By: Mic Edwards
The star of a Southwest Virginia football team had no idea how different the game of football would be in college. From superstar to “Who are you?” J.R. Edwards experienced first hand the tough transition any high school football player experiences at the college level, and truly realized that college football is nothing but a business and all about the money.
In high school, J.R. Edwards started all four years on both offense and defense, and received many awards: Defensive player of the year, All Timesland Quarterback and Defensive Back, first team All District, first team All Region, Second team all state QB, and was also an All District punter.His school had even given him an award titled ‘Mr. touchdown’. All was going great for J.R. Edwards, as his high school playing days came to a close, he knew that he would get a chance to play at the next level.
J.R. began to receive multiple letters from several different schools he was not sure where he would end up. J.R was 5’11 inches tall and around 170lbs. He knew he could play at the division one level, but college coaches didn’t seem to think so due to his physical attributes. He remembers going on a recruiting visit to Appalachian State, a division 1AA school at the time, and the coach sitting him down saying that it was between him and another kid to receive one of their last available scholarship offers. The other kid is in the other room, and we have been looking at him since last year. If he doesn’t accept our offer, we are going to give it to you. Within minutes, J.R. sees the 6’4 200 lb. kid, walk out of the room smiling. J.R. left Appalachian State that day, disappointed because he knew that just because the guy who received the scholarship was bigger and taller than he was, did not mean that he was not a better football player than J.R.
He knew that his talent and his ability to play the game of football would override his lack of physical attributes. College coaches didn’t seem to think so. College coaches want people that look visually appealing. Coach Randy Taylor, an NCSA Athletic Recruiting coach once stated, “measurables give us an indication of an athlete’s ability to play at the next level, we are never going to take a 5’10 quarterback to play at the highest level.” J.R. definitely did not have the measurables that college coach’s desire, as he was only 5’11 and weighed 170 pounds. College coaches could care less about an undersized, small town kid from Southwest Virginia, regardless of what kind of true football player he really was. J.R. stated “It was my first taste of the true business aspect of college football that I never really understood until my junior year of college. The college game is all a business, and coaches have to recruit the kids that look visually appealing to give scholarships to or they could lose their jobs. They don’t want to risk their jobs on kids that look like me.”
J.R. ended up getting a preferred-walk on spot to the college of William and Mary. He stated, “I was mad at myself, because at the time I felt like I could get a scholarship, I just remember talking to my dad and when I told him that William and Mary gave me a preferred walk-on spot, he said I better not turn that down, because he knew about the school and how I could walk out of there with a nice degree. I’m lucky he pushed me that way because at the time I wasn’t thinking about the education aspect at all, I just wanted to play football.”
“When I came in my freshman year I was one of 17 quarterbacks. I got moved to wide receiver, and then they found out I was too slow, so they moved me to the other side of the ball.” While on defense, coaches first tried J.R. out at corner. “They started me out at corner, and I thought so now you want me to cover the fast guys?” Sure enough, that didn’t work out either so he was finally moved to a position more suitable for his speed. “I ended up at strong safety, that seemed to fit me pretty well speed wise.”
J.R. began to feel hopeless, “I kept getting moved to the bottom of the depth chart every time they moved me, so my freshman year was tough”. “I remember realizing that I wouldn’t even be on the travel squad, so I had to stay home when the team would play away games” On top of all the football troubles, J.R. realized that school was not a joke either. “I remember calling home saying that I was failing all of these classes, and my parents being extremely mad at me.” “With football and school not going so well, I knew I had to turn it all around” J.R. decided to really hit the weight room hard in the off season to increase his strength and speed in hopes for a shot at making the travel squad the following year. He also hit the books hard and turned his grades around.
As sophomore year came around, J.R. put on a good amount of weight and increased his speed. “I put on about fifteen pounds, in a good way, and that allowed me to run better too”. He went from 170 lbs. to 185 lbs. in one off season. He was able to make the travel team, primarily as a special teams player. “I spent most of my time playing special teams my sophomore year, but I didn’t mind because it was like a huge deal that I got to travel with the team. Although this was a huge accomplishment, he was not satisfied, as he wanted to rise to the top of the depth chart and start at strong safety. Again, he used the offseason of his sophomore year to continue to get stronger and faster to become the starting strong safety for his last two years of football. “I put on another 10-15 lbs, I was probably around 200lbs at the time. I remember it was mainly all in my legs, and I was running better than I ever had.” J.R. knew his chances of becoming the starter for next year where great since he had proven himself on special teams, and showed the coaches what kind of work ethic he had.
As J.R. came in to his junior year, he was bigger, faster, and stronger than he had ever been before, and was excited to finally become the starter. He knew, the amount of work that he put into the off-season, was going to help him excel on the field. However, this was not the case. He continued to barely receive any reps in practice, and the little reps he did get, he would completely dominate. His whole team knew that J.R. was the best strong safety on the team, and nobody knew why he still was barely getting any reps in practice. He approached his position coach and had a heated argument of why he was not the starter. He said, “you know I’m the best player on that field, why am I still not getting any reps in practice? Why are the guys who are new to this team getting reps over me?” The guys that were getting reps over him were blowing coverages, missing tackles, and were just soft football players who didn’t like to hit, and truly did not belong on the violent football field. However, reality kicked in soon after that meeting. The true business of college football set in for J.R. Edwards. His coach told him, “Look J.R. you are the best strong safety on this team, but you are not a scholarship player. You are not six feet tall, and we did not spend any money on you. College football is a business, and as coaches, if we don’t give all the reps to the scholarship players, the players we spend all of our money on, then we simply lose our jobs, and we all have families to feed.”
The coach’s statement really impacted J.R. He began to finally understand that college football was completely different than high school football. He stated, “You know In high school, the best man plays, no matter who you are or where you came from. I didn’t realize that football was a true business in college and at the time, and it made me pretty angry.” As J.R. took time to comprehend what his coach just told him, he swallowed the pill, accepted it like a man, and continued to play on special teams for the rest of his career. J.R. stated, “You know, a lot of guys to this day, don’t understand what kind of game their getting into at the college level. You could be a stud in high school, but none of that matters in college. In college everyone is big, everyone is fast, and everyone is strong. Your not the all-star anymore that everyone looked up to in high school. Stand out guys in high school could play nothing but special teams their entire college football career just like me, it’s just the nature of the game, and there’s nothing we can do to control that. Nobody can control their god-given abilities, and that is sometimes tough to swallow, especially for high school kids.”
J.R. took what he learned about the business of college football, and made the best of it. Although he only played special teams, he took time to really learn the game.
After college, he soon got into high school coaching. “I was able to get a coaching job from the team I played for in high school from Coach Highfill (long time coach in Southwest VA) He was my coach when I played there, and took me in and really taught me everything there was to know about coaching. He put a real emphasis on discipline, and the little things, and I still use what he taught me today with my own team” J.R. learned the ropes of coaching, and became a very successful head high school football coach.
Through the business of college football, J.R. took his god given talents and made the best of them. The experience that J.R. endured at William and Mary has never left his mind. However, he doesn’t regret what he experienced, for it made him a stronger, tougher man.To this day, he is one of the top high school football coaches in Southwest Virginia. He received VHSL Coach of the Year in 2006, the same year he took a not-so-talented team to the State-Semi finals. He also took a team to the State championship for AA in 2014. With a recent new head-coaching job he received, he will keep in the back of his mind what happened to him at William and Mary, and do the exact opposite. In high school football, the best man plays, regardless of what you look like. There are no scholarship players, and everyone is equal. J.R. Edwards will be successful. His methods are simple, and he always states “Football is a tough game for tough people under tough circumstances” He learned that through his playing days, and now carries it into his coaching.
“I learned that football is not just a game, it teaches you all about life, and how to battle adversity and do things the right way. –J.R. Edwards