Did you know that the UC football team had a freshman All-American last year?
Safety Zach Edwards, who started the last 11 games at safety, received honorable mention recognition among the nation’s top freshman from CollegeFootballNews.com.
“He’s got a knack for finding the ball,” said cornerbacks coach Steve Clinkscale. “He made some freshman mistakes, but he was able to come up with some big plays when we needed it. For a true freshman to do that at safety and be in charge of the defense and make all of the alignments and the checks – I think that’s pretty impressive.”
“He played well – he didn’t play great because it was his first year and he was trying to figure out what to do,” said head coach Tommy Tuberville. “Each week it’s tough on an inexperienced kid because we change the game plan, we change techniques, and his head was swimming most of the year. He got better as the season went on, but this year he’ll be much better.”
Edwards was an all-conference wide receiver/defensive back at Middletown High School and came to Cincinnati as a “grayshirt,” meaning that he sat out the 2012 season before enrolling at UC in January of 2013.
“When you play football so much and then you have to sit out, it’s pretty depressing, but I kept faith in God and kept going knowing that everything would work out for the best,” Zach told me. “Eventually it did.”
Enrolling for the second semester allowed Zach to take part in spring football last year, but an injury limited his participation.
“I pulled my hamstring in about the third practice and had to sit out a lot,” said Edwards.
But that didn’t stop him from making a favorable impression.
“He had one practice at safety and I told the coaches, ‘Hey, this is our safety next year,'” said Clinkscale. “The one thing that he had at practice that was a little bit different from our other guys is that burst to the ball. His athleticism was the biggest difference that made him stand out.”
By the third game of the season, Edwards was in the starting lineup. He finished the season third on the team in tackles, tied for second with two interceptions, and earned AAC Defensive Player of the Week honors in early November after having 11 tackles and recovering a fumble in a win over Memphis.
“Being a safety, you have to be physical and that was my whole mindset,” Zach told me. “Be physical and try to beat whoever you’re going against. I knew if I could do that, I could prove myself to these coaches and to the players.”
After losing senior starters Deven Drane and Arryn Chenault, Edwards will be one of the Bearcats most experienced players in the secondary this year despite only being a sophomore.
“The big thing now is to keep it competitive for him,” said Clinkscale. “I tell these guys all that time that there are no starters anymore. You have to win that job again. We are going to recruit guys that might be better than you and we have guys here that are going to do a better job. He understands that he has to give us more every day, and we expect more of him now than we did as a freshman.”
“The guys around me are pushing me every day, and I’m pushing them to better than we were last year,” said Edwards. “My maturity level has to step up and I have to become a leader.”
There’s definitely room for improvement, but after earning freshman All-America recognition, Zach’s Cincinnati career is obviously off to a strong start.
“You can tell that he’s a lot more comfortable this spring,” said Tuberville. “This is his second spring. He started school in January of last year, so he’s been with us for a year and gotten better and got some accolades, but he can play a lot better than he did last year.”
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