother Eric Roberts, a Marine, offering support from afar and agreeing Gainesville was the right place for this next stage of his football career.
“Every Saturday morning I’d get up, turn on the TV out here and watch them play in The Swamp,” he says. “Seeing the DBs come out of Florida was big too. I mean, it’s DBU, so why not be a part of that?”
Edwards made his impression on Florida’s coaches during the Gators’ “Junior Day” and also a 7-on-7 camp.
Knowing star cornerbacks Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson and safety Marcus Maye would likely be leaving the program after last season, with cornerback Duke Dawson and safeties Marcell Harris and Nick Washington to follow after this coming fall, the Gators made an emphasis on restocking in the secondary.
Again, Edwards only sees opportunity and welcomes the competition from the fellow incoming freshmen.
He doesn’t care if he plays cornerback or safety, or rather, he wants to play both, to be involved in every way he can.
Listed at 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, his combination of size, speed and jumping ability is what makes him such an intriguing prospect. Scott says his ability to be physical, play lockdown coverage and get up to routinely win 50-50 balls is “what’s going to separate him.”
Romelo Webster, his cousin, reiterates another attribute he expects will help at the next level.
“Just relentless effort. He always wanted to get better,” he says.
And that doesn’t stop once Edwards gets to Gainesville. He already has big goals for his first year of college football.
As usual, he’s not putting any limitations on himself.
“Just getting my name out there for the first year and making sure I get on the radar early, real early,” he says. “I’m ready. I’m ready right now.”
All recruiting rankings come from the 247Sports Composite.