Emoryie Edwards had made it into the rotation. Finally, the Fresno State wideout was in play after a broken foot and a surgery ended his first season before it could even start, after a tantalizing spring practice and then another break in the same foot.
It had taken more than a year, but he had a spot on the travel roster with the Bulldogs headed to New Mexico State.
His Bulldogs’ debut was days away.
And, quite suddenly, nothing really was working.
On the practice field, Edwards had a difficult time remembering the plays. He couldn’t catch a pass. He was nervous, he said, particularly toward the end of the week.
“There was a lot of over-thinking,” he said. “I over-thought it so much I forgot how to catch a football.”
“Totally not like him, at all,” coach Jeff Tedford said.
But in a 30-17 Sept. 28 victory at New Mexico State, Edwards was targeted nine times by quarterback Jorge Reyna. Edwards caught eight passes for 70 yards and five of those receptions went for a first down including a 17-yarder on a third-and-12 play in the fourth quarter.
It was the most targets and receptions for a Fresno State wideout this season.
It also is just part of the story with Edwards, the former Tulare Union High standout who the Bulldogs hope will take off with Mountain West Conference play starting on Saturday at Air Force.
The long road back
Just a few months ago, he was facing the prospect of surgery to repair a foot injury. If he went under the knife, it would end his season before it even began, and be the second surgery in as many years for Edwards.
The most recent injury came while getting in some extra work with teammates. Edwards made a cut on a simple out route, heard a pop and said he thought, “No way …”
“It was the first five minutes, just warming up,” Edwards said. “I caught the ball and I was jogging, like, ‘Man, I know that’s not what I think it is …’ It wasn’t a lot of pain, but it was a subtle pain and the more pressure I put on it I’m like, ‘This hurts,’ so I had to go sit down. I thought, ‘Please, don’t let this be …’“
It was, though, the same foot he had injured a year earlier, the same injury. It wasn’t the same exact break, but it was in the same area.
Edwards wore a walking boot on his foot, giving it a chance to heal. After one month a CAT-scan showed it wasn’t healing. It was, he said, getting worse.
“They told me I was going to need surgery again and I was going to miss this season, too, and just hearing those words hurt me,” Edwards said.
Options were discussed at length; Edwards and his family, Tedford and the Bulldogs coaches, the doctors and trainers.
“It was a lot of mixed emotions,” he said. “I knew what I wanted to do. What I wanted to do from the get-go was play, regardless if it was broke or not.
“But just thinking about how that could affect me in the future, how that would affect my body. There were a lot of things I had to take into consideration.”
Edwards: ‘This is what you do …’
The thing was, Edwards wasn’t in a lot of pain. He felt good. He passed the physical tests they gave him – he could stand on his toes, walk on his toes. When doctors pushed and prodded at the foot, there was no discomfort.
“Physically, I felt like I could do things I couldn’t do a month earlier, so I just continued my rehab the way I would have if I was healthy,” he said. “I just kind of built a tolerance for it and that’s how I worked my way back.
“I had to do a lot of rehab, a lot of early mornings; 5 o’clock in the morning before practice, later on in the day after school. Whenever I could, I tried to get in the treatment room and do as much as I could to get back out here.”
In fall camp Edwards started to do some light running with team medical personnel; straight ahead, half speed. He stayed engaged in the meeting room, and on the practice field.
“Taking mental reps is really big in our program, so when we were on the field he had a script with him – ‘Hey, what’s the play? What’s the split? What’s the route? What kind of adjustments do we have within this play?’” receivers coach Kirby Moore said.
“Then in the meetings, he’s taking a ton of notes, asking a ton of questions, even when he wasn’t repping it on the field.”
When able, Edwards increased his workload on the field and in the weight room. He started to do individual drills in practice with the receivers group, then got into team periods.
“It wasn’t a difficult process in the sense that it was hard to get the kid to work,” strength and conditioning coach Andy Ward said. “Emoryie works. He grinds. He loves working.
“In the weight room, he’s always asking what more he can do. Throughout the process, he was dominating each step. If the goal today is linear speed, he said, ‘OK, great,’ and he’s crushing it. If the goal is change of direction, he’s attacking it.”
‘Very tough, physical’ wideout
As Edwards progressed, the upside was as obvious as he had made it in the spring when he had come back from his first injury. He brings a physicality to the position group, aggressively hunts the football in the air.
“I think he’s just very tough, physical,” Moore said. “He has strong hands, strong runner. That’s definitely a little bit of a different dynamic. He’s built, can really run after the catch and make tough catches in traffic.”
“He does a really good job,” Tedford said. “It’s nice to see him finally healthy. It seems like since he has been here he’s been in a boot or something.”
Come game week, the Bulldogs staff was not concerned by the hiccups on the practice field. “He was fine,” Tedford said. “You knew he would bounce back in the game.”
But Edwards still was not quite there, until Saturday.
“Talking to my mom and talking to my friends and my family, they just said, ‘Man, you just need to relax. You’ve been doing this for a long time … ‘” Edwards said. “My mom told me to close my eyes and just think about where I am now versus where I used to be when I was younger and wishing I was here.
“It was a relaxation thing. I watched some old film from high school … just thought, ‘This is what you do, you know? This is what you’re about.’”