When 4A top 10 rusher Damian Edwards "totes the rock" during the Yellow Jackets' Sept. 1 season opener against Bonham High School at Yellow Jacket Stadium, it will be only his sixth year of organized football.
And fourth playing the running back position.
"I started [playing football] in fifth grade, only played two games in sixth and played again in the seventh and eighth," said Edwards, a junior running back at Ferris High School. "I didn't really play in sixth because of a concussion. I played running back for two years in middle school and for one game as a freshman on JV until they moved me up to varsity to play linebacker."
In football-first Texas, children can start learning the sport and playing flag football as early as 4 years old and tackle football around 6 years old — the first grade for most students.
Edwards began four grades after a majority of his Lone Star State brethren.
In his third full season as a running back — and the first since transferring from at H.W. Lang Middle School in Dallas to Ferris Junior High School in seventh grade — Edwards rushed for 1,257 yards and 11 touchdowns on 162 carries as a sophomore in the University Interscholastic League Division II District 6-4A. Those final season statistics were good enough to make him the No. 15 running back in terms of rushing yardage per MaxPreps and the No. 179 rusher in 4A, 5A and 6A combined classification statistics.
To put those numbers in perspective, Nathan Gaskamp, a member of the UIL regional quarterfinalist Midlothian Heritage High School Jaguars, had 1,294 yards and 13 touchdowns as the No. 8 4A rusher in league statistics.
Edwards' 7.76 yards per carry, too, were among the best in the UIL's top three divisions. 6A DeSoto High School quarterback and current Texas Christian University signee Shawn Robinson had 151 carries for 1,459 yards (9.72 YPC) and 5A Ennis High School's Tycen Thompson had 169 for 1,465 (8.67 YPC).
UIL 4A Alvarado High School's Blake Henderson had 182 carries for 1,453 yards (7.98 YPC).
Brandon Layne, Ferris' second-year head football coach and a former Ennis offensive coordinator, said Edwards compares favorably to one of the boys from the Ennis 2013 semi-finalist team versus the boys that helped he and the Lions win a state championship in 2014.
"He reminds me most of Terence Williams at Baylor," Layne said. "His size and style of running make him look like more like him that any of the ones from the state championship team. He's big and long and runs behind his knees well. He has a high knee lift, too. Terence is quite a bit bigger at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, but their body types are the same. If [Edwards] keeps getting better every day, we're going to be really, really good."
Williams, a former No. 38 running back in ESPN national rankings, had a breakout season as a Bear in 2016. He ran for 1,048 yards and 14 touchdowns on 273 carries in 12 games — his first as Baylor's backfield workhorse.
Layne said despite his current offense is being slightly more run heavy in the current stage of Ferris' evolution compared to those at Ennis, Edwards' production may show proof of the talent of a running back that is still learning the position.
The Lion offense threw for nearly 2,000 yards and ran for 4,000 in 2013. The year they claimed state championship gold, they threw for more than 3,000 and ran for more than 4,000. The Yellow Jackets, according to their head coach, are building toward that watermark with Edwards and quarterbacks like Riley Fagan and Kobe Lankford in mind.
Layne added that after seeing him, he believed the former linebacker could make an impact on the other side of the ball — despite the presence of incoming senior Luvil Smith, the team's second-leading rusher in 2016 behind Edwards with 103 carries for 664 yards and four touchdowns.
Smith had the highest carry number of any player not named Damian Edwards by at least 58 in 2016.
"I didn't even get to see him practice before I knew he was the one. I knew he was going to be my running back," Layne continued. "His stature, his build and the way he can run made me believe it. He's a big, strong and fast kid. In my offense, those guys play running back — not linebacker."
Though linebackers in the Yellow Jacket defense have to be versatile, strong and rangy, as well as be able to plug holes for the run and drop back into coverage, he said physical specimen like Edwards don't come around every year.
Unlike run-first teams like Division I District 5-4A state championship semi-finalist Kennedale High School, which had a pass-to-run play call ratio of 66:641 (10 percent were passing plays), Ferris' 74:458 ratio was more balanced than the untrained eye may tell.
Of the Yellow Jackets' 458 total plays in 2016, 384 (84 percent) were rushes through one of the gaps or around the left or right tackles. Sixteen percent were pass plays. Under Layne's tutelage, then junior Fagan went 39-for-74 for 733 yards and eight touchdowns in 10 games and came within earshot of the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career.
Fagan and Lankford will battle for an opportunity to reach up and grab the golden ring that the Lions achieved less than a half decade before. Edwards — for now — stands alone.
With the heat of summer practices around the literal corner, players are beginning to turn their attention away from summer fun, the third coast and poolside haberdashery and toward helmets and pads, football fields and state championships.
Bonham, too, will be a welcome sight to Edwards after gashing the Warriors for 320 yards and touchdowns of 62 and 64 yards in the Ferris' 33-13 season opening win on Aug. 27, 2016.
There is no shadow behind Edwards and no foreseen secondary option waiting to steal carries or touchdowns. It's his backfield — his show.
The nearly 6-foot incoming junior knew that fact the minute the final school bell ended before summer vacation. Rather than beaches and oceans, he turned his gaze to more uncomfortable and sometimes more solitary options like endless sprints and grueling gym sessions.
For him, though, it was less about trying to replicate the monster numbers of last season and more about the work he needed to do to set the example for the younger teammates that will join him on a quest to bring Ferris a Division II title in less than four days.
"No sleep. No breaks. What's success if you didn't work for it? Man, it's all about work — the tears, the pain, the cramps and the constant nights of watching videos of Adrian Peterson when he was in Minnesota and Derrick Henry at Alabama," Edwards said. "There aren't any video games that can prepare you for the grind of the season and no pool that's going to ease your pain after you get eliminated from the playoffs because you didn't put the work in now. You work early, you work often and you work late. You miss sleep to train, study film and keep your game up. That's how you beat the grind and make it to December."
---- Marcus S. Marion is the sports editor of the Waxahachie Daily Light and Midlothian Mirror. He can be reached by phone at (469) 517-1456 or across social media platforms @MarcusSMarion.