Mario Edwards puts Denton Ryan in spotlight

DENTON, Texas -- Being a Texas state football finalist like Denton Ryan might raise a few eyebrows on a national level.

But the Raiders also have another reason for the extra attention they're getting as the 2011 season kicks off. They have the ESPNU 150 top recruit in the nation: Mario Edwards Jr.

The 6-foot-4, 270 pound defensive end, and son of the former Dallas Cowboy, is looking forward to a successful college career on the national stage at Florida State. He'll get an early taste of the bright lights in the first game of his senior season against Sulphur Springs, which will be broadcast on ESPN and ESPN3.com at 6 p.m. CT Saturday from Denton's C.H. Collins Athletic Complex.

After the hype that surrounded his school selection and then being placed on top of the national recruiting list, Edwards is more than ready to get his senior season started.

“I can actually sit back and focus on my last year in high school and my grades,” Edwards said. “I can enjoy my senior year.”

But it won't be all fun and games for Edwards, because he said being the top recruit in the nation comes with the responsibility of having a target on his back.

“I’ve got to perform,” he said.

Ryan coach Joey Florence said the team will rely heavily on Edwards, the only returning starter on the defensive line, on the field and in the locker room.

“If we’re going to win, we know we’re going to have to have to play great defense,” Florence said. “He’s going to have to do like he did last year – play great – but also he’s going to have to lead and maybe even be a vocal leader this year. I hope he comes back and plays like last year.”

Saturday begins Edwards' challenge of trying to top a 2010 season that included 12 sacks, 23 tackles for loss and 70 tackles. It also begins Ryan’s quest to take that final step after losing to Lake Travis in the 4A Division I state final.

Florence stressed that none of this, even the national spotlight of ESPN, is a talking point in the Ryan field house. It’s all about protecting tradition.

“Our kids understand the tradition we have here comes with tremendous responsibility, and that’s to live up to that tradition,” Florence said.