Southern vs Alcorn

Southern RB Herb Edwards expresses his frustration with a blown play during their game with Alcorn in Lorman, Ms., on Saturday.

Rick Guy

It wasn’t so much the presure that got to Herb Edwards as it was the combination of just about everything.

There was, of course, the suffocating expectations of finally getting his chance after patiently waiting his turn behind former Southern running back Lenard Tillery, also known as the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s all-time leading rusher. Before that, he backed up current Jacksonville Jaguar Leonard Fournette in high school.

Then it was a nagging hamstring injury during what would be his final season.

Then the offensive line still had to get comfortable with each other.

It didn’t help that all of this was happening while Southern went through a stretch of the schedule against a tough Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference opener, two FBS games and one of the stronger programs in the SWAC to begin the season.

But possibly the most devastating of all was the mental hump of not playing well.

“It was a mix of everything,” Edwards said. “School, outside, my last year (at Southern) coming down on me, I got nervous for the season and I wasn’t getting the reps I wanted or thought I deserved.

Edwards talked to his teammates and coaches to see what he could change or do better to break his slump.

Quarterback Austin Howard and several members of the offensive line supported him as much as they could.

They told him his time would come eventually and he needed to be ready for when it did.

That’s when the solution to all of his problems suddenly dawned on him.

If thinking about himself wasn’t working, it’s time to stop thinking about himself.

“My team didn’t give up on me,” Edwards said. “I just kept balling and playing for those guys. I took myself out of the equation, took my feelings out of the equation and put theirs on the table for me. I knew if I don’t perform the way those guys need me to, what happens to the offense then?”

Since he changed his entire mindset, Edwards has run for 418 yards and three touchdowns in three games. His 157 rushing yards against Jackson State this past Saturday broke the career high of 141 yards he set two weeks earlier against Fort Valley State.

Compare that to the 114 yards and no touchdowns he produced in the three games he played prior to that — he did not play against UTSA — and the difference becomes obvious.

Coach Dawson Odums downplayed the change in Edwards’ mindset, saying the biggest factor in his surge is playing more even competition with the start of the conference schedule.

But Odums did say he was happy for his running back, if only because he won’t have to replace him.

Backup Devon Benn returned to practice this week from a knee injury, but Odums confirmed that Edwards would still be the starter moving forward.

“Around here, if you don’t do what you’re supposed to, somebody else is going to play,” Odums said. “It’s that simple. Whether you’re a senior, a freshman, it doesn’t matter to me. We have an expectation, and if you don’t meet that expectation, we move on to the next guy.”

Offensive coordinator Chennis Berry sees Edwards’ increased production as it relates to the improvement on the offensive line — a claim Edwards readily agreed with.

The Jaguars lost a lot of experience in the trenches last season and it took some time to adjust to the new faces.

But more than anything, Berry sees what Edwards has been able to do the past few weeks as the just reward for a lifetime of patience.

“As a running back you have to be patient,” Berry said. “Whether it’s patience on your opportunity or patience setting up your block. And then just gelling. It’s not always about him. The O-line has to gel, as well, and they’re gelling at the right time.”

Follow Mike Gegenheimer on Twitter, @Mike_Gegs.