July 30, 2014

Day of the DAWG!

(Written by Kelly Edwards, Courtesy of Krysti Edwards)

The following is a personal account of how my nephew, Jake Edwards, became a Georgia Bulldog. I’m not talking about a fan; what I speak of is a true, full-fledged DAWG!  Something the multitudes only dream of (to be more specific, his father and myself). If I am going to give this story any justice, I must travel back in time several years.

I’ll begin with little league football. In the fall of 2008, PawPaw, Bubba, and I coached Jake in 11 and 12 year-old football. I vividly recall talking to Jake one day before practices had even begun. I tried to impress upon him the importance of listening and learning from his father this upcoming season.

I explained to him what type of a football player his father was and how it would serve him well to hang on to his every word. My hope was maybe, just maybe, he would pick up on some of the lessons being shared from his father.

You see, although I was young while my brother was playing, I still understood how he played the great game of football. I witnessed firsthand how an undersized MEAN white boy could become a great player. This was something I tried to emulate as a player myself and was hoping Jake could do the same.

You see Jake was always a pretty big boy, but so was his father and I at the same age.  I just assumed that Jake would stop growing when he reached the magical height of 5’11” or so.

When one tops out at that height, one must rely on a bit of a mean streak if their name is to be remembered. This again, was the purpose of my conversation with Jake at such a young age.

I would notice, during the progression of that season, glimpses of that meanness in Jake that I spoke about. You will read later in this story that Jake did listen to his father; you will see that Jake does have that “shit in his neck.”

Fast-forward to his eighth grade year. Jake did well as an eighth grader on a good middle school team. At the conclusion of that season, Jake made a commitment that would pay off in ways that he does not fully understand even now as an incoming freshman at Georgia; a commitment to becoming the best football player he could become.

This word commitment is often times thrown around loosely by young men claiming they want to be a real football player. This “commitment” is quickly compromised the first time they have to get up for an early morning workout, or when they are “sore” and need a day off. I am as proud of Jake’s long term commitment after that eighth grade football season as I am of any of his accomplishments.

You see, Bubba told Jake what it would take for him to be good, and left it up to him to make that decision. Jake chose to get up early to attend morning workouts with Coach Fendley (another person that has played a huge role in Jake’s success) on a regular basis.

Apparently, Jake didn’t even require a parental alarm clock. This is part of that commitment I mentioned before. The path to true football success had been shared; Jake was choosing to follow it.

As we progress to his high school years, I recall that Jake was not very strong at the beginning of his ninth grade year. Despite this lack in strength, Jake started as a freshman at center the entire season. He not only started, but he held his own through the season.

Daddy and I would often times talk about his performance and would both agree that he could be a good solid player if he keeps working hard. Speaking of working hard, one of my joys would be to get updates on his progression in the weight room.

Bubba would send videos when he would reach any type of milestone (bench-135, squat-250, etc).  I was always so quick to share his progression with anyone willing to listen (although no one really seemed to share in my joy of this like I did).  That would change as the weight continued to increase over the next couple of years. The texts rendered more impressive numbers as time rolled on.

They turned into:  Bench–275; Power Clean–225; then it became Bench– 300, Power Clean– 300. People were then starting to take notice when I shared about my nephew down in Heard County (again, this goes back to that “commitment” word earlier).

Not only was he getting much stronger but he was growing. I will never forget when he reached 6 feet tall. I congratulated him and told him he was finished growing as an Edwards. I was wrong.

As his strength went up, his height was following.  He was quickly around the 6’2” mark and I began thinking man, maybe he has a chance to play at a “Georgia Southern type school”. This is something I could have only dreamed of. He was working really hard, was a good player, and was getting big. He was good enough and big enough to play college football. I was so excited to think of the possibility of watching him play somewhere in college. University of Georgia was still just a dream to me at this point.

Time moves on and Jake has continued to commit himself to the weight room and off season work.  This “other work” I refer to is he and Bubba putting in countless hours after school trying to perfect his technique.

It’s now his junior season and Jake looks like a true player out there on the field.  It does not take a seasoned coach of 30 years to see that this is a big strong kid that can play.  Jake did very well and was an All-State selection.  I still wondered if Jake was a true, big college player.  I felt certain he could play somewhere, but was he a D-1 player?

This question would not be answered, in my mind anyway, until after watching him play in the Rising Sr. game during Christmas break. After that game, it solidified to me that yes, he can play D-1. I watched him handle many “D-1” players during that game (most of which already had several offers from top tier programs). There was buzz around Jake’s name beginning to form, although he still had received no scholarship offers.

This would soon change when Marshall was the first to offer. After that, many “mid-major” D-1 offers came. But still, none of the top programs had offered. They all knew Jake and would stay in constant contact, but none would pull the trigger and offer. They all wanted him to come to their camp during the summer. This was something that began to eat at me.

I became obsessed with recruiting and would become furious when I would read of another offer going out to an OL.  I couldn’t understand why he had not received this “big time offer”.  I would compare his highlight film to others and couldn’t understand why this guy has so many offers and Jake doesn’t.

Kelly Edwards with his nephew Jake Edwards at the Rising Senior Bowl in Atlanta on December 31, 2012

Kelly Edwards with his nephew Jake Edwards at the Rising Senior Bowl in Atlanta on December 31, 2012

I should mention that not one time did I ever see Jake get upset about this.  I think that’s because between his mom, dad, and myself there wasn’t much more room for “confused pissed offness”.

The summer before his senior season has now begun. With many solid schools recruiting Jake, and some even bigger name schools offering (UCF) he had all but decided to go to Middle Tennessee. This was of course if none of the “big boys”, as Coach Wade put it, offered.

Now, this one week during the summer is why I am even writing this story. Jake had a one week span, a “make it, or break it” week so to speak. Jake was schedule to camp at University Georgia on Saturday, Auburn on Sunday, and Alabama the next Saturday.

Side note: He basically told Georgia Tech to piss off. He would rather play at Middle Tennessee than Tech. This was due to them dragging their feet with an offer. Anyway, Georgia is up first for camps. This is where I may get a little detailed orientated in the story.

Bubba, Jake, and I leave out on Friday afternoon headed to Athens. We check into the hotel and then ride around campus for a while. I am still in disbelief that Jake may have an opportunity to play here. We then ride to Franklin’s Gun Shop and look around.

On the way back to the hotel there is a rainbow in the sky (I for some reason still have the picture on my phone); we joked about that being a good sign about tomorrow. When we get back to the hotel Bubba is reading an article about a kid that got an offer from Coach Richt during one of the camps. He shares the article with Jake.

I didn’t think much of this at the time (we will re-visit that article later.) The next morning we get up early and eat in the hotel. Bubba is telling Jake to keep eating more with the hope he will be heavier at weigh-ins. I told him to keep his wallet and rings in his pockets during weigh-ins, every little bit helps. He was also fighting the urge to go to the bathroom, again, every little bit helps.

You see, that was the question Georgia had with Jake; could he put on the weight (280 range) and still move?

As we arrive to the Butts – Mere building to stand in line with hundreds of other players I notice that Jake really stands out in the crowd. So much so, that I see other players waiting in line looking at him like “holy crap.” He looked good, would the coaches think the same? We finally reach weigh-ins.

Coach Friend is standing nearby to check his weight- 282lbs with a ring in his pocket, waffles oozing out his ears, and a toilet still waiting for destruction.

During the weigh-in, I was focused on Coach Friend’s reaction. I noticed him almost perk up. He slapped Jake on the butt and said, “Are you ready to go to work?”  So, Bubba and I are now operating under the assumption that he’s big enough, but how is he going to move.

After weigh-ins Jake moves on to the 40. His first run is an impressive 5.2. This whole time I am listening for times on various players. I am also watching all the recruiting analysts report real time updates to their various sites. Jake is now up for his second run. He gets out of the gate extremely well, continues strong through the line. I’m thinking, man that will be a good time there. I overhear the two coaches that were timing simultaneously say, “5 flat.”

For those of you who don’t know, that is blazing fast for someone weighing 282 pounds. I then look for and find Coach Friend to see his reaction. At the time I can’t read much from him, but I’m thinking he has to be impressed.  In an effort to get that information out to the masses, I approach one of the analysts and tell him what Jake’s time was. This guy then posts it to his site.

Bubba begins to get texts from various people saying that they are reading good things about the day. They then move to other drills (shuttle, L drills, etc.)  Jake continues to look impressive. It is apparent at this time that although there were maybe 20 other lineman in Jake’s group, Coach Friend is really focused on Jake. The better part of an hour has now passed and it was time for the one-on-ones.

If you have never witnessed this, let me try to explain. The offensive line tries to keep the defensive lineman from getting to the dummy set up like a quarter back setting to throw a pass.  Basically it is to see who has the biggest balls, who’s going to compete, who’s going to fight if you want to know the truth.

I think this is the point that I should mention the “advise” Bubba and PawPaw gave Jake before this camp started. He told him they aren’t throwing any flags, if you get beat, you do whatever you have to do to keep him off that dummy. Hold him, grab him, rip his shirt off, whatever it takes.

Remember what I said earlier about Bubba being mean. This will play a big role in a minute. At this point Jake is at left guard. I noticed them pick one particular defensive lineman to go against him.

At the time, I didn’t know who this other kid was. It turns out he is currently the #1 rated recruit in the entire nation this upcoming year. He is a huge target for Georgia (and I hope he commits to GA) and they want to see him and Jake go against each other.

The first rep is nothing special for both Jake nor that DL.  I would call it a draw.  I can’t overstate that this is the make or break for Jake. Coach Richt is on a knee within 10 yards of where Jake is going. His location has a purpose, to evaluate Jake. So, Jake and the other guy are up again and this time I am filming with my phone. Both monstrosities for teenagers are lined up in front of each other for another rep.

Jake lifts his hand out of his stance and his opponent shoots off the line as if he’d been donkey kicked in the butt. Jake’s outreached arms meet a violent and near perfect underneath rip move which positions the other guy past Jake to sack the dummy. This seems to be happening in slow motion to me all the while I’m thinking CRAP!!!!!

What I didn’t notice is that Jake never let go of that guy’s shirt. Right before Jake’s opponent is about to tackle the dummy and make Jake look really bad, Jake yanks his shirt. This “move of desperation” from Jake stops his opponent’s forward movement and Jake continues around ripping his shirt almost completely off his body. Jake then slings him around much like a dog with his chew toy.  Man, what a blatant holding call…..if only they threw flags at these things.

Well, the “flag” showed up in the form of Coach Wilson (defensive line coach). Remember this defensive lineman is  a top priority for GA and they don’t want him getting too upset. Coach Wilson proceeds to sprint over to Jake as he is just now turning that fella’s shirt loose.

Some of the words used on Jake in the next 15 seconds are best left for the underworld to sort out. Jake makes his way back to the line, while his opponent tries to salvage what is left of his shirt, all the while Coach Wilson is still in Jake’s face cussing him like I’ve never seen. I somehow have the thought of “this does not need to be recorded,” so I put down my phone. What a mistake!

You see, what happened next was unlike anything I have every witnessed on the football field. As this cussing is taking place I noticed that Jake seems to be getting madder with every passing word. By this time, almost everyone in attendance is looking this way to see what is going on. Mind you, this is not a crowd solely comprised of hardened coaches, there are many moms and dads watching their sons do anything they can to maybe earn an offer to the University of Georgia.

In the mean time, Coach Friend never takes his eyes off Jake. I think now, it’s because he wanted to see how he was going to react. I have tried to block most of those words from memory that Coach Wilson was using but I do remember him saying towards the end “go again you MFer!”  This is also the time I can sense Bubba right behind me getting pretty fired up, to say the least.

I hear him scream “LETS GO JAKE, WOOOOOO, God all mighty!!!! Now, what happens next is something I, nor anyone else I think, can completely put into words, but I’ll try. They both line up again. This time, Jake locks on solid and gives about 3-4 yards until he completely stops that defensive lineman in his tracks and proceeds to drive him into the ground, at least 5 yards away from the quarterback dummy. He completely handles him. Both boys jump up and run back to the line.

Coach Wilson is still steaming and screams go again you MFer!  Bubba is still in the background continuing to get more worked up and yelling. I would also like to note that I am sort of in disbelief of what is going on.

I can’t decipher whether to be excited or get ready to jump on Coach Wilson’s back if he finally decides to pull his shank out and stab Jake. So they go again.

This time, Jake plants him in the almost exact same spot on the turf. This could be the reason they had to replace the entire practice field this off season; that’s how dominating this was. However, those two reps compare nothing to the last rep.

As Coach Wilson is still in a third dimension with his cuss words, he visits Earth once again and says, “go again, and this time I want you to Bull Rush his a$$!!!!!” Jake’s opponent shoots off the ball so fast, unbelievably fast, for someone so big. Jake takes a great set and latches on right under his arm pits. He’s got him. Jake sets him down in his tracks.

Now, that would have been a colossal win in and of itself, but he’s not done. Jake then takes that guy and almost lifts him off the ground and drives him off to the side and back for about five yards. It is at this point, I swear Jake comes off the ground and drives 282 pounds onto his opponent and rolls over the top of him. The crowd watching seems to be in disbelief. It is quiet. Jake jumps up and runs back to the line.

Jake’s opponent is still lying on the ground; I assume trying to figure out why God is so mad at him. When he finally makes it back up to his feet and the blood returns back to the rest of his body, he realizes that his shoulder is hurt. He finally makes it back to the line where Jake is waiting for some more. That poor fella is leaned over holding his shoulder (of course he can apply direct heat to his shoulder through the gaping hole in his shirt). That boy would rather have someone slapped his mamma than have to go again.

At this time Coach Wilson is not saying a word. Coach Friend calmly looks up at Coach Wilson and says “you want some more?” Coach Wilson’s now calm response was, “no coach, we better move on down the line.” I am in disbelief of what just happened.

Very shortly after this takes place they break for lunch. Bubba and I eat at Jimmy John’s. As you can imagine, our conversation revolved around what we just witnessed. We both agree… there is not much more he can do to get an offer. We’ll see how he does in the second half of the camp.

The second session begins with the same drills as the morning. Jake is still looking sharp.

At one point Rusty Mansell (analyst for 247) approaches Bubba and discretely asks for him to call him after the camp. We are not sure what to think of that request at first but it has to be something good.  It is now time for the second one-on-ones. This time Coach Bobo is there to watch Jake.

With Jake’s injured opponent icing his shoulder, that leaves the rest of the defensive lineman to go against Jake. And that’s what happened, Coach Friend kept running DL after DL up against Jake, rep after rep.

All Jake did was keep winning rep after rep. At one point Coach Bobo had to tell Coach Friend to give him a break or you are going to kill him. Finally the camp ended almost abruptly.

We walked up to Jake hoping that a coach has shared some sort of news with him. Jake’s response was the worst imaginable. He said that they didn’t say anything. We began walking off the field headed for home. All of the sudden we hear Coach Inman yelling Jake’s name.  He came running up to us and said that Coach Richt wants to meet with Jake.  What did this mean?????

Are they going to offer, are they going to say hey, stop coming up here…..what did this mean?  Coach Inman finally walks us up to the coaches’ meeting room to wait for Coach Richt.

A few minutes later, Coach Richt enters and asks us to come into his office. He sits us all down and begins telling Jake how much they like him. He goes on to explain that he has never defined himself as a football coach, he is a child of God that just happens to coach football. He explained that he hopes that Jake will always be defined in the same manner. He continues on and finally says, “Jake, our entire staff and I want to offer you a full athletic scholarship to play football at the University of Georgia.”

When those words came out of his mouth it was truly a surreal moment. I really can’t put into words how I was feeling. I can’t imagine how Bubba and Jake were feeling.  I wanted to jump up and say “I’ll take it!!!!!” But again, this was but a dream for me. Jake calmly says that he appreciates the offer, but he would like to speak to his mother first.

Bubba then asks how the process works. Coach Richt explains that they are only signing three offensive lineman this year and when the spots fill up they are done. So, if Jake commits today we would call our other targets and tell them only two more spots are available. Coach Richt then says let me give you my cell phone number and you call me as soon as you make a decision.

I glance over at Bubba and I swear it’s as if he has contracted Parkinson’s disease all of the sudden. He can’t even pull his phone out of his pocket. I, on the other hand, quickly save the situation and tell Coach Richt to give it to me and I store it in my phone (I still have it).  If I am being honest, I would describe myself at that moment as a duck on water.

I looked smooth on the surface, but underneath the water, my feet are kicking like H, E double hockey sticks.  Before we leave coach Richt’s office he tells Jake to go see Coach Friend. When we arrive to his office he asks how it went. Jake finally gets around to telling Coach Friend that he has an offer. Coach Friend then asks… “well, what are you going to do?” Jake then replied that he wants to talk to his mother and tell her first.

Coach Friend suggests that Coach Richt call mom and tell her the news. By this time some other coaches have entered the room: Coach Lilly, Coach Inman, and now Coach Richt. Bubba calls Krysti on his cell and puts her on speaker phone. Coach Richt introduces himself and explains that they want to offer Jake a scholarship.

Krysti is almost to the point of not being able to speak she is so excited. She does finally muster up the words and explains that although we have always been huge Georgia fans, the decision is up to Jake.

After the phone call, Coach Richt looks at Jake and says, “Well, it sounds like mama is on board.”  Jake responds with, “I’ll go ahead and commit today.”  All of the sudden the coaches began high-fiving and hugging everyone in the room.  It was truly something to see and something I will never forget.

On the way home, Jake’s phone would not stop ringing. Word had spread fast and all the analysts wanted interviews. I think we drove around Athens an hour making calls all the while not even knowing where we were going.  It also didn’t take long for Auburn and Alabama to get in touch. Both wanted to confirm that Jake was coming to their camps next. It quickly turned into, come to camp and we’ll see about an offer, to  just show up and we will offer.

Bubba let both coaches know that Jake committed to Georgia and would not be attending their camps. I still hate Auburn and Alabama equally, but I will say that Coach Grimes at Auburn took it much better than some of the coaches at Alabama.

One of the Alabama coaches was upset and tried to remind Bubba that Jake also made a commitment to come to their camp. Bubba just thanked him and said that Jake made a commitment and would be sticking to it. This word commitment seems to be a theme for Jake. He made a commitment to becoming the best football player he could many years ago and now he would not waver from his commitment to the G.

I know some may read this and think, why does Kelly care about this so much, why is he writing this? You see, I never viewed Jake as just a nephew.  He’s always been more than that to me.  He is like my own son. I know it is hard to equal his parent’s own pride for him, but I would have to say that I am a close second (along with PawPaw and MawMaw).  This is a day that I will never forget, but if I do, I’ll always have this story.

Kelly Edwards

 

Comments

  1. Josh Parmer says:

    Great article, Kelly!

  2. nancy heard says:

    Loved reading this. Go Dawgs! Can’t wait to see him “Between the Hedges”!

  3. Tim Massa says:

    Really enjoyed the article. It was good to let Jake’s fellow Heard Countians know the effort and circumstances that took place for him to receive such a valuable opportunity. Not only should Jake’s family be proud for their efforts but also the coaches. Coach Barron for leading the young men, and teaching them how to play and also helping get the guys to the events to showcase their talents. But also a big shout out to Coach Fenley for his efforts in preparing our young men with their weight room workouts. I’ve heard form other individuals from other schools talk about how strong our team is compared to theirs and other’s. Jake take this wonderful opportunity, keep yourself away form negative distractions. Work hard, study hard, and many new doors will be opened for you as you begin your life after high school. Best of Luck.

  4. Chris Lanier says:

    Awesome story! I wish jake all the best and look forward to seeing him flatten the other dl’s in the SEC! Go Dawgs!

  5. this is an awesome story! GATA, Jake, and welcome to Athens!!!!

  6. Great article! I enjoyed reading it. Congrats Jake!

  7. Great read. Can’t wait to cheer jake on!

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