Earnest Edwards began returning kickoffs when he was 5 years old.
“It was flag [football],” said the University of Maine’s dynamic kickoff returner and wide receiver, who returned kickoffs of 100 and 95 yards for touchdowns in a 35-21 win over Colgate last Saturday.
Those runbacks gave Edwards four kickoff return touchdowns among his past 14 returns dating back to his 95- and 93-yard dashes against Elon on Nov. 17, 2018.
“Electric Earnie” now has a school-record six kickoff return touchdowns in his career, and he is averaging 26.3 yards per return. He has handled 77 kickoffs.
“He’s a football player,” UMaine quarterback Chris Ferguson said. “He’s talented. He has a special ability. He works hard on his craft.”
Edwards, the reigning Football Championship Subdivision and Colonial Athletic Association Special Teams Player of the Week, leads the FCS this season with 40.6 yards per return.
His success is the result of good blocking and doing some homework.
“I watch a lot of film and look for tendencies, things [the opponent] likes to do. [I] see what players they like to move around,” Edwards said.
His presence quickly captures the attention of opposing coaches.
“He is an explosive player,” said Villanova coach Mark Ferrante, whose Wildcats must deal with Edwards in Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. game in Pennsylvania.
Edwards, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound speedster from Rochester, New York, is quick to point out that he couldn’t enjoy such success without his teammates. Devin Young is back there with him on kickoffs.
“He leads the way and I try to follow him,” Edwards said. “When guys blocking for you take so much pride in it, it makes my job much easier.”
Edwards also is a potential game-changer as a pass receiver and has racked up impressive numbers. He has hauled in 105 passes and ranks 13th on UMaine’s career list with 1,877 receiving yards.
He has registered at least one touchdown in 10 of UMaine’s past 11 games with 11 TD catches, a rushing score, a passing touchdown and the four kickoff returns.
“He’s a fun dude to watch,” UMaine senior running back Joe Fitzpatrick said. “He’s a great player. He puts in the work off the field as well as on the field.”
Edwards has encountered some problems because of the intensity of his enthusiasm when he makes a big play. Excessive celebrations after touchdowns have occasionally cost the team a 15-yard penalty.
He said those incidences are a reflection of his competitiveness.
“A lot of people think that is negative, but it’s my passion for the game coming out,” Edwards said. “When I score, I get so excited. But I’ve learned to celebrate with my teammates on the sidelines this year.”
He has picked up only one such penalty this season, for spinning the ball in the end zone after scoring a touchdown.
“There haven’t been any issues this year,” said Charlton, who did bench Edwards for a quarter after the football spin.
Edwards had a turning point in his career last season after he made only three catches for 27 yards in a 38-36 win at Rhode Island. He responded with nine receptions for 196 yards the following week in a 27-20 loss at William & Mary.
“I had nightmares about that Rhode Island game,” Edwards said. “I had a bad game, and I told myself I would never let that happen again.”
In the 11 games since the URI contest, he caught 47 passes for 942 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Charlton said Edwards does a lot of things that go unnoticed. They include the energy he brings to the team, his work ethic and his blocking ability. He also is a fierce competitor.
Edwards went to UMaine because of its persistence in recruiting him and the coaches’ belief in his abilities.
“They had complete faith in me,” Edwards said.
“It’s the people who make this place special. You aren’t going to have great teams without a great brotherhood in the locker room,” Edwards said.
His top two UMaine football memories are his 97-yard touchdown return against Villanova and last year’s 23-18 victory over Weber State in the FCS quarterfinals.
“I’ll always remember the Weber State game for the way we fought the whole game,” Edwards said.
He admits he owes a lot to his mother, Demetrica, and his stepfather, Damon Glasgow.
“They have been there for me from day one,” the All-CAA wide receiver and kickoff returner said.
There were 30 family members at last Saturday’s Colgate game.
Edwards never anticipated the productive career he has had, especially the six kickoff return touchdowns, but he’s pleased he has been able to contribute.
“I would have liked to have done more my first few years here. But I want to finish strong,” Edwards said.
His primary focus is doing whatever he can to help the team return to the FCS playoffs.
After that, he would love to have a pro career.
“Playing at the next level has definitely been a goal,” he said. “I’ve seen some friends back home make it to the bigs. That gives me so much motivation.”