DURHAM — Two days after putting together the game of his life in Duke’s 38-20 win against N.C. State, Blue Devils cornerback DeVon Edwards sat beside Kenny Anunike on Monday in the “Sport as Performance” class they’re taking.
Instead of mentioning anything about his particular performance against the Wolfpack, Edwards just sat and ate a chicken wrap and French fries from McDonald’s.
“He’s quiet and attentive and listening to what the teacher has to say, as usual,” said Anunike, a senior defensive lineman. “It’s not like he took a day off or anything. His head still fit through the door.”
Even though he’s maintained his usual laid-back demeanor around teammates and classmates over the past couple of days, Edwards said he has played back Saturday’s game a number of times in his head.
After returning a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter, Edwards intercepted two passes for touchdowns in the fourth quarter, scoring 14 points in 26 seconds to spark the Blue Devils to their fifth consecutive win.
For his efforts, he was named the national defensive player of the week by the Walter Camp Football Foundation.
It was the kind of dynamic outing that few programs anticipated from Edwards when he was in high school.
As a sophomore at Alcovy High in Covington, Ga., Edwards had a strong enough season at running back to pique the interest of three schools – Duke, Maryland and Georgia Tech. He broke his collarbone, though, and had to sit out his junior year, making him all but invisible to recruiters.
For a time, Edwards wasn’t even sure he wanted to continue with football.
He had also broken his collarbone playing football in middle school, and according to his mother, Valarie, Edwards wondered if the second injury wasn’t a sign he should concentrate solely on basketball, a sport she said most people thought he played better.
As he considered distancing himself from football, Edwards found something kept pulling him back in.
It wasn’t just his mom, who said she always thought Edwards was better suited to the gridiron.
“In the spring of his junior year, we met in my office, and he just said, ‘Coach, I still love the game,’” Alcovy football coach Kirk Hoffman said.
With his enthusiasm for the game re-invigorated, Edwards rehabbed throughout the summer and put together a senior year that caught the attention of many smaller schools in the Southeast. The few FBS schools that hadn’t forgotten about him because of his collarbone injury were reticent about his size (Duke generally lists him as being 5-foot-9).
Hoffman, however, continued to send recruiting tapes out and one finally ended up in the hands of Duke’s coaching staff. Intrigued, they had Edwards take his official visit right before Thanksgiving two years ago.
Edwards called Hoffman on the drive back to Georgia from that visit and told him that he loved everything about Duke. When the Blue Devils offered him what turned out to be his only FBS scholarship offer shortly thereafter, Edwards wasted little time in committing.
He redshirted last season, trying to learn the craft of how to be a cornerback; he only played defense for one season in high school.
Before his freshman campaign began this year, Edwards said teammate and Blue Devils captain Ross Cockrell offered some advice.
“He always said, ‘Don’t ever wait for someone to hit you first,’” Edwards said. “‘You go make the play, you go attack the ball. You’ve got to go out and get stuff on this level – everybody’s on scholarship, nobody’s going to give you anything.’”
In Saturday’s game, N.C. State quarterback Brandon Mitchell actually violated Cockrell’s edict, essentially passing the ball right to Edwards for his first interception return for a touchdown.
Edwards’ second pick-six showed how he’s developed as a cornerback: He hung back in the middle of the field, read quarterback Pete Thomas’ body language and let his nascent instincts take over.
“I wasn’t scared to go out and do something,” Edwards said. “It gives me a lot of confidence playing defense now. I’m getting more comfortable and starting to take chances.”
Even if he’s getting more confident on the field, those who know him best say Edwards won’t allow that to affect his persona away from football.
“Here’s the thing about DeVon,” Hoffman said. “In high school, he had two kickoff returns for touchdowns. After the second one, he sits on the bench and doesn’t say anything – he’s getting some water because he knows he’ll have to go right back out and play defense.
“He’s a class act. He’s not interested in drawing attention to himself.”