Three years ago, Mario Edwards Jr was the top recruit in the nation. He had the world at his fingertips. Florida State became his school of choice and he came in with all the swagger of being the best in the nation.
"I could say some of that was true," said Edwards. "Coming out, No. 1 in in the nation and all that stuff, you have people saying you're this and that, and all you've got to do is this and this and that. You kind of relax and take the foot off the pedal a little bit. But now, knowing that was the wrong thing to do, because once you get comfortable, as my dad said, you either get worse or you get better. There's no in between. Me taking my foot off the gas pedal definitely caused me to gain weight and become worse. I just say that me getting a little too comfortable and complacent with where I was ranked kind of had its toll on me coming in overweight."
His father was an NFL player for the Cowboys just 12 years ago and being a second generation football star also contributed to his feeling of being the best with nothing to prove.
As one would expect, it wasn't long before Edwards found out that that wasn't going to cut it. He was told he needed to pack on weight, and so he did. At one time he was listed at around 310 pounds and his play on the field reflected that with just 17 total tackles and 1.5 sacks as a freshman. That's when he said the light came on and he knew he needed to refocus himself.
"I mean that's just the world that we live in today. I feel like if I would have controlled my weight my three years that I could have lived up to what my rankings were. However I can't put myself behind the eight ball. I took full responsibility for that. I understand how it works."
"I would kind of say [the light] came on when I first started in the Orange Bowl my freshman year. Coming into my sophomore year, I played at 280 to 287. Then my junior year, I came in at 310. I would say probably my freshman year. I got up to 310, but I was still a 500-plus squatter, 450-plus bencher, and still running 17 or 18 miles per hour. So it wasn't that I couldn't perform, I just couldn't perform for a long time."
Raiders new linebackers coach Sal Sunseri came to Florida State prior to Edwards' sophomore year as his defensive ends coach. Sunseri said he spoke with Edwards at length about his maturity level and how it affected the perception that he doesn't always give full effort.
"Sometimes, reality has to happen," Sunseri said of Edwards. "When you show 'em on tape, you're not doing this right, or you're doing this great, and all that, and they see it, they believe it, and I think he understands that the plays that he didn't go as wild as I want him to people questioned it. The ones where he's coming and blowing people up, and there's a lot more of them then there is when he's not, consistency is going to be the most important thing. The weight, which will be addressed. And he's a talented young man, and we're excited about him. This kid is going to come in here and being with Kenny, coach Norton, and the energy that he's bringing to the building, I mean,, it's fun coming to work here every single day now. It's a lot of fun.
Sunseri doesn't believe weight played a major factor in Edwards' issues. He said, even when Edwards was well over 300 pounds, he was one of the most athletic big men he had ever coached. He even compared him to one of the best to every play the defensive end position.
Sunseri coached Peppers during his time as the defensive line coach for the Carolina Panthers. But what Peppers was never lacking was effort. That has been a primary concern about Edwards over his time in college.
"At 315 pounds he can stand right in the middle of this room and do a backflip." Said Sunseri. In case you needed to see it for yourself, here is a video of him doing a back flip off a wall.
That isn't the only video showing off Edwards' athletic abilities according to Sunseri.
"I can show you a video on my phone where this guy went through bags that were this far apart, his hips his feet and everything else, and the last bag is underneath his feet and see him hurdle it and go do it. I haven't seen anyone do stuff like that since I coached Julius Peppers. Those things are pretty amazing. But the kid is extremely excited to be part of our organization and we're extremely excited to have him part of our organization. I believe his football is ahead of him."
Edwards himself attributes those effort questions directly to his weight, and talked at length about how much he weighed at any given point during his college career. Sunseri pointed to teams running away from him, but he acknowledges that consistency is the issue.
"We all want consistency," said Sunseri. "That's where Mario understands what it's all about. Because the last two years if you go back and you watch him play in the national championship game against Auburn against a tackle who was the second player picked, he totally dominated the player. The ability is there. It's the consistency factor that we've talked about. He understands it. I think he's going to come in here and show everybody he's going to be ready to play football for the Oakland Raiders."