Butler’s Edwards takes pride in hard-charging style, nickname
As a Mint Hill Middle School football player, Jahwan Edwards had his share of gridiron role models.
Just up the road, there was a pretty good one in bullish Butler High School star Ryan Houston, who became one of the most prolific running backs in Mecklenburg County history before heading to the University of North Carolina.
“I knew I wanted to fill his spot one day,” Edwards, now a Butler senior said of Houston.
On a national level, Edwards idolized former Pittsburgh Steelers power back Jerome Bettis, nicknamed “The Bus” because of his propensity for running over helpless defenders.
“When he retired,” Edwards said, “I just tried to be the second Bus.”
To a large extent, Edwards has become that kind of running back in the local high school ranks. For the past two seasons, Edwards has established the county’s unofficial record for “pancake” runs by a ball carrier. Sometimes, he pushes defenders out of the way. Other times, he simply lowers his head and shoulders and steps through them.
And like his NFL hero Bettis, the 5-foot-10, 225-pound Edwards has his own moniker.
“My nickname is ‘Quake,’” he said proudly, flashing a wide, toothpaste-commercial-white grin.
“I will quake you on the field, whether I’m on offense or defense.”
During the regular season, Edwards rushed for 1,006 yards on 150 carries – an average of 6.71 yards per attempt – with 18 touchdowns. But he hasn’t just bullied his way around the field. He also has been a threat in the passing game while occasionally lining up wide, hauling in 13 catches for 221 yards and four more touchdowns.
Edwards is one of the biggest reasons the Bulldogs have continued to roll since losing star running back Deion Walker nearly a month ago after Walker was involved in an automobile crash that killed a motorcycle rider. Walker, one of the top players in the state, decided to leave the team while the case is pending. That prompted some people to wonder if the Bulldogs’ rushing game would stall.
Edwards has made certain that wasn’t the case, handling the bulk of the carries since Walker’s departure. In the regular-season finale against Independence, he put on a masterful performance, rushing for 131 yards and five touchdowns and adding a 14-yard reception for another score. Edwards has been key to the Bulldogs’ first three playoff victories – over East Forsyth on Nov. 12, Greensboro Page on Nov. 19 and Richmond Senior on Nov. 26.
“He’s taken a lot of pride in making sure that he carries the load,” Butler coach Mike Newsome said. “He’s done a great job with that, and he’ll continue to do it the rest of the season.”
Edwards said he’s been focused on improving in recent weeks.
“With Deion being gone, I just feel like I have to get my yards and his yards,” he said. “I’m (one of) the only seniors on the (offense), so if that’s what I have to do for my team, then that’s what I’m going to do for my team.
“I’ll go whatever way I have to. Defenders don’t think I have good feet. They just break down, and I’m able to juke them, or I’ll break them down and run them over. Or you might think I’m coming to you, and I’ll cut it back. You never know what I’m going to do.”
A special bond
Edwards might be known as a punisher on the field, but his off-the-field persona is drastically different; the loquacious senior is just as popular around the Butler campus for his comedic wit. If there’s laughter in the Butler locker room, chances are it originated at Edwards’ stall.
Edwards’ mother, Consulla, belts out her own hearty laugh when asked about her son’s ability to lighten the mood.
“He gets that from me, I guess,” she said. “He always tries to make the best out of anything. Around our house, it’s 100,000 laughs a minute. We’ll take anything and make it funny.”
Take one of Edwards’ first youth football games, for instance.
As the 5-year-old was running with the football in one direction, Consulla, who was sitting on the sidelines, began yelling, “No, go that way! Go that way!” In the mid-step, with defenders barreling down on him, Edwards stopped, looked over at his mother and said, “Ma, I can’t go that way! What do you want me to do?”
Seconds later – splat! – he got tackled for a loss.
“The coach told me, ‘You can’t be on the sidelines anymore,’” Consulla recalled as she chuckled. “I just learned to watch after that.”
Edwards always has shared a special relationship with his mother. Since the day he was born, Consulla said, she knew he was going to be special.
“He weighed 13 pounds when he came out,” she said. “From the start, he was wearing 18-month-old clothes – he skipped right over newborn and 6 months.”
She also gave him a nickname of her own.
“Since he was 6 months old, I’ve called him ‘Man-Man,’” she said. “He just looked like a man. He had a man’s head and a man’s features, so it just made sense.”
But when he first started playing football, he often had the ferocity of a teddy bear. Because of his size and talent, Consulla told him he had to be more tenacious.
“He was so big, he didn’t want to hurt anybody,” she said. “I told him, ‘When you’re running with the football and people try to tackle you, you’ve just got to take them with you.’ He started doing that, too, and he was unstoppable.
“In middle school, I told him I would give him $10 for every touchdown he scored. Then he started scoring a bunch of touchdowns, and it got expensive!”
Keep on moving
Since Edwards has been at Butler, no one’s had to encourage him to run harder. He bench presses 335 pounds and squats 500, and he’s trying to live up to Quake status on every carry. And while he hasn’t earned the litany of scholarships Houston did as a senior – N.C. Central is his only offer so far – he’s drawn favorable comparisons with the ex-Bulldogs star.
“Jahwan’s not quite as big as Ryan, and he doesn’t quite have the wiggle Ryan does,” Newsome, the Butler coach, said. “But I tell you: He runs the ball harder than Ryan did, and that’s a tribute to (Edwards). He doesn’t have quite the offensive line that Ryan had, either, so he’s having to do a little more himself. But he’s a tough guy, and he carries the load real well for us.”
Edwards said he feels a responsibility to be better at this point of the season – for the team and for his pal, Walker.
“I had to step up,” Edwards said. “Not many people know I was in that situation with him … I was in the car. That’s just brought us closer. I talk to him every day. He tells me to go hard, and I’m going to go out there for me and him. That’s my thing. I’m playing for (Walker’s old jersey) No. 6 and No. 32.”
Edwards even pays tribute to Walker on his cleats, where he’s written his old teammate’s nickname and jersey number. It reads: “Bird No. 6”
On Friday, Dec. 3, when the Bulldogs host Vance, Edwards plans to take things a step further.
“I will be wearing No. 6 next week,” Edwards said. “I’m getting more carries because of Deion Walker not being here helping me out. He’s been here for me, and I’ve been here for him.”
He’s excited about the Vance game. And although he wishes Walker was by his side in the backfield, Edwards feels he’s more than capable of helping his team to victory, especially if the game is close in the late stages.
“If I run hard in the first two quarters, by the third quarter, people don’t want to tackle me – they just don’t,” he said. “I’ll drag four or five players. They usually just start going for the strip, and I keep moving.
“I’ll do whatever it takes.”