USC Gamecocks Football

A second chance at finishing: Why an entire SC community is rooting for Bryan Edwards

Claudine Schofield’s official title at Conway High School is community liaison and at-risk coordinator. For short, though, you can call her Mom, Auntie or Scho. She’s the smiling presence of these hallways, a friendly face who seems like she hasn’t met a stranger in 25 years in education.

A break in her morning allowed Schofield to play tour guide in late August. She made one phone call, knocked on the doors to three classrooms and stopped the principal to help a reporter go through a time machine.

It was 2006 and Homer Schofield was coaching a local flag football team that featured a talented receiver.

“He was a very polite and mild-mannered young man,” Homer Schofield said, his words coming through the speaker phone in Claudine’s office. “His favorite phrase to me was, ‘Throw me the ball.’”

It was 2012 and Carlton Terry, then offensive coordinator at Conway High School, was watching the Tigers’ future on a middle school field.

“Every time he touched the field, he did something special,” Terry said while Rick James’ “Super Freak” played quietly from his computer. “Other than his size, his ability really stood out as a man among boys at that time. So we felt like he would be special when he hit high school.”

It was August 2015, Conway was coming off a 2-9 year and Tigers wide receivers coach Steve Parsley was looking for a sign of change in a preseason game.

“First play, it was a punt return and my man took that punt return to the house,” Parsley said while Schofield briefly took over his math class. “He made two, three cuts down the sideline and I said, ‘That’s it right there. Bryan is the truth.’

“He sparked our season.”

It was present day and Yaminah Jordan paused her English class to greet Schofield — and sum up a few hours of reporting.

“When you say Bryan around here, people’s hearts are going to fill up a little bit because they want to tell you something and they want to tell you what their contact has been with Bryan,” Jordan said. “That’s why we all root for him and that’s why we’re all so proud of him.

“I never even taught the kid, but he walked these halls as a stand-up kid. We’re very, very proud.”

Bryan Edwards is five games into his senior season at South Carolina. In a perfect world, he ends it an SEC champion, as the school’s all-time leading receiver and he ends it healthy.

A trip to Edwards’ hometown reveals that Conway’s people don’t have to think hard to relive their best times with one of their favorite sons. Edwards is still talked about like he never left, like his respectful self still succeeds in class during the days and his athletic self still dominates on Friday nights.

“The only problem we ever had with Bryan,” said former Conway coach Chuck Jordan, “was as a senior going into the playoffs, he hurt his knee.”

What is Edwards looking for in his final games as a Gamecock? Why did he put the NFL on hold for a year? Perhaps it’s the chance to finally complete a career his way.

“It’s still in the back of my mind,” Edwards said. “So obviously I’m going to go out here and I’m going to try and be real aggressive in closing out those goals I have.”

‘Minor setback for a major comeback’

The mood changes a bit when the Bryan Edwards Time Machine is rolled back to Oct. 23, 2015.

Conway was 7-1 and ranked among Class AAAA’s top 10 when it visited South Florence. State title aspirations were real for the Tigers, mostly due to having the best player on the field each week.

“Bryan’s biggest attribute other than just being so good was that people had to start double-teaming him because he would just take over football games,” said Peyton Derrick, Conway’s quarterback at the time. “Our goal was always to get Bryan as many touches as possible.”

Such a strategy came with constant adjustment. Defenses would always focus on Edwards, so what would Conway do to throw off opponents? How could the Tigers diversify Edwards’ role to ensure their top play-maker kept his reputation?

Parsley won’t soon forget a particular tweak he made before the South Florence game.

“I believe Bryan is an inside receiver because I like big, physical receivers and I had him inside the whole entire time,” Parsley said. “And it’s like I made a decision. I asked him, ‘Bryan, you want to play some outside?‘

Yes, sir.’

“And he went and played outside.”

That’s the position Edwards started from when he tore his meniscus. The in-game injury came without contact.

“It was a freak thing,” Terry said. “We were lined up 2 by 2 and Bryan took off to go into a route and he just falls down. Of course we panicked. Our best player has gone down. We were hoping for the best, but kind of preparing for the worst.”

A decorated career didn’t get its proper ending. After 188 catches, 2,562 yards and 32 touchdowns in a Conway uniform — some numbers just short of passing Junior Hemingway in the school record books — he couldn’t help the Tigers in their push for a championship in his final year. They lost in the first round of the playoffs on a night when Edwards was honored at halftime with his U.S. All-American Bowl jersey. He was on crutches.

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Conway’s Bryan Edward’s gets inducted into the U.S. Army All-American Bowl prior to the playoff game against Westwood. Conway lost 34-13 to Westwood in the first round of the Class AAAA, Division I playoffs Friday night. Nov. 20, 2015. JASON LEE

“That season will always replay in my mind because it happened in Game 9,” Parsley said. “And we were on a roll because it was, ‘When in doubt, just throw it to Bryan.’ Bryan might be triple-covered and Peyton would find him and needle it in there, touchdown.

“So that was the one season that’s always going to replay in my mind. What could have happened if Bryan would have been healthy?”

The question still lingers for Edwards, too. The kid who was offered major college scholarships at 13 — and originally committed to USC at 16 — feels he left high school missing something.

“It was real tough for me,” Edwards said. “I was approaching some records, some Conway High School all-time receiving records and I didn’t get a chance to finish that because of a knee injury.

“I don’t know (if Conway would have won a state championship), but I feel like we would have definitely contended. We had a great team that year and we definitely left a lot on the table.”

Schofield was Conway’s career specialist when Edwards was there. She’s since changed titles and offices. The first decoration she put up in her new place was a laminated newspaper article from August 2015. The Sun News headline: “With key players back, Tigers eye winning ways.” The photo: Edwards.

Schofield calls Edwards a “bonus son,” a nod to their tight relationship that goes back to when Lance, her actual son, played flag football with Edwards.

When Edwards couldn’t play football anymore for Conway, Schofield noticed a naturally reserved teenager grow more muted.

“He was real quiet during that time,” Schofield said. “And men tend to internalize a lot, so he was a little more quiet than normal. Because getting hurt sucked. I told him, ‘Man, listen you’re going to be great. I’m excited about your future. Minor setback for a major comeback. You gotta know the comeback’s going to be real.’

“And he’d say, ‘Yes ma’am. Yes ma’am.’”

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Wide receiver Bryan Edwards is interviewed during the University of South Carolina Media Day. Jeff Blake

Sights set on happy ending

Edwards re-committed to South Carolina after Will Muschamp replaced Steve Spurrier as head coach. He was back on the field for USC’s 2016 opener, catching a game-best eight passes for 101 yards as the Gamecocks won at Vanderbilt.

He’s missed one game in three-plus college seasons, a fact that’s allowed him to climb Carolina’s record books. With at least seven opportunities remaining, Edwards is within reach of becoming USC’s all-time leader in receptions (needs 18 more), yards (needs 466 more) and touchdowns (needs five more).

Edwards’ pursuit of these milestones officially continued Jan. 8 when he announced he’d be returning for his senior season. (CBS had projected him as a top-90 prospect for the 2019 draft.)

“My reason for coming back was I felt like I left a lot on the table,” Edwards said. “And I feel like the best version of me wasn’t out there last year and I feel like that’s what I’m going to put out there this year.”

He then playfully told a reporter to “buy a ticket” when asked what the best version of Bryan Edwards looks like. In Conway, though, such a purchase isn’t necessary. They know how to spot peak Edwards. They saw it in 2015.

Four years later, they’re seeking the happy ending one of their favorite sons deserves.

“That senior year probably did replay in his mind,” Parsley said, “just to come back and close the door on his high school-college career. To me, it felt like it was unfair that he didn’t get the things like finishing as Conway High School’s top receiver and closing the door and moving on to Carolina.

“Now, he’s being able to close the door. And at the end, hopefully the world is his.”

Andrew Ramspacher has been covering college athletics since 2010, serving as The State’s USC men’s basketball beat writer since October 2017. His work has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors, Virginia Press Association and West Virginia Press Association. At a program-listed 5-foot-10, he’s always been destined to write about the game. Not play it.
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