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Thursday, Sep 21, 2017
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Edwards thrives as Hawks' Mr. Prime Time

SEFFNER - At 5-foot, 9 1/2 inches and 175 pounds, he by no means fits into the "big back" category college football recruiting services like to tout these days. And when it comes to college scholarship offers, he only owns two, from programs you probably have not heard much about. But when Armwood needs a lift the most, it seems like senior Wade Edwards has been there to literally carry a big load for the Hawks with the football tucked snugly in his arm. Edwards showed that in a big way Friday night against St. Johns Bartram Trail, rushing for a career-high 248 yards and three touchdowns and hauling in two passes for 30 yards. For the year, Edwards has 1,189 yards in total offense. And with Armwood's star running back, Matt Jones, hampered by a nagging ankle injury lately, Edwards' totals have been nothing short of huge for Hawks.
In fact, without Edwards this fall, you could argue undefeated Armwood (14-0) just wouldn't have had the firepower to reach Saturday's Class 6A state championship game in Orlando against Miami Central (13-0). "We have a plethora of good running backs at Armwood but if there was ever a 'Mr. Prime Time' for us, it's Wade Edwards," said Hawks offensive coordinator Evan Davis. "He and (quarterback/receiver) Alvin Bailey are definitely difference-makers and it's great to have two of them. But Wade seems to come up with these big, big plays in key situations." Bailey has provided the bulk of the Armwood offense this season, producing a combined 2,045 yards in passing, rushing and receiving. Clearly, his contributions have been key to a return to the state title game. But looking back at some of the Hawks' biggest wins this fall, Edwards has been there, too, making some memorable catches, breakaway runs and bulling for a few yards and key first downs. In the Hawks' season opener against host Las Vegas Bishop Gorman, it was a pair of Edwards touchdowns that helped carry a victory on national television. During the regular season against eventual Class 8A state finalist Plant, Edwards caught a screen pass from Darryl Richardson and turned it into a 77-yard touchdown. In the playoffs, Edwards caught the winning touchdown pass against Gainesville. And then came Friday night's contest with Bartram Trail, when Edwards simply seemed to be unstoppable with his nearly 300 all-purpose yards and trio of touchdowns. At the start of the season, Edwards admits he was feeling the pressure to "be the man" as Jones recovered from knee surgery. But as time has progressed, Edwards, who began his Armwood career as a defensive back, came to embrace the challenge. "In the beginning of the year, I was feeling the heat," Edwards said. "That first game was on TV and I have to fill a big role on this team because Matt was hurt. But later on, I got comfortable with it." Both Davis and head coach Sean Callahan say Edwards is the kind of kid you like to see succeed. He's a solid student, shows model behavior on and off the field and has worked hard at what he's reaping now. Callahan says Edwards is exactly what Armwood football is all about. "Wade has worked his tail off, done everything we've asked him to do and because we have so many good players here, he's been patient," Callahan said. "He has character — the kind of kid I can put my name on. I don't do that for everyone, but with Wade, I can." Edwards, meanwhile, is hoping his patience will pay off in the form of a few more scholarship offers. So far, he just has the University of Alabama-Birmingham and Youngstown State. But with the Bartram Trail game added to his highlight reel and the chance to shine again this Saturday in the Citrus Bowl, Edwards knows there could be more opportunities waiting if he bides his time. "It's a little frustrating not to have more (offers) but I'm first a team player and want to do whatever it takes for us to win," Edwards. "I feel like if I just keep doing what I've been doing, that'll take care of itself. Right now, I just want us to win the state championship."

wward@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7456

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