Bryan Edwards sat on a bench a few yards from the Conway football practice field Monday.
With black hoodie pulled over his head, he went back and forth between watching his teammates and checking “get well” messages on Twitter. The set of crutches propped up beside him told the bigger story.
The Tigers star receiver and USC commitment will have surgery Tuesday to repair torn cartilage in his right knee. He suffered the non-contact injury during Friday’s win over South Florence. In the sliding scale of injuries, it’s considered much less severe than a torn ligament. Still, it’s robbed him of the remainder of a high school career that has been about as decorated as any player to have come through the Grand Strand.
“It’s hard to imagine not playing football,” he said Monday, three weeks to the day after he was named to the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas roster. “To kind of go from the top of the mountain to the bottom of it, all the accolades, everyone patting you on the back. Then, all of a sudden, you try to put it all back together.”
Indeed, October was both one to remember and forget for Edwards. The recruiting service 247Sports.com named him the state’s second-best college prospect. The week after he was honored as the area’s lone Shrine Bowl pick, he was selected for the prestigious U.S. Army All-American Bowl. After that, he was named one of the five finalists for South Carolina Mr. Football, the annual honor given to the state’s top player.
With a recovery time of up to four months, the two all-star games are almost assuredly out of the question, although he won’t finalize any decision until after his surgery.
“The bottom line is, he’s done. It breaks my heart,” Conway coach Chuck Jordan said. “I feel like someone punched me in the gut. Not from a team standpoint, but for the kid. He’s got the Shrine Bowl in front of him, the Army All-American game.
“I want to cry for that kid. … You have such a wonderful, wonderful career, and it’s over.”
Edwards, who has helped Conway to an 8-1 overall record and 3-0 start in Region VI-AAAA, had 53 receptions for 969 yards and nine touchdowns this season. But he was no one-year wonder.
His career had been building toward that since he was a 13-year-old freshman who caught a touchdown in the first game of the 2012 season. In 41 games, Edwards caught 188 passes for 2,562 yards and 32 touchdowns.
He was also a dangerous punt returner – he had a special teams touchdown in the South Florence game – and stepped in on the defensive secondary when needed. His production in all three phases of the game gave every opposing team a focal point.
Edwards is on pace to graduate early from Conway so that he can enroll at USC for the spring semester and take part in offseason conditioning with the Gamecocks. Both he and Jordan said they don’t believe the injury will change that plan.
However, the immediate future for him will not include playing another down for Conway.
“It affects us obviously, as a team, but I haven’t even thought about that yet,” Jordan said. “Bryan gives so much and doesn’t ask for anything.”
Edwards said he’s already spoken with USC assistant coach Steve Spurrier Jr., and that the Gamecocks staff had no intentions of changing anything on their end. Even at the longest spectrum of his expected timetable, the receiver should be physically ready for spring drills.
That doesn’t change the fact that his acclaimed high school career is now over.
“I felt like I left a lot on the table; I could have done a lot more,” Edwards said. “Having a lot of football ahead of me, it eases the pain a little bit. It’s just hard thinking I’m not going to be able to play with this group of guys again and I won’t be able to get coached by Coach Jordan again. I won’t get to enjoy Conway football for another Friday.”