Originally created 08/01/96

Georgia backs new running back Robert Edwards



BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - His profile in the 1996 Georgia Media Guide claims he "will be one of the country's premier running backs this fall."

That's one bold statement, considering Robert Edwards had never played the position before Ray Goff moved him there for the final week of spring practice in 1995.

It becomes even more the intrepid prediction when factoring in that Edwards played in all of 1 1/2 games at scatback last season, and was a cornerback his first two years at Georgia and at Washington County High School before that.

"Things have changed tremendously for me," said the 6-foot-2, 208-pound junior at SEC Media Days Wednesday. "I've been getting so much attention media wise. Coming from a small town high school, that's something I'm really not used to."

If not for the season-ending injury against Tennessee in Georgia's second game last year, the 21-year-old might already be a household name and accustomed to life in the spotlight.

In the season opener against South Carolina, Edwards rushed for 169 yards and four touchdowns, and added a receiving TD in the Bulldogs' 42-23 win at Sanford Stadium. Against Tennessee, Edwards was seemingly about to burst onto the national scene before a national TV audience on ESPN, picking up 156 yards and two TDs on just 15 carries before fracturing his left foot.

Based on his brief but rousing success, Edwards will indeed be in the spotlight this year as Georgia tries to regain credibility in the SEC under new head coach Jim Donnan.

With that taste of stardom, and the adversity surrounding his injury, Edwards believes he is ready to live up to the hype.

"The injury opened my eyes," Edwards said. "It taught me that if you love something, you should cherish it. Sometimes, you don't realize how much you love the game until you can't play it."

Donnan agrees that the talented Edwards is poised to take the conference by storm, but adds he must first reestablish himself from the start.

"I have a lot of confidence in Robert, but he has to prove he can do it down after down over the course of an SEC season," Donnan said. "He has to maintain his health. His confidence level is good, and he's healthy now. That's the most important thing."

Though another setback came in March when Edwards injured his right ankle in an intramural basketball game, forcing him to sit out spring contact drills, Edwards says he's right on track.

"I've only played but 1 1/2 games at running back, and I don't think I've got this down just yet," Edwards said. "I'm looking at this season as a starting point for me. I thought I was ready (in spring practices), but I was wrong and (the coaching staff) was right to hold me out. I think it was the wise decision now, and will be the best thing for me in the long run."

Notebook:

COACH DONNAN: Jim Donnan doesn't expect to have quite as much success the last Division I-AA coach enjoyed in his first SEC season.

"After what this program and these players have been through, we're all excited about what we've done here so far," said the Georgia head coach Wednesday in his first experience with the annual three-day press conference from hell known as SEC Media Days. "But the realism is that Georgia is (20-25-1) against the SEC in the Nineties, and we've got a ways to go to get where the other teams are."

For Donnan, reality tells him he can't come close to what Terry Bowden accomplished by leading Auburn to an 11-0 mark in 1993 - Bowden's first season as Tigers head coach after joining the I-A ranks from I-AA Samford.

With freshmen reporting this Monday and the rest of the Bulldogs arriving to begin full-squad workouts next Thursday, Donnan is looking forward to getting down to business. For the 51-year-old, it will be a time to finally put an end to months of fan and media speculating that followed the memorable events that unfolded on Christmas Day, 1995 - the day Glen Mason told a national TV audience he was staying at Kansas after all, and the day Donnan left behind the I-AA power he built at Marshall to become the successor to Ray Goff.

"I was disappointed I didn't get the job the first time, but it wasn't like I was destitute, I was happy at Marshall," Donnan said. "Vince Lombardi was the second choice at Green Bay, so that didn't really bother me. It will be nice to get back to work and to get this thing going."

EDWARDS ON EDWARDS: Georgia running back Robert Edwards said some family members were disappointed when first cousinChris Edwards, a Parade high school All-American linebacker, snubbed snubbed the Bulldogs and signed with Georgia Tech.

"It would have been great if he came to Georgia, but he had do do what was best for him," said Edwards, who played with Chris, Auburn linebacker Takeo Spikes and Florida State linebacker Demetro Stephens underRick Tomberlin at Washington County High School.

ON THE HOTSEAT?: Bill Curry was skating on thin ice at Kentucky after the 1-10 disaster of 1994, when the Wildcats didn't win a conference game. But four wins in '95 including conference victories over South Carolina and LSU apparently was enough for Kentucky to retain him, at least for this year.

"You can't allow yourself to fall into the trap of feeling like your fighting for your job," said Curry, 24-45 in six seasons at Kentucky. "If you're interested in job security as a football coach, your in the wrong business."

The 52-year-old Curry is 79-98-4 in 16 seasons as a head coach, including 31-43-4 record in seven years at Georgia Tech.

Winning the Tim Couch recruiting war could help Curry make it through another dismal season. Couch, from Hyden, Ky., and arguably the best high school quarterback ever, was initially slated as the backup to junior Billy Jack Haskins and a redshirt possibility. But Curry said Couch could win the starting punting job and see significant playing time at quarterback if he proves that he is ready.

DANNY'S LOSS, TOMMY'S GAIN: Arkansas quarterbackRobert Reed withdrew from school last year after Danny Ford benched him in favor of Barry Lunney after the Razorbacks were stunned by the loss to SMU in the season opener.

But the controversy didn't effect how Ole Miss coach Tommy Tuberville felt about the former Mississippi prep star.

"We're very fortunate to get Robert," said Tuberville. "He brings a sense of Mississippi to our football team and is going to help our recruiting, and we need that."

With Tuberville's hands tied since Ole Miss' probation limits the Rebels to 13 scholarships, the junior Reed agreed to come aboard as a walk-on and will battle seniorPaul Head for the starting QB job. Reed could end up on scholarship, after all. He played one season of hoops under Nolan Richardson at Arkansas, and more than likely play for the Rebels after football season.