August 6, 2018 11:09:02 PM
STARKVILLE -- Zach Edwards has come a long way from the sophomore linebacker overshadowed by three seniors and a junior. He is now a three-star prospect rated among the top 20 in the state of Mississippi, according to 247 Sports, one hotly pursued by many Southeastern Conference schools.
None of that is changing who he is or his approach to football.
Edwards enters his senior season at Starkville High School as an offseason darling, after 125 tackles as a junior, 36 of them for a loss, netted him scholarship offers from multiple schools in college football's top conference. It's caused the Yellow Jackets to ask more of him and Edwards to expect more of himself, but for him, more doesn't mean different.
Edwards continues to present an interest duality: the alpha male with a lackadaisical streak.
From the time he took over before last season, Starkville coach Chris Jones saw an alpha in Edwards, and he welcomes that. Jones thinks last year's team could have used an additional alpha presence; now that Edwards and his fellow seniors are more comfortable with the new regime, he expects that alpha to shine.
"That's how he is. Whether it's his senior year or his sophomore year, that's how he is, that's his personality," Jones said. "He's always going to be in the front, the, 'Let's go,' guy.
"It's nothing they're doing intentionally. That's their natural instinct."
Edwards is well aware of that leadership expectation. He is a man of few words in the public realm, but knows that won't be good enough in the locker room.
"I take it day by day, challenge by challenge," he said.
He's going to take that challenge on in the trademark Edwards way.
Edwards is not one to get wrapped up in a sense of self-importance. As he sees it, holding himself to a higher standard does not mean molding his personality into a more serious one, as many would. He is going to approach every day while staying true to his personality and trust his teammates and coaches to understand his intentions.
"Zach's going to be Zach, that's the thing," Jones said. "He's always going to be childish, he's always going to play, that's his thing. Zach, for the most part, is always doing what he's supposed to do and what we're asking him to do, but he's always going to be that playful, childish kid where you're in the classroom and he knows the answer, but he's going to bug you and make you feel like he don't know the answer just to get laughs and giggles."
As Edwards stays in his own skin through his senior year, he will be able to chase Starkville history burden-free.
After decommitting from LSU, which he said was a freeing experience -- "It was a lot of stress. I'm open to all schools now." -- he has his sights set on big numbers. He wants over 150 tackles and 15 sacks; both would be Starkville records, set by Dennis Ware (144 tackles, 2011) and Lorenzo Dantzler (13 sacks, 2014). He was already close to both of them last year, with 122 tackles and 11 sacks.
He spent an offseason preparing himself to bring those two records down.
"My ball get off has gotten good. I've picked up a little speed and picked up a little weight, too," Edwards said.
Therein lies the true secret to Edwards' potential for the college level: he is turning 17 early this fall, leaving more physical development in his future than most players in the 2019 class. That is something to mine for whichever college program he chooses; none of that is being considered as he takes on his final season as a Yellow Jacket.
"We don't even single him out or individualize any one of them," Jones said. "We try to hold all of them to a high standard because we want them all to be that guy. We don't want them to be average."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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