Editor’s note: This begins a regular Thursday feature on DawgNation called “Throwback Thursday.” It offers the chance to revisit some classic recruiting stories of former UGA greats. The first installment is on talented tailback Robert Edwards from Washington County in Sandersville.
Robert Edwards was recruited to play football at UGA back in 1993. It might as well have been 1883.
That’s how much the recruiting game has changed in 22 years.
The Sandersville native is in the discussion of the program’s greatest backs since Mr. Walker. Edwards tied a UGA-record with five touchdowns in his running back debut in 1995. He had four scores in a 37-17 win that broke a long Jacksonville drought in 1997. He’s sitting at No. 13 all-time at UGA in career rushing yards.
Edwards went on to become a NFL first-round draft pick and made the Pro Bowl in his rookie season.
Yet he didn’t receive his first scholarship offer until after his senior season at Washington County. That was from Georgia Southern, but he didn’t like that fit. He wanted to be a receiver and that program has never been that place for that.
He played multiple positions for a stacked Washington County team that he said had around eight players who went on to the ACC or SEC. Edwards started at receiver and a linebacker and dabbled at quarterback. He was an emergency running back.
“There were a lot of guys at my high school who were way faster and better athletes than I was,” said Edwards, who’s now the head coach at Greene County. “But as far as football instincts I might have been one of the best. I knew the game. I could see plays happening and unfolding faster than other players.”
He told the AJC that some schools backed off him because he took the SAT late and those scores would not be back until after Signing Day. That’s why he’s advises his players to take the ACT and SAT as early as they possibly can.
Florida eventually was the first big-time program to dangle a scholarship. He was so lucky, he said.
“My first offer came when I was a senior and 18 years old,” he said. “I was a small town country boy and to be honest with you if we didn’t go to the state playoffs I probably wouldn’t have gotten any offers. I was able to play longer that season than a lot of people played. That’s a big reason why I got seen to get those offers.”
That was recruiting in 1993. No stars. No prospect camps. No VHS highlight tapes. No YouTube. No Twitter. Just competition.
“When the playoffs started and kept going a lot of the other teams had fallen off and when you keep playing you got to compete against better competition and more colleges come to watch,” he said. “You stood out by playing well against good completion to get on a coach’s radar.”
Steve Spurrier had his Evil Genius in full effect at that time. He dangled a scholarship.
“I wanted to go to Florida but the visit didn’t go well,” Edwards said. “I was a receiver and they were throwing the ball all over the place. I went down there on my official visit and I sat down in the office with Steve Spurrier and he tried to influence me to commit on the spot. My Dad didn’t appreciate that. I told him I wanted to go home and think about it. I said I needed 24 hours.”
Edwards said Spurrier told him if he left his office there was no guarantee the scholarship would be there tomorrow. His father really didn’t take that well either.
So they walked. That scholarship went poof. UGA came into the picture a week later. Ray Goff was the head coach at UGA at the time and saw Edwards in the state playoffs that year. This was no more than a month before National Signing Day.
When he committed to UGA about two weeks before Signing Day, his Florida offer reappeared. It was too late. UGA offered as an athlete and when Edwards reported to freshman camp he was playing working at both defensive back and receiver.
“Georgia was stacked at receiver back then so I wasn’t mad that they moved me to corner,” he said.
Edwards had a horrific knee injury at the Pro Bowl after his rookie season in NFL. It sapped his breakaway speed, but he still spent some time in the NFL. When he was released by the Patriots, he met up with Spurrier again.
He had left Florida to coach in the NFL with the Washington Redskins.
“I went there to work out for them after the Patriots had released me,” Edwards said. “Coach Spurrier pulled me into the office and said he regretted the way he handled my recruiting when I came to Florida.”
“For him to remember that really impressed me,” Edwards said. “This was in 2001when I was going to work out for teams. I graduated high school in 1993. It was almost 10 years from then and he remembered all that.”
Jeff Sentell covers UGA recruiting for AJC.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play Between the Hedges.