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Monday, January 30, 2012
Edwards ties the knot with Noles

By Damon Sayles
ESPN RecruitingNation

DENTON, Texas -- At 8:10 a.m. CT, Mario Edwards Jr. met pen to paper. The Under Armour All-American signed his national letter of intent to Florida State. Edwards then did something that he felt he hadn't done in weeks.

He smiled.

It's hard to smile when you're stressed out, and Edwards -- like hundreds of other high-profile high school athletes -- went through a stressful recruiting process that included phone calls from recruiters at all hours of the night, repeated text messaging from random media representatives and messages from fans trying to sway him from Florida State by way of Facebook and Twitter.

Early Wednesday morning, Edwards' stress level came to a minimum. The nation's top-ranked player officially was a Seminole.

"I couldn't sleep. I woke up at 3 [a.m.], then 5," said Edwards, proudly wearing a black Florida State sweatshirt and a garnet Seminoles ball cap. "It's a big relief. I can finally enjoy my senior year of high school and prepare myself for the next level."

Following dad's footsteps
Edwards wore No. 17 at Ryan. Look for him to wear No. 15 in college. If the number rings a bell to Seminoles fans, it should. His father, Mario Sr., wore that number as a Seminole in the 1990s. Edwards went on to be a standout cornerback in the NFL, suiting up for the Cowboys (2000-03), the Buccaneers (2004) and the Dolphins (2005).

"That's going to be his number," said Edwards Sr., who also is the current cornerbacks coach at Ryan. "Like father, like son."

One of the reasons Edwards Jr. took a liking to Florida State was because he was around the environment as a child. His father had him young but took responsibility in raising him. For years, Edwards Jr. lived and breathed life as a Seminole.

Because of that alone, Edwards' recruiting process was one that Ryan head coach Joey Florence felt was Florida State's to lose.

"The process is always stressful for kids, and there wasn't a bad choice with him," Florence said, "but when it came down to it, I think he went with his gut instinct and followed his father's footsteps. I saw a lot of stress and anxiety in him and his father, but I honestly think he just went with his gut."

As for following his father's footsteps, Edwards Jr. only had one comment.

"It's big shoes to fill," he said, "but I like a challenge."

FSU vs. the others
Once it was time for Edwards to make a decision, Florida State always was the primary option. Other programs, however, had the chance to sway him but failed. He respected the Seminoles by acknowledging to all that he was still committed, but as a courtesy, he let outside suitors such as LSU, Texas and Oklahoma entertain him.

There were times when all three schools might have had an inside track, but Edwards said the family environment of Florida State -- in addition to the expectations head coach Jimbo Fisher has for the program and a super-talented 2012 recruiting class -- proved to be the deciding factors.

"Ultimately, it was my decision," Edwards said. "Talking to coaches and teammates, it seemed to be the best decision for me. I had choices to go all across the country, but what set [Florida State] apart were the coaches and players and how they interacted with each other."

This engagement walked down the aisle, and they were pronounced man and university.

-- Mario Edwards Sr.
Edwards Sr. added: "I think [the recruiting process] made him grow up a whole lot. He handled the situation the best he could. We were honest with schools the whole time, and a lot of the conversation was done by him. I think it made him grow and helped him take another step into manhood."

Edwards Sr. always had likened the recruiting process to a marriage. He called the process an engagement and mentioned that a lot of engagements fail to make it to the altar.

"This engagement walked down the aisle," Edwards Sr. said, "and they were pronounced man and university."

Edwards: Chapter two
Standing 6-foot-4 and nearly 300 pounds, Edwards isn't supposed to do the things he does on the football field. He's cat quick off the line of scrimmage. He's incredibly strong against opposing offensive linemen, and in passing situations, don't be surprised if he leaps to deflect a pass from the tallest quarterbacks.

It was these qualities and many more that made him such a wanted athlete. Edwards is now excited about playing with players of equal talent. Shortly after he was featured on television, Edwards found out that the nation's No. 1 defensive tackle -- and fellow Under Armour All-American -- Eddie Goldman (Washington, D.C./Collegiate) was going to sign with Florida State, as well.

"I'm excited," Edwards said. "I'm ready to get down there and put in work. I know that [defensive ends coach] D.J. Eliot will get the best out of me, and [head coach] Jimbo Fisher will get the best out of all of us."

The news of Goldman signing seemed to be icing on the cake for a player who breathed a major-league sigh of relief after signing his documents. He said he received multiple calls and text messages every day. It's enough to drive any 18-year-old insane.

"The overall experience is crazy," he said. "You have phone calls here and there. Facebook messages. Twitter. You're under a magnifying glass, and everything you do is magnified times 10 because of where you're at. At the same time, you've got to remember what got you there."

His father, who also took a deep breath, watched his son sign and smiled as any proud papa would. For him, the signing was the culmination of his son's growth as an elite high school athlete. It closed one chapter and opened another, and he has high expectations for his son on the college ranks.

"He gets to carry on a legacy and a tradition," Edwards Sr. said. "The way Florida State's recruiting, I see them as a dominant school all over again. It kind of reminds me of how it was when I was there.

"For me, being a dad is not easy, but moments like this definitely make it worth it."

Damon Sayles covers Midlands recruiting for ESPN Recruiting. He can be reached at dsaylesespn@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @DamonSayles