Commentary

Mario Edwards reversing field?

Nation's No. 1 prospect is leaning toward Oklahoma after taking in Red River rout

Originally Published: October 4, 2011
By Mitch Sherman | ESPN Recruiting

WICHITA FALLS, Texas -- Peer through the dust and across the windswept plains from atop Memorial Stadium, where Mario Edwards' Denton Ryan Raiders played Thursday night some 20 miles south of the Red River, and if you squint just right, yes, that might be Oklahoma on the horizon.

Less than 48 hours later, in fact, Edwards could nearly see it, too.

"Right now," he said after watching Oklahoma dismantle Texas 55-17 at the Cotton Bowl on Saturday, "OU seems like it's the team for me."

Mario Edwards
Mitch Sherman/ESPN.comMario Edwards is reconsidering his commitment to FSU, where his father played in the late 1990s.
The nation's No. 1-rated college prospect, Edwards, a 6-foot-4, 285-pound defensive end with hard-to-believe speed and agility for his size, is back on the market in recruiting. He committed in March to Florida State, the college home of his father, Mario Sr., a former NFL cornerback with Dallas and Tampa Bay.

Although Mario Jr. has not decommitted from the Seminoles -- his father reiterated this Sunday -- the pledge is tenuous. Edwards said he wants to escape the shadow of his dad and "start my own trend." He plans an official visit to Texas next weekend to watch the Longhorns play Oklahoma State followed by a trip to LSU in two weeks as Auburn visits Baton Rouge, La., and a Nov. 5 visit to Norman, Okla., for the Sooners' meeting with Texas A&M.

Florida State remains a consideration, but Edwards, who grew familiar with FSU while his dad played for the Seminoles from 1996 to 1999, has not scheduled another trip to Tallahassee.

All signs point away from Florida State. Edwards said he may wait until signing day, Feb. 1, to announce his choice.

"I felt like I jumped a little bit at FSU because that was the team I had seen the most," Edwards said.

Edwards' father agrees that the decision to commit in the spring came prematurely.

"Whether he made a bad decision, I don't know," Mario Sr. said, "but when he sat down and started thinking about it, he knew he made his decision a little early.

"I think it's smart for him to look around and see what else is out there."

And Dad won't push Mario Jr. in any direction.

"My loyalty isn't to FSU, OU, Texas," Mario Sr. said. "My loyalty is to Mario. And whatever situation is going to be best for him, that's what I'm for. I would like him to be close, of course, but ultimately the decision comes down to where he feels comfortable."

'Special gift'

Elements of Edwards' rise to prominence and evidence of his place among the elite were on display during the past three days beginning in Wichita Falls, northwest outpost of district 4-4A. That's where Denton Ryan, a bona fide Texas high school power, met Rider High School.

An hour before kickoff, the place oozed flavor. Young kids threw balls on the sideline, and the home stands filled as Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight" echoed through the stadium.

Ryan won 20-17 behind one of the state's best defensive units -- with Edwards in addition to linebackers Alex De La Torre, a Texas commitment, and Texas A&M pledge Jordan Richmond. The night finished with a fury capped by a last-second field goal to keep Ryan perfect on the season at 6-0.

It started with a bang, too, in part courtesy of Edwards. He caught Rider's 165-pound quarterback from behind for a loss on a draw play to end the first series. Next time out, Edwards chased down a 180-pound receiver on a misdirection play -- his 25th tackle for loss this year. He also has six sacks but went without one Thursday, as Rider funneled its running and passing games away from Edwards.

Smart, but it frustrates him.

"My coaches tell me to be patient, to be calm, and things are going to come around," Edwards said.

Late in the first half, with Ryan up 14-0, coach Joey Florence inserted his short-yardage package, with Richmond in the backfield and Edwards on the line. A few plays later, Edwards slid out to tight end. He flashed open and made an acrobatic catch, his first of the season, for 13 yards to set up a field goal.

Edwards learned his receiving skills when he played the position as a freshman and sophomore at Prosper High, a 3A school east of Denton, before his dad took a job on the Ryan staff to coach the secondary.

"He still thinks he's a skill guy," Florence said. "He thinks he's a receiver. And he could be. He could be a great tight end.

"He's got his dad's athleticism. It's rare. He's a special talent. Really, it's freakish. I've never seen a kid that big and athletic. I haven't seen anything like him in high school."

Edwards likes to run ladder drills in practice and cover receivers to stay sharp.

"It's a fantasy of all big men," Mario Sr. said. "They want to be skill guys."

The younger Edwards doesn't just want it; he lives it.

He played at 265 pounds as a junior and added 20 in the offseason but still ran 40-yard dash times of 4.57 and 4.63 seconds this past summer in testing drills at the high school.

It doesn't seem possible -- until you see him run in a game.

"People tell me it's a special gift," Edwards said, "and I guess it just hasn't sunk in."

Perfect fit

The elder Edwards raised Mario Jr. without his mother from the time he was 3 months old. At age 15, Mario Sr. took the kid aside. He told his son, if he worked hard and stayed out of trouble, he could rank as the top player in Texas a junior.

And as a senior?

"I told him he'd be the No. 1 player in the country, all positions," his father said.

Mario Jr. bought into it. Not long ago, Junior asked his dad how he knew what would happen.

"I told him I've been around the game, and I know special talent when I see it," Mario Sr. said.

It takes hard work, too. Friday afternoon at Ryan, after the team returned from Wichita Falls to Denton by bus at 1 a.m., Mario and his dad were the last two to leave the football complex.

They've fit in well at Ryan. It was a crapshoot two years ago when Mario Sr. decided he would aim for a teaching and coaching job. The elder Edwards had helped coach at Prosper, but the school had no full-time position for him. So he applied for a few jobs and connected with Florence.

Today, Mario Sr. calls it his best post-NFL decision -- and for Mario Jr., too.

"Mario Sr. came highly recommended," Florence said, "but I was skeptical."

He was skeptical, too, about Junior. Florence said he knew little about the younger Edwards until the kid lined up in a scrimmage for first time. He'd never seen a high school player tackle with such violence.

"I don't hire a coach based on whether he has a good kid," Florence said. "And I hadn't seen any film on him, so we were pleasantly surprised. Very pleasantly surprised."

[+] EnlargeMario Edwards at the Red River Rivalry
Mitch Sherman/ESPN.comMario Edwards took in the Red River Rivalry and said the OU defense took care of business.

Impressed with OU

Edwards, despite his dominance, works often on his pursuit angles and to improve his hands near the line of scrimmage.

On Saturday, he took a break from the regimen. As a guest of Texas -- the designated home team at the Cotton Bowl -- Edwards showed up early to enjoy the Texas State Fair with his dad, brothers Dalen and Gianni, two Ryan teammates and a couple of coaches.

Mario Jr. enjoyed a corn dog and his first Snickers bar. He liked it.

He liked the game, too. Amid a sea of burnt orange 11 rows up at the 30-yard line behind the Oklahoma bench, Edwards secretly rooted for the Sooners. After all, OU is his favorite team nowadays.

"Oklahoma did what I thought they would do," he said later on Saturday. "Their defense made plays."

The OU defense scored three touchdowns, a school record. Edwards clapped when the Sooners made a big play. As for Texas, he said, he's interested to see the Longhorns' response to Saturday.

He looks forward to the next month, visiting the campuses of his preferred schools. Clearly, he ranks as a primary recruiting target for Texas, which holds the No. 1 spot in the ESPNU team rankings for 2012 prospects, Oklahoma and LSU.

De La Torre, his Ryan teammate who committed to UT, said he won't try too hard to sway Edwards until the time is right.

"That's when I'll come in and do it," said De La Torre, who sat with Edwards at the Cotton Bowl for OU-Texas. "We want him because he's relentless, in every sense of the word. I'm just going to be like, 'Hey, it's Texas, this is where it's at.'"

After Saturday's events, Edwards isn't so sure. The more he sees of the Sooners, who are 5-0 and ranked third nationally, the more he likes them.

Six months ago, Edwards could not envision this situation. He thought he was set at Florida State.

Things change, though.

They may change again. No one in his life understands better than his father.

"This is going to be a big move for him," Mario Sr. said. "It'll affect his whole life. He needs to make sure it's right. I'm going to enjoy the ride with him all the way to the end."

Mitch Sherman is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at mshermanespn@gmail.com.

Follow Mitch Sherman on Twitter: @mitchsherman