Jahwan Edwards was, by his own admission, a poor student who wasn’t in the best shape during his senior year at Butler in 2011.
But Pete Lembo was in a rush to fill a recruiting class in a month as the new head coach at Ball State University.
Four years after Edwards accepted Lembo’s scholarship offer – the only one Edwards received – he was competing with the best draftable running backs at the NFL scouting combine.
Ball State was nine hours from home, in Muncie, Ind., so Edwards had to grow up quickly.
He did, becoming the school’s all-time leading rusher and one of its best ambassadors during his collegiate career.
“It was difficult but it was definitely all well worth it,” Edwards said last week. “All well worth it.”
Edwards was a two-time MVP in the state championship with the Bulldogs when national signing day came. He rushed for 1,652 yards and 33 touchdowns in his senior year, but he didn’t have a single Divison-I scholarship offer.
Lembo had spent the previous five seasons at Elon where he made in-roads with North Carolina high school coaches. His relationship with then-Butler coach Mike Newsome led to his offering Edwards, a “big, thick guy.”
Immediately Edwards made an impact with the Cardinals. In his first collegiate game, against Indiana at the Colts’ Lucas Oil Stadium, Edwards had 84 rushing yards on 16 carries. Ball State won 27-20.
“He embraced that he needed to reshape his body once he got here,” Lembo said. “If you watch his freshman video from our first win here over Indiana in the first college game he played in at Lucas Oil Stadium, right up through his senior year, what you see is a guy that became leaner and meaner with each season that passed.”
Edwards averaged a modest 66.5 yards per game his freshman season before putting together three consecutive seasons of averaging more than 100 yards per game.
He finished his career with 4,558 rushing yards and 51 touchdowns, both school records. His 306 points and 884 rushing attempts are also the most in Ball State history.
But the Cardinals play in the Mid-American Conference, a league with a reputation for passing frequently. So how did Edwards gain so much on the ground in a league that emphasizes the air game?
“He has been very consistent. And we have adapted to him and utilizing him and he has adapted to us,” Lembo said. “The best offenses we’ve had have been balanced and take advantage of what the defense gives you.
“(As a senior) he had to shoulder a lot more of the burden, even with defenses packing the box against us. They knew we had this senior tailback and knew we were inexperienced at quarterback and wide receiver.
“Jahwan was still able to fight for those extra yards.”
Edwards made his mark off the field at Ball State, as well. When new president Paul Ferguson was visiting campus, he ran into Edwards and other running backs. Edwards introduced himself and welcomed Ferguson to the school.
When Ferguson met the entire team after a preseason practice, the first thing he mentioned was how warm Edwards’ welcome was, Lembo said.
A sports administration major, Edwards has to finish a volunteer internship at the Boys and Girls Club before receiving his degree. As of last week he had completed 324 hours of the 400-hour internship, the last hurdle before his degree.
“Got to, got to,” Edwards said of finishing his degree. “I’m going to have something that lasts the rest of my life.”
At 5-foot-9 and 220 pounds, Edwards ran a slow 4.80-second 40-yard dash at the combine. At best he’ll be a late-round selection and most likely will sign with a team as an undrafted free agent.
He says he knows he’ll have to justify a spot on the running back depth chart by serving on special teams. But his coach said that won’t be a problem.
“He’s low maintenance, and when I say that I mean it in a very complimentary way,” Lembo said. “He’s a physical player that will do whatever it takes, he will embrace special teams.
“There may be some backs that ran a faster 40 and those types of things, but Jahwan Edwards is one of the those guys that you want in the foxhole with you.”
Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9