College Sports

Former walk-on now carries Eagles on shoulders

CHENEY - An obscure philosopher - possibly New York Yankees Hall of Fame pitcher Lefty Gomez, but the history books are a little hazy - maintained it was better to be lucky than good.

Nicholas Edwards and the Eastern Washington University football team are taking no chances. They’ve decided it is best to be both, with a dash of clutch thrown in for good measure.

Edwards, a sophomore receiver out of Foss High School, played a major role in leading Eastern to the national championship game of the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly NCAA Division I-AA).

Edwards, relatively quiet during the 11-game regular season (31 catches for 337 yards and two touchdowns), has led the Eagles in three playoff games with 20 receptions for 203 yards and four touchdowns.

Edwards tied a career high with eight catches in Eastern’s playoff opener; set up the game-tying extra-point kick by hauling in a touchdown pass with 23 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter of an overtime quarterfinal win; then posted career highs of nine catches and 82 receiving yards (with two touchdowns) in last week’s semifinal.

“He’s just coming into his own,” quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell said. “He really knows what he’s doing out there.

“He’s definitely the hardest worker on our entire offense. It’s a simple fact.

“He works harder than I do. It’s hard to say as a quarterback, but he does.”

Edwards is big (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) and fast (4.57 seconds on grass in the 40-yard dash), but he received no football scholarship offers after starring on weak teams at Foss. He was headed to Santa Rosa (Calif.) Junior College on a financial-aid package when Eastern made him a last-minute walk-on offer.

After redshirting his first season, Edwards started last season on a team with three returning three-year starters. Just like this season, he saved his best work for last, recording season highs for catches (five) and receiving yards (73) in Eastern’s first-round playoff loss, one week after he posted all three of his 2009 touchdown catches in the game that catapulted the Eagles into the playoffs.

“He’s absolutely exceeded, obviously, any level that people thought he would be coming out of high school,” said Eastern coach Beau Baldwin, a former Curtis High quarterback. “That’s a credit to his work ethic.”

Edwards, an affable young man who recently became engaged to high school sweetheart Macca Diaz, said he has always prided himself on hard work.

He became even more determined, however, when he failed to land a scholarship as a freshman.

“I knew I was an elite receiver. I knew I should have earned a scholarship out of high school, but I didn’t,” said Edwards, who is now on scholarship. “It made me hungry to get a scholarship.”

Edwards credits his work ethic and unselfish attitude to parents Tanya and Norman and big brothers Norman Jr. and Robert. Edwards said he also benefited from offseason workouts with former Foss and Portland State running back standout Joe Rubin.

“He is always doing all the little things,” Baldwin said.

“One thing he does really well, he doesn’t complain,” Mitchell said. “You put him in any situation, he’s going to go out there and do it with a smile on his face.”

Mitchell said Edwards is the rare receiver who studies as much game tape as quarterbacks. A recreation management major, Edwards plans to become a high school football coach or work with youth in some other manner once his playing days are complete.

“I want to teach young people life lessons through sports,” Edwards said.

Mitchell said Edwards’ engagement is just one sign of the maturity the receiver shows on and off the field.

“He’s a big guy,” Mitchell noted, “so you’d think he’d be intimidating. But he’s nice. He’s cool he’s one of those guys, he can just walk up and talk to anybody.”

Edwards plans to have plenty to talk about after the top-ranked Eagles face fifth-ranked Delaware in the FCS title game Jan. 7 in Frisco, Texas (4:05 p.m., ESPN2). Both teams are 12-2.