Editor's Note: Reprinted from the August issue of Spurs & Feathers. To subscribe, visit here.
Alshon Jeffery, Sterling Sharpe and Robert Brooks. Sidney Rice, Kenny McKinley and Pharoh Cooper. Deebo Samuel.
He may not have gotten as much attention — at least not yet — as the aforementioned South Carolina greats, but Bryan Edwards will go down among them as one of the all-time great Gamecock receivers.
If not the best.
“Bryan Edwards should have every receiving record there is at the University of South Carolina after this season,” Gamecock head coach Will Muschamp said at SEC Media Days. “You think about some of the elite players that have played the receiver position at South Carolina.
“That’s pretty high company.”
“I think he’s the most underrated receiver in the nation,” SC quarterback Jake Bentley said. “He’s just a workhorse. You never see him not working on some part of his game at the facility.”
Before this season Edwards was named to the Biletnikoff Award watch list and earned preseason All-SEC third-team honors. The 6-3, 215-pounder enters his senior season ranked fifth in receptions (163), sixth in receiving yards (2,229) and tied for ninth in receiving touchdowns (16) on the school’s all-time lists.
The Conway native — who has played in 38 games (37 starts) during his career — needs 45 receptions, 814 receiving yards and eight receiving touchdowns to move into first in each of the categories.
“I don’t pay too much attention to stuff like that,” Edwards said. “I know if I go out there, do my job and play how I know I can play, all the fame and the notoriety and things like that, it’ll come.
“Obviously it’s something you think about, anytime you can put your name in the record book and get your name on the stadium and things like that. I’m excited for it, but I know the only way I can accomplish it is if I go out there and do my job.”
Edwards looks up to Jeffrey, someone he speaks with from time to time.
“It’s an everyday thing. Go hard every day,” Jeffrey tells him. “Your life can change in the next six months. You can be wherever you want to be. Believe in yourself and have that confidence and you can accomplish anything.”
Edwards has said he needs to be more consistent, surprising considering his numbers in his first three seasons as a Gamecock haven’t wavered drastically: 44 catches for 590 yards and four touchdowns as a freshman; 64 catches for 793 yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore; and 55 catches for 846 yards and seven touchdowns as a junior.
Last season he played in all 13 games, catching seven passes twice, five twice and four twice. He never caught fewer than three in a game.
Edwards will also focus this season on being a leader, on the field and in the meeting room. “Being that number one guy and just separating myself from the pack,” he said.
“I just have to control my room and the guys I’m leading and make sure they know their roles are important. And make sure we’re ready to play every week.”
Now, without Samuel, a second-round NFL Draft selection by the San Francisco 49ers, it’s his time to shine.
“I always saw myself as a number one. Kind of a 1A, 1B when Deebo was here,” Edwards said. “Even when Deebo went down with the ankle injury, I got a chance to step into that role at an early age. So it’s another day at work for me.
“… It’s time for me to step up. But I feel that will be easy for me, natural for me, because it’s what I do every day.”
Before last season’s Belk Bowl, Virginia cornerback Bryce Hall, one of the nation’s best at his position, said he would have liked to play against Samuel but called Edwards “every bit as good.”
“I learned [from Deebo] that you’ve got to come to work with your lunch pale and do what the coaches ask of you,” Edwards said. “And not try to do too much. Play in the system and take it one game at a time, one play at a time.”
Edwards was the second player Muschamp recruited when the latter was named the Gamecocks’ head coach. He flew to Conway with Gamecock defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson and met for about an hour with Bryan and his parents John and Michelle.
Bryan’s maternal grandfather, Eddie Geathers, a star defensive back for Clemson from 1977-1980, also showed up.
“He was decked out in his Clemson stuff,” Edwards remembers. “He wanted them to know he played at Clemson and what team he wanted me to go to.
“But it was a great experience. They had a great message for me and a great plan for me. They kind of turned the tide and I actually started looking at South Carolina as the place I wanted to go.”
“We all sat around the living room and [Will] told us what he thought and what he wanted to go down,” Michelle Edwards, who happens to be a South Carolina alumnae, told Spurs & Feathers. “Bryan just listened.
“I told [Will], ‘I looked you up and I’ve seen your face and how you act sometimes at games.’ But after speaking with him, I liked him from then on.”
A little more than a week after the visit, Edwards, who had committed to South Carolina when Steve Spurrier was coach and later de-committed, re-committed to the Gamecocks.
'A Fun-loving kid'
Although Edwards said last year that he grew up mostly a Georgia Bulldogs football fan and attended both South Carolina and Clemson games, his mom said that growing up he was mostly a Clemson and New York Giants football fan.
“He was fun-loving and always a happy kid,” she said. “And always eating — beef roast, spaghetti, homemade fried rice, meatloaf, oxtail stew. There are very few things I cook he won’t eat.
“And always outside playing or getting into something. He was always busy. Never had trouble-making friends. And he would dance at parties. We had family get-togethers and he would dance.”
He also loved sports.
“Anything that involved him being outdoors and playing with a group of people, that was him,” Michelle Edwards said.
Football really only separated itself because Bryan’s older sister, who later attended Clemson, was a cheerleader and the Edwards could get them to the field at the same time.
At South Carolina, Edwards became the sixth true freshman to start a season opener since 2009. He earned SEC All-Freshman first-team accolades and turned in the second-best true freshman season for a receiver in school history behind Jeffery. As a sophomore he won the Steve Spurrier Award as the team’s offensive MVP and led the team with 64 receptions, the eighth in school history for a single season.
As a junior last year he was the Gamecocks’ second-leading receiver. He ranked sixth in the SEC with 65.1 receiving yards per game and 10th with 4.2 receptions per game.
Now Edwards’ focus remains on himself and his team.
“From the time spring ended till now, you know, it’s been all football, all work,” Edwards said. “Even the month off we had, I was up here trying to work out and get ready for this upcoming season. So I feel as confident as I’ve ever been in myself and in my body and what I can do.”
“He knows we are only going to be as good as the rest of the guys too,” Bentley said. “Me and Bryan can’t do it ourselves. Josh Vann, Shi Smith, OrTre Smith are going to have big years too. I think he understands that and is doing everything he can to help them along the way too.”
Edwards also announced in June he and his girlfriend Breahsha are expecting a son, Braxton.
“I’m as motivated as I’ve ever been,” he said. “I’m confident in what I can do and my abilities. I’m excited, more than anything, to see where I land and what the future holds. I’m excited to get the season rolling.”
“I’m happy for him and I’m excited for him to go to the next chapter of his life,” Michelle Edwards said. “I would love for him to have another year. For my husband, he wishes Bryan could stay forever.”
“He has worked extremely hard this summer and attacked the offseason,” Muschamp said. “I’ve seen a lot of guys who make a decision to come back and kind of cruise through the offseason. … That’s not the right mentality and that’s not what Bryan has done. Bryan is in really good shape. He told me he’s in the best shape he’s been in at South Carolina.
“I expect him to have a great year.”