Meridian Star

Sports

January 8, 2014

TSOUKALAS: Edwards fights on

Newton County head football coach Jackie Williamson wasn’t sure what he was thinking the first time he put freshman quarterback Jacob Edwards under center. Actually, that’s incorrect. He thought the game would probably be too fast for the ninth grader, the defense would force him into mistakes and that ultimately the pressure would be too much.

    What he didn’t expect was Edwards to go 7-for-7 on his first drive, leading the Cougars down the field like a four-year starter.

    “We knew right then that he was totally different,” Williamson said. “After that, we just let him be him, and we turned him loose.”

    Starting as a freshman, Edwards tallied 10 passing touchdowns that year leading the Cougars to a 5-5 season. He threw for 11 more last year before a sprained ankle put an end to his season and the Cougars playoff chances for that matter.

    Edwards ankle hurt, but watching his team finish on the wrong end of a three-way tie for the final playoff spot in District 5-4A hurt worse.

    The two-sport athlete soon fixated his attention to baseball, where he led the South State champion Cougars last season with a .405 batting average while starting at shortstop. Oh yeah, he pitched a little too, serving as the team’s third starter while compiling a 5-3 record and a 3.47 earned run average over 36.1 innings.  Not bad... for a freshman.

    Even with the injury, Edwards was seen as a an immortal in his hometown of Decatur. The 6-1, 160-pound quarterback looks every bit of the blond Hollywood hero you would expect him to be. He was the wonderkid people talked about in the stands, the savior destined to finally lead the Cougars to the promised land.

    An injured ankle couldn’t stop him, not for long at least — nothing could.

     Edwards still remembers the night he woke up in searing pain, clutching his lower left calf as if it had just been shot. The night was Dec. 13, and pain was nothing new. He had been complaining for weeks about a sore lower calf but figured it was just a product of being out of shape while working out.

    This, however, was different.

    “I woke up and it felt like somebody stabbed me in the back of the leg with a knife,” Edwards said. “I showed my dad, and he said ‘son you probably have a blood clot.’”

    Hours later in the hospital, doctors informed Edwards he not only had two blood clots in his lower left leg, but also one in his right lung. The clots were a product of a condition known as Protein S deficiency — a disorder in which his body is missing the necessary protein needed to keep blood flow running regularly.

    As a result, he will now have to be on blood thinners the rest of his life. Edwards will recover, his promising football career will not.

    “It was total shock,” Edwards said. “It kind of broke my heart. I’ve always looked up to my brother (Cory). He was a quarterback and wore the number 14. I always just wanted to be like him.”

    Jacob and his mother Tammie spent the entire night talking things out. They talked and cried and prayed — there was a lot praying. After all, what more can you tell a kid who just lost his dream at the age of 16?

    While football is out of the question, Edwards is determined not to let his condition end his sporting career altogether. The talks and prayers have now shifted to the baseball diamond where he is determined to return to Cougars this spring. Completely undeterred from recent events, Edwards will tell you he’s excited for the upcoming season, even stating that the time away from football should help him focus more on his baseball skills.

    Monday afternoon, he was given an extra reassurance as he received a call from Ole Miss baseball coaches, wishing him good luck and telling him they’d be out to watch him play later this season.

    Tuesday was Edward’s first day back at Newton County after being released from the hospital. Despite the enormous support shown by his classmates and fellow Cougar teammates, he still admits it’s hard to answer when people ask him if he is really done with football. His response will almost undoubtably remain yes, although he said he wants to make sure people know he will never stop being a Cougar.

    Keep that attitude and that drive, Jacob, and you’ll never stop being a winner either.

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