His teammates call him Gus The Bus, a compliment for the way he carries defenders on his back or runs over them like bowling pins in practice.
Eventually, when the Hurricanes are no longer riding the Duke Johnson Express, Gus Edwards could be the running back that carries the University of Miami. But right now, the 6-2, 225-pound freshman from Staten Island, N.Y., is adjusting to college life, learning the playbook and pass protection schemes while awaiting his next handoff.
“When he’s ready he’s going to be special,” said UM running backs coach Hurlie Brown, who compares Edwards to Brown’s former Hurricanes teammate, James Stewart. “He’s a freshman, 18-year-old kid right now. We just got to bring him along the right way. The quicker I can get him ready, the quicker he’s going to help us out.”
Rated a three-star recruit and the No. 1 fullback in the country by Rivals.com coming out of Tottenville High School, Edwards is “big enough and physical enough where he can play fullback and also elusive enough and strong enough to be a tailback,” Brown said.
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Brown said he doesn’t think the Hurricanes need Edwards to contribute to their running game right away, but it would benefit the team to have a bigger option in the backfield to pickup tough yards and compliment Johnson (5-9, 196) like they had a year ago when Mike James (5-10, 223) was around.
Getting Edwards some work before the Atlantic Coast Conference schedule kicks into gear appears very doable over the next two weeks. The Hurricanes take on 60-point underdog Savannah State (1-2) at home at 7 p.m. Saturday, then travel to face South Florida (0-3) a week later. The Bulls lost to FAU 28-10 at home last week and opened the season with a 51-23 loss at home to McNeese State, a FCS team.
“We’re hoping we could get [Edwards] some playing time, but we’re not looking past anybody,” Brown said. “Duke will be the guy, obviously, and Dallas Crawford (5-9, 194) and Eduardo Clements (5-9, 192) are working their butts off. Hopefully we can get Gus in there in some spots where he can get used to the game. Hopefully we can do that over a period of the next four or five games.”
Edwards already had his first taste of college football against FAU in the opener, running the ball six times for 19 yards, including a 16-yard dash on his first carry. He later was given four carries inside the FAU 5-yard line but couldn’t score. What did he learn from coming so close to the end zone?
“To make sure I get it in — don’t make it questionable,” Edwards said. “My pad level has to be lower too. The speed caught me a little off guard, but that’s about it. Practice and everything prepared me.”
Edwards, who ran for 868 yards and 11 touchdowns on 104 carries in high school, was one of UM’s last commitments in its 2013 signing class. They didn’t jump on him until late and swayed him away from both Syracuse and Florida State. A Hurricanes fan growing up, Edwards said he spoke with former UM linebacker and New York native Leon Williams about adjusting to Coral Gables before signing.
“All signs kept pointing to Miami with the coach of Syracuse leaving. Coach [James] Coley leaving FSU to come here — everything was pointing to Miami,” Edwards said. “It was a dream school of mine. I played on a Little League team called the Miami Hurricanes that really celebrated this University a lot. I know a lot about this school.”
UM coach Al Golden said Edwards made progress during the team’s bye week after the win over Florida and called him “a willing kid.” Brown said Edwards is really close to nailing Miami’s blitz pickups down and “eventually he’s going to be a guy that’s going to run the ball a lot because of his size.”
He just has to be groomed first, Brown said.
“He just runs physical,” fullback Maurice Hagens said. “I’m not saying the other three [tailbacks] don’t do it. They’re pretty physical. But you need that big guy back there that on third-and-1, fourth-and-1 can just go out there and fall for one yard. That’s just something Gus is really good at. He’s catching on really quick.”
Linebacker Denzel Perryman and defensive end Shayon Green had high praise for Edwards, who neither have said they’ve been able to tackle yet.
“He’s almost like Duke Johnson whereas you don’t know what he’s going to do next,” Perryman said. “He may give you a move or just run you over. Having that size and speed he has is amazing.”