Edwards Aims To Improve In Sophomore Season
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Sep 5, 2014, 08:42
Shaquille Edwards zeroed on in opposing quarterbacks last season.
ETTRICK — It's hard not to notice Virginia State University defensive end Shaquille Edwards when he lines up on the opposite side of the quarterback during Saturday afternoons. Not only do the fans' eyes immediately get drawn on the behemoth of a lineman, but also the eyes of opposing coaches who try to stop him from affecting the game.
But no matter what opposing coaches tried last season, Edwards had an answer during his first college football season. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound defensive end led the Trojans with 5.0 sacks primarily out of the outside linebacker position last year while also recording 34 total tackles.
And it's because of that production, Virginia State head coach Latrell Scott can't hide his excitement when discussing the type of upside Edwards has. It's on display during every game and each practice leading up to the Trojans' season-opener Sept. 6.
In fact, during the first live scrimmage of the preseason, it was Edwards who impressed with his ability to jump off the line with ease. A quick first step and powerful swim moves allowed him to get into the backfield and interrupt the timing of the quarterback and receivers throughout the scrimmage.
Additionally, he did it in a new position — the defensive end slot rather than the outside linebacker position from last season — but one he has been familiar with in the past, playing it during his high school career. It's where his natural talent and physical gifts are best suited and will provide headaches for Virginia State's opponents this season.
"I'm grateful that Shaq is on my team," Scott said. "He has the ability to be a dominant player in this league."
And the reason why is simple. Edwards refuses to rest on what he has already accomplished and instead takes everyday as a chance to improve. It's a mentality brewed by the obstacles he faced in order to even play college football.
While playing in high school, Edwards never thought he had the ability to compete at the next level. In fact, college as whole was an afterthought. No one in Edwards' family had ever attended college, but Scott saw something in the Hargrove Military Academy product.
He noticed the obvious things Edwards possessed like his height, wingspan and speed — all the things needed to succeed at the next level — but he also saw a desire. A desire which is evident whenever Edwards answers a question.
"I really just have to keep working hard in practice," he explained about improving upon last season's impressive numbers. "The coaches have asked me to do certain things which will help my game and if I do what they ask, it will improve."
It would be foolish to bet against Edwards either as the sophomore has had a love for the game football since he was a child. Growing up, Edwards saw the game as a chance to showcase his intensity and use his physical gifts.
He spent many Sundays of his childhood watching the Baltimore Ravens play and most specifically linebacker Ray Lewis. Edwards not only liked the way Lewis played — with a tenacity not matched by many in the National Football League — but also the way he inspired his teammates.
It's that intensity Edwards attempts to incorporate into his own game when he takes the field while donning the orange and blue. He believes the mental side of the game is just as important as the physical because if one's mind is not focused on the task at hand, there is not chance for success.
"When I put my hand down at the line, my mindset is on getting to the quarterback and making a play for my team," Edwards explained. "I love being physical. It's my outlet. The trenches can be tough, so I have to match their toughness."
And that's what Edwards plans to do during this upcoming season which has seen expectations placed upon the Trojans. After being predicted to finish last season as the 10th best team in the CIAA, Virginia State was placed as the favorites to win the Northern Division and the 3rd best team in the league.
It's a stark contrast to the type of doomsday scenarios which hovered over the program prior to the beginning of last season. However, Scott's impact on the program has been immediate. The former University of Richmond head coach has an eye for talent and knows how to manage games.
In one season at the helm, he's changed the atmosphere around the Trojans into one which can rival some Division I programs. It's one of the reasons a confidence has risen above the team as the season is set to begin.
"Coach Scott has come in and told us not to pay any attention to the preseason stuff," Edwards said. "We just need to come out here and play hard, get better because no matter what, they will always view us as the 10th best team. If we do that, we could be the best."
The underdog mentality of the team can also fit the description of Edwards. A player who didn't know he would have an opportunity to play college football is refusing to let his chance go to waste, much like a Trojans team which could be on the verge of a special season.