SANDERSVILLE, Ga. - He's made more than 100 tackles in each of the past four years. He's oh-so-close to a Pro Bowl berth. He's got the fame and fortune.
But former Washington County and current Cincinnati Bengals star Takeo Spikes knows it's always nice to come home.
The jerseys of Spikes and fellow former Golden Hawk Robert Edwards were the first-ever to be retired. The ceremony was held Thursday at the Washington County football banquet.
For Spikes, it was another accomplishment in an already-stellar football career. But for Edwards, who dislocated his knee after his 1998 NFL rookie season, it was a sturdy rock in a sea of instability.
"Whenever I've come home, everybody's always given me love," said Edwards, who wore No. 1 for the Golden Hawks before going to Georgia and making it to the NFL. "When I come here, everybody always gives me their support. It makes me want to continue the fight."
It's a battle he's been fighting for three years. And just when his knee healed, he tweaked his groin in camp last fall, and the New England Patriots cut him.
Still, Edwards wasn't disheartened to be in his high school's cafeteria eating fried chicken and mashed potatoes while his former teammates are fighting for the right to go to the Super Bowl.
Instead, he was smiling.
"It's fabulous when you come back to your hometown and you get recognized," said Edwards, who's working out in Atlanta to try to catch on with a team next season. "This is something people will see for years to come."
Even if he never makes it back to the NFL, Edwards, who rushed for 1,115 yards in his only pro season, will always be considered a success in Sandersville.
Georgia football coach Mark Richt, who was the banquet's guest speaker, isn't ready to write him off.
"Just to recover from his injury is tremendous," Richt said. "I think he's got a lot of football left in him."
The same can be said for Spikes, whose No. 81 jersey was taken out of circulation.
"This honor ranks as No. 1," said Spikes, who left Auburn after his junior season and narrowly was edged for the Pro Bowl. "This is what makes all the sweat, blood and tears worth it. It's the dream of becoming a NFL star, and it doesn't happen unless you start here."
In Golden Hawk coach Rick Tomberlin's heart Spikes and Edwards are among the school's all-time best.
"They make us all so proud because, not only are they great players, but they're super human beings as well," he said. "They're the right kind of heroes. What they do for Washington County is undescribable. To honor them was the least we could do."
Reach Josh Katzowitz at (706) 823-3216.