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Edwards cutting down on his run time

Ex-USC football player Brad Edwards is the nation's 12th-ranked runner in the 200-meter dash in the 40-44 age group.
Ex-USC football player Brad Edwards is the nation's 12th-ranked runner in the 200-meter dash in the 40-44 age group.

Shortly after finishing the Charlotte half-marathon a few years ago, Brad Edwards had an epiphany: He had to find another event.

Edwards, a former South Carolina safety who played nine seasons in the NFL, wanted to continue running — just not so far.

"I'll never forget crossing the line and thinking, this cannot be good for you," Edwards said recently. "Hauling 200 pounds around for 12 to 26 miles just doesn't make a whole lot of sense."

So Edwards, who finished in less than four hours at Myrtle Beach in his only full marathon, gave up distance running and headed for the track, where he is starting over in a new sport more than 10 years after retiring from football.

In his first season of competitive racing, Edwards is ranked among the top 15 nationally in the 200-meter dash in the 40-44 age group. Edwards, 42, ran the 200 in 25.9 seconds at a June meet in Atlanta, the 12th-fastest time in his age group this year in USA Track's Masters (30-and-over) rankings.

Nice time for someone used to running 10 yards and barreling into NFL fullbacks.

"It's amazing to be 42 and finally learning how to run," said Edwards, who played for three NFL teams and started in the Redskins' Super Bowl victory against Buffalo in January 1992.

Edwards credits much of his development as a sprinter to USC track coach Curtis Frye, who coached at Douglas Byrd High in Fayetteville, N.C., when Edwards was a student in the early '80s.

Frye could not convince Edwards to give up baseball and run track in high school. Now, 25 years later, Frye finally has his man.

At an age when many of his peers are growing spare tires around their midsections, the 6-foot-2, 203-pound Edwards weighs the same as he did as a high school senior.

"The guy can work hard. And anytime you can work hard, you're going to have good results," Frye said. "Brad just needs more time at it. I'd say he's a top-20 percenter in his age group as far as people that are fast. That's what made him a great football player: He's always been fast."

Edwards, who played at USC from 1984-87, said he was accustomed to running with a wider base in order to more easily change directions in football.

Besides working on Edwards' technique, Frye laid out a race strategy for him to follow at his first meet in Atlanta.

Frye told Edwards not to expend all his energy in the first 100 meters — advice that Edwards forgot when the gun sounded.

"Technically, I've got a long way to go as far as learning how to run a race," he said. "You start to get a sense of why Frye's been one of the most successful track and field coaches. His expertise is unparalleled in the business."

Edwards is not the only NFL alumnus in the 40-and-over running set. Willie Gault, a former Tennessee star who won a Super Bowl with the Bears and was an elite hurdler, has not slowed. The 47-year-old Gault owns a couple of Masters world records.

"I'm not going to catch Willie Gault anytime soon," Edwards said. "But it's fun."

Though Edwards might never be in Gault's league, his goal is to crack the top 10 nationally. Frye, who helped convince Edwards to become a USC defensive back rather than a Florida State quarterback, is not betting against him.

"The guy's got discipline. He's here every day. You've got to tell him to stop working," Frye said. "He does it for his love for athletics. He's not getting paid. He's not on scholarship. He's already physically fit, so he's doing it out of the enjoyment of running."

Edwards, who spent seven years in USC's athletics department, works for a Greenville-based company that markets and sells luxury resort developments in the U.S. and the Caribbean.

With two sons at Dreher, Edwards has to balance their schedules and his work travel to squeeze in five workouts a week.

But he enjoys being on the run.

"The ability to stay mobile, to run and still be relatively quick, to me, that's so much of staying healthy and active in life," he said. "I don't have to run 40 to 50 miles a week. I can do three sprints and get as much work or more as I used to get out of running three hours."

Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.