Edwards: 'I have to earn my way'

CHAPEL HILL--Following a stellar freshman year at outside linebacker, Larry Edwards finds himself working his way back up the depth chart.

In 2003 he had 89 tackles on the season in eight starts with a high of 15 tackles (12 solo) in an ACC Rookie of the Week performance against the Arizona State Sun Devils. He had at least 10 tackles in six of his eight starts. He made 5.5 tackles for loss (19 yards), made two fumble recoveries, caused another fumble, had two pass breakups and a half-sack (seven yards). After it was all over he was named to The Sporting News freshman All-America second team.

It stands to reason that he'd be in the starting line-up to begin the 2004 campaign, but what has been described as a lack of focus, starting with some academic woes--along with some nagging injuries and extra weight early in training camp--has put Edwards at the bottom of the depth chart looking up.

"Larry wasn't ready physically, maybe even mentally, to get started in camp," head coach John Bunting explained the day after the Tar Heels' 49-38 win over William & Mary. "I think since he got over a couple different injuries that he had early, he's been working really hard. I really hope that he will return to his playing style from last year soon so that he can help us on defense."

"Coming into camp, I wasn't playing like a starter and Coach let me know that right away," Edwards said. "His putting me at third team helped me to become the player that I am now--getting back to being more physical, getting more aggressive, so that I can be dominant. That, combined with my game experience from last year, and everything I bring to the table will make me one of the best players on the team, hopefully."

Against Division I-AA foe William & Mary he found himself contributing on special teams and watching from the sidelines while the defense was on the field.

"It was a learning experience," Edwards said. "It was an experience that I didn't too much like. I felt like I could be out there helping our team. But I still have to take my bumps. I have to earn my way, and I feel like I am doing that right now."

Fellow linebacker and friend Fred Sparkman has seen what he describes as a frustrated Edwards who wants to show what he can do to help the team.

"He'll be all down about it," Sparkman said, "and I tell him to keep his head up because his time will come, eventually. Once he gets it, we know he won't let it go, just like last year. I tell him to work hard in the weight room, do his special teams thing, and when they recognize that he's doing well, they'll put him in the game.

"He's getting closer and closer everyday. The injuries aren't bothering him anymore, he lost the weight back down to 230. He's working hard reading his playbook, and I can see it in practice too. He's making more plays in practice, and the coaches are giving him more praise. At the same time, he makes bad plays as well, but he's getting better and better."

With the game against conference foe Virginia in Charlottesville approaching, the Tar Heels sure could use the Larry Edwards that they saw on the field last year.

"He can add more speed, more power, and better pass coverage," opined Sparkman. "We have good people in the game now, but his being quicker and faster than other people is a big difference."

But until he returns to form, both physically and mentally, he'll have to continue to bide his time at linebacker and contribute on special teams. He still hasn't put all the pieces together quite yet.

"It's simply working harder and taking every play a little more seriously," Bunting said. "He has to focus--it must be each and every play, not waiting for the next play or a play 10 minutes from now. He has to focus on every play. He hasn't done it yet, but he's closing in on it. Hopefully, he gets it done soon because he has a lot of talent. I wish I'd had half his talent."

"I feel like I'm working toward being a starter like I was last year," Edwards said. "I'm not going to wait until the fifth game to explode like I did last year. I'm trying to take advantage of my reps this Saturday and, hopefully, get back to being that dominant player."

For the past two weeks, Edwards has been part of the linebacker rotation in practice, but as of Wednesday night Bunting has no specific expectations of playing time against Virginia.

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