COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Not since Matt Furstenberg hauled in a pair of touchdown passes against Clemson in October 2011 has a Maryland tight end recorded multiple scores in a single game. Almost four years later, Terps’ freshman Avery Edwards, drawing inspiration from the last standout UMD tight end, ended the drought. During Maryland’s 35-17 win against South Florida Sept. 19, the North Carolina transfer pulled down an 11-yard score, followed by a 22-yard touchdown, as part of a three-catch, 36-yard day.
“[Furstenberg] is definitely a legend in [tight end] Coach [John] Dunn’s room and I’ve definitely watched some of his tape,” Edwards said Sept. 22. “I’ve picked up some things on him, and I’ve also heard about Vernon Davis and the great tight ends that have played here. With [Furstenberg], I’ve listened to the stories Coach Dunn has [told me], some joking and some serious, so he’s definitely someone I’ve learned about. … Hopefully I can continue the tradition.”
Edwards could well be on his way during his first year in College Park. He hauled in just three passes during his first two collegiate games, but Edwards finally flashed the talent that made him a touted receiving threat coming out of Ravenscroft School (Raleigh, N.C.).
Seeking to get their best playmakers on the field, coupled with the insertion of new starting quarterback Caleb Rowe, Edwards became a primary target during the South Florida bounce-back victory.
On his first touchdown during the third quarter, Edwards ran a seam route; skied overtop a Bulls’ defender in the end zone; and snatched Rowe’s strike off said defender’s back shoulder before crashing to the turf -- football in tow.
Later on, following a Sean Davis interception, Edwards came wide open after releasing free off the line. Rowe looked to his right before coming back to Edwards, delivering yet another missile, this time for a 22-yard touchdown.
“It allows you to be a little bit more productive if you have a guy like [Edwards] in there,” head coach Randy Edsall said. “If people want to single up with his size, you might be able to create some mismatches. It just allows you to distribute the ball to a lot of different people.”
Case in point: Terps’ receivers Levern Jacobs, Taivon Jacobs and D.J. Moore combined for 13 receptions for 136 yards and a touchdown Sept. 19. Levern Jacobs busted out with eight of those catches and 107 yards.
In total, it was part of a 297-yard, four-touchdown day for UMD wideouts/tight ends, courtesy of Rowe's right arm.
“It’s definitely good to have a playmaking tight end, because it takes some of the pressure off of the receivers,” Levern Jacobs said. “Teams will start keying on [Edwards], and if they key on him, the receivers will be open. If they key on us, Avery is going to be open. I think he is going to make a lot [of] plays for us this year.”
While Jacobs made sure to credit Edwards, the young tight end did the same for the receiving core. Basically, the Carolina native said the offense has a pseudo-symbiotic relationship.
“Everybody works together to get guys open on a play. It’s not just one guy. [The receivers] are essential to the game plan, their quickness up the field, taking guys deep – [defenses] can’t sag off of them,” Edwards said. “And Coach Locks [offensive coordinator Mike Locksley] and his game plan, and depending on the play, I can be deep or they [the receivers] can be deep. We all help each other out to get open.”
Edwards went on to say the transition from high school to college has been fairly seamless since Locksley uses him the say way the Ravenscroft coaches did. That said, Edwards admitted the college game is “way faster” than under the Friday night lights, while he noted his blocking needs improving since he was mainly a receiver back in Raleigh.
“With us being more run oriented, I have to keep working on my blocking, and I’ll continue to do that throughout my career,” Edwards said. “It’s good for me.”
Edwards has only gotten a small taste of how fast the college game really is. Wait until Sept. 26 when the Terps face their stiffest test yet in West Virginia, the Mountaineers featuring a revamped – and much improved – 3-3-5 defense. Not to mention this is Maryland’s first road game, providing another challenge altogether.
“The most fans I’ve ever played against in road games is like 1,000 or so, so this will be a huge test for me,” Edwards said. “I think definitely in practice, communication is huge this week between receivers, quarterback, linemen. We’re [practicing] with a little crowd noise, and it’s tougher to communicate during practice with the booming speakers.
“And [West Virginia], they’re athletic across the board, they move around, they drop a bunch of guys. They play an unorthodox defense compared to what we saw the first three weeks. But I think we’re all looking forward to it and playing in that kind of atmosphere. It’s a great opportunity.”
Indeed it is. But if Edwards happens to break through for another score, don’t expect much Rob Gronkowski-like showmanship this time around.
After his first collegiate touchdown against USF, Edwards emphatically spiked the ball right in front of a referee, earning an unsportsmanlike penalty and drawing the ire of Edsall.
“I apologized like five times for that. All week I was apologizing to Coach Edsall, telling him how sorry I was,” Edwards said, before cracking a smile. “I guess I’ve been watching too much [Gronkowski].”
If Edwards can put together a career half as productive as Gronkowski’s, well, the Terps can probably live with an occassional spike.