When Bryan Edwards went to The Opening in July of 2015, there were questions.
Sure, he was Conway good, but was he GOOD good. Edwards was considered a four-star prospect by most of the major recruiting services, but it was a shaky ranking when he arrived in Oregon for Nike’s annual prep showcase, the premier high school summer camp in the country, said Chad Simmons, a national recruiting analyst for Scout.com.
“There was talk: Is he fast enough? What’s he going to run in the 40? What kind of separation skills does he have against top corners?” Simmons said.
It didn’t take long for Edwards to quiet the queries.
“He really gained the trust of the quarterbacks in a couple days as a guy they could throw the ball up to in traffic and he would make a play on it,” Simmons said. “The thing that stuck out to me the most there was how he just continued to get open and bring the ball in. He caught everything within reach. He showed he can compete against the best in the country.”
Conway coach Chuck Jordan never had any doubt.
“My man can play,” Jordan said. “You put that in your pipe and smoke it. My man can play the game.”
Edwards will get that chance right away at South Carolina, where he’s a true freshman wide receiver who will be in the starting lineup when the Gamecocks open the season Thursday against Vanderbilt. There are plenty of first-year wide receivers who are being counted on to play this year for South Carolina because of the Gamecocks’ depleted depth chart at the position, but Jordan believes Edwards would be in the starting lineup even if it was packed with veterans.
“He’d be counted on anyway,” said Jordan, who watched Edwards catch 188 passes for 2,562 yards and 32 touchdowns in high school. “I guarantee you.”
Edwards, who first caught Jordan’s eye when he was in the seventh grade, played on Conway’s varsity team beginning in the ninth grade.
“It didn’t take real long to see it. The good ones, you don’t have to look real hard,” Jordan said. “He’s a complete package. I get a lot of athletes, but I don’t get a lot of athletes with his intelligence, his understanding of the game, his commitment to getting better every day.”
Edwards was one of the marquee commitments of Steve Spurrier’s final recruiting class at South Carolina, but he backed off that pledge following Spurrier’s sudden resignation, which allowed Clemson to get back in the recruiting picture. Edwards decided to stick with the Gamecocks and graduated from Conway early in order to participate in spring practice with South Carolina this year.
When he arrived, sophomore wide receiver Deebo Samuel wondered what all the fuss was about, saying Edwards looked “kind of sluggish.” The reason for that was the knee injury that ended Edwards’ high school career early and still was affecting him when he arrived at USC.
“I don’t know that he was 60-70 percent at the start of spring,” South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said. “You could see from practice one to practice 12 where he was a different person because he had more strength in his knee. It was all about the confidence he had in himself.”
In the spring game, Edwards caught two touchdown passes and “played outstanding,” Muschamp said. By that time, Samuel’s opinion had made a 180-degree turn.
“I have been very impressed with him,” Samuel said.
Edwards hasn’t spoken to the media since his arrival on campus because of Muschamp’s policy of making freshman players off limits for interviews. In his few camp conversations with his former coach, Edwards has been “really locked in,” Jordan said.
Edwards arrived at South Carolina at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, and he’s gotten bigger since, Muschamp said.
“He is a guy that has changed his body since he’s been here,” he said. “He’s bought into the weight room and understands the importance of that. Sometimes receivers don’t think that’s important. It’s extremely important. You look at him in a uniform in spring ball and now and it’s a different looking guy.”
After his slow start, Edwards is getting the veteran’s treatment from the coaching staff. When he suffered a minor hamstring strain during camp, Muschamp held him out for several days out of an abundance of caution.
“We couldn’t lose Bryan,” he said.
Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper has made two posts to his Twitter account in the past 50 days. One is a photo of his son. The other is a short video of a spectacular leaping catch made by Edwards during a practice session.
“Bryan is going to be a tremendous player at South Carolina,” Muschamp said. “He’s done nothing but improve since he’s been here. He’s a wonderful young man. I can’t say enough good things about him.”
Jordan could have told him that.
The air up there
Bryan Edwards arrived at USC at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, and he’s gotten bigger, says coach Will Muschamp. A look at some of USC’s best big receivers:
First in career receiving yards with 3,042
First with 13 TD receptions in a season
First with 21.2 yards per catch in season
Averaged 16.2 yards per catch in career