As complimentary comparisons go, it doesn’t get much better than the one Eastern Washington University’s starting quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell slapped on Eagles wide receiver Nicholas Edwards earlier this week.
“I kind of think of him as Jerry Rice-esque,” Mitchell said of Edwards, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound junior and three-year starter from Tacoma. “There’s just something about the way the guy prepares and attacks the game that makes him different.”
Being compared to an NFL hall-of-famer like Rice is pretty heady stuff, considering Edwards arrived in Cheney as a walk-on, who – despite catching 69 passes for 896 yards and 12 touchdowns, and being named the Narrows League Bridge Division Offensive MVP as a senior – was all but ignored by Division I schools coming out of Foss High School.
But since taking on a starting role as a redshirt freshman in 2009, Edwards has established himself as one of the nation’s premier Football Championship Subdivision receivers.
And those who know him best, credit Edwards’ remarkable work ethic and fascination with the film room for the vast strides he has made since his rookie season.
“Nick prepares as well as any player at any position, including quarterback, that I’ve ever seen here,” Baldwin said. “And not just during the season, but in the off-season, too. He’s been known to be in the film room on Saturday nights after games, even when no one else is in there, and that’s not very common at this level.
“I mean the guy prepares like a professional.”
Edwards will be making his 33rd career start, which ties him with senior tackle Gabriel Jackson for the most of any player on Eastern’s offensive unit, when the Eagles (2-4 overall, 2-2 in the Big Sky Conference) take on Northern Colorado (0-6, 0-4,) in a 4 p.m. Homecoming showdown at Roos Field on Saturday.
And he will enter that game as the second-leading receiver in the BSC, having hauled in 48 passes for 569 yards and five touchdowns.
Edwards’ career numbers – 131 receptions for 1,517 yards and 15 TDs – are impressive as well, but not necessarily surprising to Edwards, himself, who admits to nursing a bit of a grudge over the college recruiting snub he endured.
“I walk around the halls here at Eastern with a pretty big chip on my shoulder,” explained Edwards, who was also an all-Narrows League basketball player and track standout at Foss. “All the (Division I) schools in the nation – which there’s 300-plus, or more – and I didn’t get one scholarship offer?
“So I’ve worked really hard to prove everybody wrong.”
According to Baldwin, Edwards was on Eastern’s recruiting radar in high school and was considered a “preferred” walk-on.
“We knew about him, for sure,” Baldwin said. “And once he got here, he just went to work. He’s got plenty of talent and plenty of skill; you can see that in his speed, his size and his great hands.
“But a lot of those qualities, he’s been able to enhance to the fullest because of his work ethic and commitment to preparation.”
Edwards, a confessed film-room “junkie” spends at least three or four nights a week after practices watching video of upcoming opponents and catching a few balls off the JUGS throwing machine.
“It’s just a little routine I have,” he said. “Sometimes (wide receivers) Coach (Junior) Adams is around, and he’ll give a couple of things to watch for on film, but most of the time I’m by myself, which is no big deal to me.”
Edwards watches video to get a better feel for the techniques used by opposing defense backs.
“Then I can see how I can attack them each week,” he added. “It gives me something to work on at practice, and then I try to find the weakness and soft spots in each team’s secondary, too, so we can hit those and be more efficient with our passing game on Saturday.”
Edwards learned about the importance of preparation from former Portland State running back Joe Rubin, who was also a graduate of Foss.
“I used to work out with him, and he gave me a talk on what to expect in college, and what I needed to do to prepare my body week in and week out. And he told me, ‘Make sure you keep that chip on your shoulder, because you’re going to be a great player.’ ”
During the off-season, Edwards is a fixture in the weight room, and feels his dedication to conditioning his body has played a huge role in keeping him relatively injury free.
“I just figure,” Edwards explained, “that if I can put my body through hell in the offseason, it’ll feel somewhat like heaven during the season.”
Jerry Rice probably couldn’t say it any better.