Edwards breaks out in long-awaited debut

The redshirt freshman scored two touchdowns in his first college game.

Grant Donald

Most of the announced crowd of 44,344 started heading toward TCF Bank Stadium’s exits during the fourth quarter of the Gophers’ 42-20 win over Eastern Illinois on Thursday night.

But for fans who stayed, they saw the future, and possibly the present, of Gophers football emerge.

Redshirt freshman running back Berkley Edwards only received four carries, two of which he ran for touchdowns.

“He is lightning in a bottle,” head coach Jerry Kill said. “He can flat-out run.”

Edwards ran for 60 yards against Eastern Illinois, highlighted by a 42-yard burst down the left sideline for a touchdown — the same sideline he sped down during Minnesota’s spring game.

“It is just a coincidence,” Edwards said when asked about the correlation.

But what isn’t a coincidence is Edwards’ football pedigree.

His brother is former NFL Pro Bowler Braylon Edwards, and his father, Stan Edwards, also played in the NFL.

Braylon and Stan Edwards played college football at Michigan, but Berkley Edwards broke that tradition.

In his first year at Minnesota, Berkley Edwards was fighting for carries behind Donnell Kirkwood. A high ankle sprain caused him to redshirt the entire year before it began.

With his ankle injury behind him, Edwards made his long-awaited debut Thursday.

“I’ve been waiting a whole year to get out on the field,” Edwards said. “And to finally get out there cleared a lot of nerves for me.”

Coming into this year, the Gophers expected to use him in the passing game.

During the first series of the game, quarterback Mitch Leidner threw a screen pass to Edwards, trying to get the ball to him in open space. Edwards dropped it.

The redshirt freshman could have let the mistake set the tone for the rest of the night, but he didn’t.

“He dropped a ball there but came right back and did very well. We need that right now with our backs,” Kill said.

Edwards proved Thursday that he can be a dangerous weapon for Kill and the Gophers.

“We have to find ways to continue to get him the ball,” Kill said. “Having someone like [Edwards] where you can get them the ball real quick is a good thing to have.”

Leidner tried to get the freshman involved early, something he might be more inclined to do after Edwards’ opening performance.

“[He’s] just an extremely explosive player. Great to have on the offensive side as well,” Leidner said. “Every time he touches the ball, you really never know what’s going to happen. He could break it off for a touchdown any second.”