Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Nick Hallett (21) misses a tackle against Edmonton Elks' Earnest Edwards (81) during first-half CFL football action in Edmonton, Alberta, Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021. Credit: Jason Franson / The Canadian Press via AP

Former University of Maine All-Colonial Athletic Association wide receiver and kick returner Earnest Edwards called his first season in the Canadian Football League a “fun experience.”

Edwards played for the Edmonton Elks, appearing in seven of their 14 games.

He had his best showing in the last game of the season, a 43-10 loss to British Columbia on Nov. 19 in which he caught a team-high six passes for 48 yards.

“But I still left a couple of plays out there. It was part of my learning experience,” Edwards said.

The former All-American, who attended an NFL tryout camp with the Los Angeles Rams in 2020 but was cut, spent his first season in the CFL adapting to the league’s bigger field and different rules. Edwards has one year left on his contract and still aspires to play in the NFL.

Edwards caught 15 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown, returned 12 kickoffs for an average of 16.9 yards per return and returned 18 punts for an average of 5.3 yards per return in Edmonton.

He averaged 13 yards on two returns following missed field goals and had a chance to run the ball twice, gaining 14 yards on one and losing seven yards on the other.

His touchdown reception, a 35-yarder, came in a 32-20 win over provincial rival Calgary.

The Elks got off to a respectable 2-2 start but lost nine of their last 10 games and finished the season having to play three games in seven days.

A CFL field is 12 yards wider and 30 yards longer, although the actual playing surface is 110 yards compared with the NFL’s 100 yards because the end zones in the CFL are 10 yards longer each.

“I looked at one game on film and realized I had more space than I thought I had,” Edwards said.

Unlike American football, there are no fair catches in the CFL. Punt returners must run after they catch the ball although defenders are required to give the punt returner a 5-yard buffer.

Returning missed field goals is something you rarely see in the NFL, or at any level of football.

If a missed field goal or a punt isn’t returned out of the end zone in the CFL, the team that punted the ball or missed the field goal is awarded a point, so returners try to advance the ball out of the end zone.

“The rules are very different,” Edwards said. “But it was a lot of fun.”

Edwards said he wished he had played more but he understands it is a business and decisions don’t always go in your favor.

“So I did what was best for the team and went with it,” said the 5-foot-10, 170-pound native of Rochester, New York.

Other former UMaine players also appeared in the CFL this season. Former Black Bears Sherrod Baltimore and Christophe Mulumba-Tshimanga played for the Ottawa RedBlacks this season but Edwards didn’t dress when the Elks played the RedBlacks in August and September.

Defensive back Baltimore, who recently signed a one-year deal with the RedBlacks, was limited to five games for Ottawa this season due to a quadriceps injury and had 21 tackles. He has played four seasons in the CFL, all with Ottawa.

Linebacker Mulumba-Tshimanga was on the suspended list and appeared in five games and had one tackle. He was also in his fourth CFL season.

The other person with UMaine ties in the CFL, former UMaine offensive coordinator Kevin Bourgoin, was the wide receivers coach for Winnipeg and the Blue Bombers defended their 2019 Grey Cup title with a 33-25 win over Hamilton in the final on Dec. 12. He coached Winnipeg’s running backs two years ago.

There was no season in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Edwards is enjoying the holidays with his family in Rochester and will get back to work in the new year preparing for Edmonton’s training camp in May.

He got more comfortable in the CFL as the season wore on and he is looking to elevate his game and earn more playing time.

“I love football and can accomplish anything I put my mind to,” said the speedy Edwards, who is UMaine’s all-time leader in receiving yards (2,641), kick return yards (2,311), kick returns (90) and kick-return touchdowns (6).

“The NFL is my ultimate goal but this is the route God wants me to take for now so it’s up to me to take care of business,” Edwards said.