INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — On a late-November evening, Donovan Edwards was showing off just why he was such a highly-touted recruit. And Mike Locksley is eager to forget it.
Though he wishes to, he cannot.
The Maryland head coach had hoped for a better outcome for his Terps on Nov. 20, 2021, as they hosted a surging Michigan football team. The Wolverines had everything to lose with the Big Ten East on the line and Ohio State looming the following week. Simultaneously, several players and staff followed along with the Buckeyes’ drubbing of fellow rival MSU during pregame warmups, knowing a battle was forthcoming. But for the true freshman running back out of West Bloomfield (Mich.), he wasn’t going to be denied that day in College Park, as he collected 10 catches for 170 yards — a Michigan receiving record from the running back position.
“He made a bunch of plays for them, I do know that,” Locksley said at Big Ten media days on Tuesday. “Across the board, when we played them at that time, obviously the score was indicative that they made a ton of plays all over the field, and they did it in all three phases.
“They were a really good team a year ago. Obviously, No. 7 was one of their guys that was a playmaker and did a tremendous job.”
Did Jim Harbaugh make the ‘third base’ comment about Ryan Day? His perfect answer
Two Michigan football offensive lineman make the Outland Trophy Watch List
2022 Michigan Wolverines football schedule: downloadable wallpaper
The next step for Edwards requires extrapolating that one game into a full season while adding his running prowess to the mix. The tailback managed to out-catch his ground production on the year, reeling in 20 passes for 265 yards and one touchdown, while rushing for 174 yards on 35 carries in his first year of college football.
Now that lead back Hassan Haskins is off to the NFL, Edwards — along with junior star Blake Corum — will carry the load.
His head coach, Jim Harbaugh, has often noted that a player makes their biggest leap from the first week of the season to the next, but what about from their first year to their second? As a five-star (according to 247Sports’ proprietary rankings), Edwards has serious potential, but the difference between potential and production takes a lot of will and determination — attributes Edwards has in spades.
“Yeah, I totally agree,” Harbaugh said of the freshman to sophomore leap. “I mean, freshman year to sophomore year there’s a real — it’s a real opportunity for a huge jump, right? Because you’re just doing everything one more time, again. You’re doing everything again for a second time, unless you get into one of those sophomore (slumps), where you take a step back and start reading your own press clippings or get a big head. I don’t know.
“Donovan Edwards, he’s one of those outliers, one of those — just keep doing you, Donovan. That’s all I can say to Donovan Edwards. I mean, just everything he does, every way he does it, every way he attacks things, just his personality, just being around him, I mean, can’t have any more favorite player than Donovan Edwards. He’s one of those that comes along every so often, every generation, so to speak. But he’s super special.
“He’ll do something, I don’t know what he’s gonna do. You don’t know what he’s gonna do. He may tell you what he’s gonna do, but I mean, it could be rolling out throwing some pass 50 yards downfield on a dime. Making some cut, making some catch — he can literally do it all. Incredible balance, speed, vision, toughness. And he’s just one of those guys — we got a bunch of guys like this. They’re my favorite guys. They’re the dreamers, they just dream big. And they’re the ones that usually make it in this business.”
Michigan football: the recruitment and development of the quarterbacks
Cleveland.com releases annual Big Ten media poll. Where’s Michigan?
Two Michigan football tight ends on John Mackey Award Watch List
One notable personality envisions heaps of production, and then some, for Edwards this coming season.
We spoke to Joel Klatt — the FOX Sports premier college football color analyst — at Big Ten media days, who expounded on something he told WolverinesWire before Michigan’s Week 5 contest against Wisconsin in 2021. As Edwards was warming up, Klatt pointed to him and exclaimed, ‘He’s going to be a stud!’ For a player who had only seen sparing minutes across three of Michigan’s four games, it was quite the sentiment, one based on projection and potential. But, for Klatt, he had seen enough already to indicate that the freshman phenom had quite the future in front of him.
And with that in mind, Klatt insists that Edwards could be offensive player of the year in the conference — and then some.
“OK, so probably good for Michigan in the sense that I don’t think Donovan’s getting nearly the love or hype in the preseason — maybe until now — that he should,” Klatt told WolverinesWire. “I think that he’s a dark horse Heisman contender. I think he’s a dark horse offensive player of the year in the Big Ten. And primarily because I think he’s about as complete as they come for a young player in particular.
“Even last year, as just a baby, when it comes to experience, he caught it really well out of the backfield. You saw that come to fruition in particular against Maryland in that game, the screen passes that became more prevalent after Blake left with his injury, in particular in the Big Ten Championship game. He’s really good at that. But he’s also great running the football. I felt like he showed signs outside of the tackle box, inside of the tackle box. So while missing Hassan Haskins is hard, I think that Donovan could be a more complete player. Maybe not quite as powerful of a straight-ahead runner, but close because of his size. And yet he gives you the element of explosiveness of the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.
“And that one-two punch with him and Blake, as a combination, I think is as good as any out there.”
If Michigan has any chance to repeat as Big Ten champions in 2022, it will, of course, require balance between offense and defense — which Klatt also acknowledged. But it’ll also require offensive balance.
And with Edwards’ ability in both the run and pass game, if he makes good on the promise of his potential, the sky’s the limit for the Wolverines as the season begins anew come September.