On a day fit for teenage kings, Ryan defensive end Mario Edwards assumed his throne and took his spot in the middle of the table among his teammates in the Ryan fieldhouse on Wednesday morning, announcing to a national television audience that he was headed to Florida State.
As Ryan head coach Joey Florence welcomed the coaches, parents and media to the occasion, Edwards, wearing an earpiece and microphone, suddenly began talking into ESPN's cameras. Florence, joining the rest of the room in a sense of confusion, wondered why Edwards, the dominant force on Ryan's loaded defense, had already begun the interview.
Turns out Edwards was speaking to a live audience, explaining to the nation why he chose to attend school in Tallahassee, Fla. The mix-up aptly sums up the senior's two-year career at Ryan. On a team full of talented Division I athletes, Edwards shined brightest.
"We've had a great defense here the last two years, and I've been very blessed with a lot of great players on defense, and he certainly was the anchor for that," Florence said. "He got a lot of attention, and he was very deserving. It'll be good to follow him in the future to see what he does."
The future was solidified Wednesday when Edwards signed his national letter of intent to attend Florida State, his father's alma mater. Mario Edwards Sr., a former cornerback for the Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Ryan's secondary coach, proudly stood to the left of the table in a loose-fitting brown suit as his son signed the letter that confirmed a decision that was announced last March but still had uncertainty as the deadline approached.
The defensive end flirted with other schools, taking visits to Texas, Oklahoma and LSU, as well as visiting Florida State last fall. Edwards was rated as the top recruit in the nation by ESPNU 150, the only player with at least a 90 rating. Florida State has the second-ranked recruiting class in the nation, according to ESPN.
As the Internet exploded with every step the 6-4, 297-pound took, Edwards stuck to his original commitment, citing the close connections the Seminoles shared.
"A lot of engagements don't make it to the altar," Edwards Sr. said. "Needless to say, this engagement, they walked down the aisle and they were pronounced man and university."
After moving to Denton from Prosper two years ago, Edwards flourished under Florence. The Florida State signee was named an All-American by Parade magazine, as well as earning The Associated Press Sports Writers Class 4A Defensive Player of the Year in 2010 and first-team honors in 2011.
Edwards compiled 32 tackles-for-loss, 11 sacks and six forced fumbles in Ryan's 2011 run to the 4A Division I regional quarterfinals, including a blocked punt against Waco Midway in a 19-7 loss. In his two years at Ryan, Edwards and the Raiders had a state championship within reach, but were unable to capitalize on their run to the 2010 title game.
Now, with all the stress of the recruiting process behind him, Edwards said he can relax and enjoy the rest of his senior year. He plans on earning either a communications or kinesiology degree within 3 1/2 years, with the option of leaving early for the NFL a possibility.
Edwards is already looking forward to next year, hoping to stand out as one of the nation's premier freshman defensive lineman. He already has a double-digit sack total in mind.
For a player that accomplished so much in high school, it's a natural progression on a path that could end in the NFL.
"It's a bittersweet moment, but I realize that once I get to the next level, none of that stuff matters," Edwards said of his departure from Ryan. "It's all about, 'Can I be the best player at the collegiate level? Can I be the best player at my position, across the country in college?'"
If his time at Ryan is any indication, Edwards may soon have the answers to his questions.
BEN BABY can be reached at 940-566-6869. His e-mail address is email@example.com .