The first taste of high-level high school football for Billy Edwards Jr. came unexpectedly as a freshman called up to join Lake Braddock’s varsity squad for the playoffs.
With the Bruins holding a big lead, that fresh-faced quarterback entered the game for his debut. The coaching staff called for a sprint out, a play designed to get Edwards in space for an easier passing lane. He took off, eyes down field, the excitement and exhilaration of the moment flowing through him.
And then he tripped.
“He went flying face forward,” said Rich Gaul, Lake Braddock’s quarterback coach. “I never let him live that down.”
Years later, Edwards entered another game as a replacement, this time with much higher stakes. He took over for Taulia Tagovailoa against Indiana last weekend after Maryland’s starting quarterback was carted off the field in the fourth quarter with an aggravation to his sprained MCL.
This time, Edwards didn’t trip.
He raced down the field for a 31-yard gain, setting the Terps up for a go-ahead touchdown with 5:35 left to topple the Hoosiers, 38-33.
“I straight up texted him and said, ‘Where were you hiding that for three years?’” said Mike Dougherty, the head coach of Lake Braddock. “He put the jets on against Power 5 kids.”
Edwards learned something from his first foray into game action as a freshman in high school. When he replaced Jack Darcy, the graduating Virginia state record holder for completions in a season, the next year as Lake Braddock’s starter, he felt more than ready for the responsibility.
Those experiences have led him to Maryland, where the 6-foot-3, 207-pound redshirt freshman is a valuable asset for coach Mike Locksley. Tagovailoa practiced this week but is a game-time decision for Saturday’s matchup with Northwestern, leaving Edwards in position to potentially start. He knows what it takes to step into big shoes, though, and he’s left his missteps far behind.
“Don’t make it bigger than it is, and as long as you prepare the right way, everything should take care of itself come when you have to do it in the game,” said Edwards, who is 9-for-16 passing for 97 yards and two touchdowns this season while rushing for 70 yards and a score. “If you do the right things Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, it obviously makes it a lot easier to do it Saturday.”
There’s a reason for that discipline, extending to Edwards’ freshman year at the Northern Virginia high school, when he’d spend his lunches in Gaul’s office soaking in a playbook for a varsity team he didn’t yet play for.
His brother, Kyle, starred at Lake Braddock before playing quarterback for Locksley when he was the offensive coordinator at Alabama. His father, Billy Edwards Sr., has been a high school coach for 30-plus years and currently serves as an assistant at Annandale High School. Those influences helped Edwards’ drive, and the tripping incident as a freshman soon gave way to burgeoning potential.
Edwards wasn’t expected to be the starting quarterback as a sophomore. But during spring and summer camps, as his ability grew, the heir apparent to replace Darcy “saw the writing on the wall,” Gaul said, and transferred elsewhere, leaving Edwards to fill Darcy’s place.
On his first play as a starter, facing three-time defending state champions Westfield High School, Edwards laid out a deep bomb over the middle. The receiver dropped it, but the on-target heave on his first pass showed Dougherty and Gaul two things: Edwards wasn’t afraid, and he had the talent to back it up.
“He’s a 15-year-old kid out there leading 17- and 18-year-old kids,” Dougherty said. “We knew right then that we had something special, and that he was that guy.”
That summer, before Edwards took the reins at Lake Braddock, he’d make the first of many trips to Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Once there, he’d participate in quarterback camps, throwing to college-aged receivers before he’d become a varsity starter himself.
That’s where he met most of the Maryland hierarchy for the first time, working with Locksley, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Dan Enos and co-offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Mike Miller. He was a head shorter than the rest, but he threw next to his brother and then-Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. At Maryland, the Edwards and Tagovailoa duo continues.
That familiarity with the staff — which includes Kyle, a graduate assistant coaching quarterbacks — helped entice Edwards to join Maryland once he entered the transfer portal. A strong spring camp for Wake Forest still left him unsure of where he’d fall on the Demon Deacons’ depth chart, and the Terps “seemed like a perfect fit,” Edwards said.
Playing time wasn’t a guarantee — not with Tagovailoa at the helm, the redshirt junior who set several single-season program records last season. But Edwards could envision a path to the field in a more concrete way, and it has materialized in recent weeks as Tagovailoa deals with his sprained MCL.
Edwards played late in blowout wins over Buffalo and Charlotte, and when Tagovailoa first injured his knee late against Michigan, there was Edwards again. The latest opportunity came against Indiana, and he might be called upon Saturday against Northwestern.
In five of Edwards’ seven full drives, he has led the Terps to points, including a late touchdown in 34-27 loss against Michigan and two scores to seal a victory against the Hoosiers. He rotates between the first- and second-team units at practice, so he’s familiar with each. Those glimmers, however brief, offer the coaching staff and players confidence in whichever quarterback takes the field Saturday.
During Locksley’s recruitment of Edwards, he started comparing him to former TCU and current New Orleans Saints quarterback Andy Dalton.
“Very similar,” Locksley said. “Not just because he’s a redhead, but literally body type and having coached against Andy in college, he was a thrower but also really functional as a runner.”
There was a time Gaul would’ve laughed upon hearing anyone describe Edwards’ running as functional, the well-remembered trip in his first varsity experience rushing back to his mind. But Edwards is a different quarterback than he was as a high school freshman — far different. He’s stepped into the shoes of a state record-holder and excelled. He’s done the same for a program record-holder at Maryland.
And if he’s needed, Edwards is ready to do so once more.
Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: 105.7 FM
Line: Maryland by 14