SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — As snow blanketed the West Bloomfield High School stadium, Donovan Edwards sat under a tent and spread out five hats on the table in front of him.
Alabama. Georgia. Michigan. Notre Dame. Pennsylvania. These were the schools that Edwards was among the finalists when he announced his commitment and signed the agreement on a frigid day in December 2020.
If Edwards’ goal was to star on a college football playoff team, Michigan was not a natural choice. Alabama, Georgia, and Notre Dame had all established his CFP credentials. That wasn’t the case for Michigan, who finished a 2-4 season. The Wolverines also bogged down in running his back, with Zach Charbonnet, Hassan Haskins and Blake Colm occupying the top three spots on his depth chart.
As a player who lives for big moments, Edwards has taken the easier path to the top. He wanted to be part of the revival, so he chose Michigan, the path of greater resistance.
“I always wanted to do something legendary in Michigan,” said Edwards. “I always wanted to change the program.”
Edwards’ status as a Michigan legend came with two fourth-quarter touchdown runs against Ohio State. It was at this time that Edwards emerged onto the scene as one of his college football’s burgeoning stars. For Michigan, it was a continuation of everything Edwards had been doing since arriving on campus.
“I have no doubts about Donovan Edwards’ ability to do anything,” said coach Jim Harbaugh.
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Edwards is the main reason Michigan’s national championship hopes didn’t die when Corum went down with a knee in the game against Illinois. We were typically counting on 25 or 30 carries. Sidelined on numerous occasions by injuries, Edwards was a situational player, spelling out Corum in short bursts or showing his skill as a receiver from the backfield.
Losing a valuable player like Corum would be game over for many teams. For the Wolverines, it was an opportunity to unleash a player they’d mostly kept secret. Edwards ran 216 yards against the Buckeyes and 185 yards against Purdue while wearing a cast on his injured right hand. He’ll be one of the most important players on the field in Saturday’s fiesta with TCU, and the same can be said for his game if Michigan advances for the CFP title.
“Blake took it all on when Donovan missed a few games,” Harbaugh said. “Blake’s absence allowed Donovan to shoulder almost everything. That saved us. It saved our team.”
At 5’8″ Corum is sly and elusive. At 6-1, 204 pounds, Edwards is a tall, tough runner who is at his best when he can put his feet on the ground and hit the accelerator. He has top gear that can pull off, as he has shown in long touchdown runs against Ohio State, Penn State and Purdue.
Edwards has four 60-plus-yard runs this year, tying UAB’s Dewayne McBride for the most on FBS. He did it on his 117 carries. That means his 3.4% of his runs scored his 60+ successes. Among his backs running he has made at least 100 rushing attempts, Edwards leads the FBS with 7.45 yards per carry.
“He brought his own style,” said co-offensive coordinator Matt Weiss. “Sometimes he can’t do it as well as Blake, but he brought home run speed and broke 70, 80 yard runs. He’s doing it his way.”
Edwards, who lost her mother to breast cancer when she was two years old, has been outspoken about her faith. He sees his football career as part of a larger plan, which could explain why he believed in Michigan when his program seemed to be crumbling.
Last year, Edwards was the No. 3 running back on the team that won the Big Ten and lost to Georgia in the Orange Bowl. He had hoped for a bigger role as his sophomore year, but two injuries, one at the beginning of the season and two at the end of the season, limited his play.
It would have been natural for any Edwards recruit-eligible player to want to play right away. Fighting injuries while waiting behind Haskins and Corum forced him to persevere, but he never lost his faith.
“If you look at last year, he wasn’t playing at all,” said running back coach Mike Hart. “We had Hassan and Blake. Donovan said he was a five-star recruit, a heralded recruit, and he didn’t play much. , not entering the portal and not doing those things shows a lot about who he is.”
Ever since high school in West Bloomfield, Edwards has been known as a player who craves the bright lights. For college he football players, nothing brightens up like playing in the CFP title fiesta and playing in the bowl.
The problems that can arise when a backup is pushed to that stage don’t necessarily apply to Edwards. In Michigan, no one doubts if he is ready. No one is waiting to see how he reacts to pressure. they know the answer.
“First-class players do first-class things in first-class moments,” Edwards said.
It’s hard to imagine a skill-positioned player in Michigan’s history who has achieved more with fewer touches than Edwards. He threw a 75-yard touchdown pass against Iowa in last year’s Big Ten Championship Game, and daggered into Ohio’s heart with two touchdown runs. He was named the MVP of this year’s Conference Championship Game.
If that’s not enough to make him a Michigan legend, Edwards knows what will happen.
“We have to win the national championship,” he said. “It will make us legends.”
(Top photo: Ben Jackson/Getty Images)