By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
D.J. Edwards has won a state championship, on the basketball court.
Now he wants one on the football field, and as a senior, this is his last chance.
“Ever since I was a freshman,” said Edwards, a 6-foot-1 receiver and safety for the Beavers.
Edwards came close in 2010, when the Beavers lost a 24-19 decision to Ravenswood. Bluefield missed out on the playoffs in 2011, and lost to Robert C. Byrd last season in the state quarterfinals.
“We got our hopes dashed in my freshman year at Ravenswood, and that is as close as I have ever been to it,” Edwards said. “I am back here so I want to end it with a state championship.”
Bluefield (10-2) will first have get past Bridgeport (11-1) in the Class AA state semifinals on Friday. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m.
“Whoever is going to be willing to play four quarters and overtime,” Edwards said, “whoever gives 100 percent on every play, that is who is going to win it.”
Both teams are hoping to survive one more week, with the winner playing Wayne or Robert C. Byrd for the Class AA state title next weekend.
“We have got to win this game first,” Edwards said. “Whoever is going to be in the championship game, they will deserve to make it to the championship and we will see who wins it all.”
Edwards will definitely play a role in who does win it.
A former quarterback at Bluefield until this season, the Bluefield coaching staff approached Edwards during the summer about a possible position change.
Not a problem.
“They talked to me first about it,” Edwards said. “We agreed with it in the summer and I have been working with a different position ever since then.”
He started the season as a running back, and has run for 219 yards and three touchdowns, but may have found his true calling as a receiver.
“I played a little bit of running back at the beginning of the season and a lot of receiver at the end of the season,” Edwards said. “I am just doing whatever my team needs me to do.”
With D.J. Stewart (1,217, 22 td) and Corey Coppola (968, 13 td) providing a potent rushing attack for the Beavers, Edwards has thrived as a receiver, catching 50 passes this season for 930 yards and nine touchdowns.
No longer does Edwards have to run to daylight with the ball, he’s already out in space, allowing the speedy senior to use his 4.5 speed after catching passes from R.J. Bourne, who has thrown for 1,568 yards and 13 scores.
That ability to run and pass will be key against the Indians, who have four shutouts this season, including three in a row at one point this season.
“We have got a good quarterback, he gets it to the spots we need it to be and I catch it and do the rest,” Edwards said. “Since I am in the open field at the start I kind of don’t have to run to the open field.
“I can block, but I like the open field a lot better.”
That is when Edwards can make plays with his legs, which is what Bluefield head coach Fred Simon likes to see.
“I think he has done a nice job of adapting to it and made some clutch catches down the stretch for us here,” Simon said. “He makes teams have to prepare for our passing game, which helps us with the run.”
Edwards is approaching 1,000 yards receiving, which is something that possibly only Marcus Patterson has done in recent times for the Beavers.
“I couldn’t tell you about the stats part,” Simon said. “I don’t usually focus on that stuff, but that wouldn’t surprise me.”
While Bluefield is more of a wide-open type of offense, the Indians simply want to run the football, led by Anthony Bonamico (1,967, 11.8 avg. 30 tds) and A.C. Caldera (943, 9.0 avg, 15 tds).
“We have to get outside and show them our speed, get outside and get our passing game going early and that is all we have got to do,” Edwards said. “From the film, it looks like they just try to pound it down the field, they don’t try to get outside and run it on you.”
Edwards will also play a role in slowing down the Indians, who have won 10 straight since a 17-14 loss to Wheeling Park in the second week of the season. Edwards is also an All-Class AA all-state performer at free safety.
“They try to just pound it and run it, they just run it up the middle is all we have seen,” Edwards said. “We pass more, they barely pass when we look at them on film, but you never know. If we stop the run I think we have got a good chance.”
Preparation for Bridgeport has been a challenge, with the Beavers having to stay in local gymnasiums on Tuesday and Wednesday, and will get a two-hour indoor session today at Virginia Tech.
“We are just going to have to adapt to it, it is the same thing,” Edwards said. “We won’t be going 100 percent, we will be going about 80, but we will be getting our eyes right for Bridgeport so we will be ready.”
While it isn’t expected to be snowing in Bridgeport on Friday, it will be cold, with the temperatures dipping into the 20s. The Indians do play on a turf field so footing shouldn’t be an issue for either team.
“It is going to be cold,” Edwards said. “It was cold at Oak Hill and we played good at Oak Hill so I don’t think the weather will be affecting us as much as it could, it is just a mind game.
“We have got to deal with everything. That is what Coach (Simon) brings to us, when the time comes we have just got to adapt to it.”
Bluefield has a pair of hard-earned playoff wins over Ravenswood (31-14) and Nicholas County (26-14), but Edwards thinks the Beavers are ready to play their best game yet.
“We could play a lot better, but we have got two, I would say, OK games out of the way,” Edwards said. “We are going to play a great game on Friday, we should play a great game on Friday.”
Edwards, like the rest of the Beavers, is looking forward to a good meal today for Thanksgiving, but won’t have the task ahead far out of his mind.
“I am looking forward to Thanksgiving,” he said, with a smile. “Eat good and get a good night’s sleep and wake up Friday and get ready to roll.”
A few members of the Bluefield football team won a state basketball championship last March. Edwards and friends have made it no secret to their football teammates what it means to win it all.
“We have tried to drill it in their heads how special it is to win a state championship,” he said.
Basketball practice has begun in West Virginia, but not for Edwards. He is hoping for a repeat on the hardwood, but is in no hurry to trade a football for a round ball.
“That can wait a few more days,” said Edwards, with a smile, “hopefully another week at least.”
—Contact Brian Woodson