This season the Harvard offense followed an old formula for success. Taking a lesson from the Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys teams of the 1990s, the Ivy League champion Crimson stocked its offense with a three-headed monster: quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, running back Clifton Dawson and wide receiver Brian Edwards.
While Fitzpatrick, a senior and two-time honorable mention All-Ivy selection, and Dawson, a sophomore who might be the best player in Div. I-AA, generally draw most of the attention from NFL scouts, Edwards has been Harvard’s most consistent performer.
“Brian is arguably one of the most explosive and versatile players in Ivy football history,” Harvard head coach Tim Murphy said of his wide receiver and return man. “I can think of no other player who has accounted for touchdowns in so many ways. He has caught touchdown passes, thrown a T.D. pass and returned punts and kickoffs for touchdowns.”
Despite his versatility, Edwards is a wide receiver by trade, and that is where he generally makes the most noise. Grabbing at least two passes in every game since 2002, Edwards has been a reliable standby for Fitzpatrick, and perhaps the biggest reason for the quarterback’s ascent from relative anonymity to the NFL radar screen. One play from The Game last year is emblematic of their relationship, which began when they were assigned to the same residence as freshmen.
Leading the Bulldogs 24-12 in the fourth quarter, Edwards turned a broken play into a 79-yard touchdown catch-and-run, the score which proved to be the backbreaker in Harvard’s eventual 37-19 victory.
Before 2003, however, that relationship had little to do with quarterback-wide receiver chemistry. That was because Edwards was not on the field too often, relegated to backup duties behind Carl Morris, a former All-American and one of the most celebrated receivers in Ancient Eight history.
Edwards saw no varsity time as a freshman, but made great strides in spring practice, enough to earn him the Pat McInally Award as the team’s most improved wide receiver. Edwards received significant playing time as a sophomore, but with Morris in the mix he made just seven catches — a total he now seems to eclipse every Saturday. Forty-seven and 46 — Edwards’s total receptions from 2003 and 2004, respectively — seem a lot more natural for the All-Ivy shoe-in.
“He’s got a lot of speed, and he shows that in the return game,” said safety Barton Simmons ’05, one of the Yale defenders charged with stopping Edwards. “And he’s got that big-play capability. That’s the type of thing you gotta keep an eye on because he’s the type of guy who can turn a small play into a big one.”
A star on the Los Gatos High School football team in Los Gatos, Calif., Edwards seems much more suited for his current role as go-to receiver than his former one of understudy. He is Los Gatos’ all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches, and also owns the record for the 400 meters. While garnering league MVP honors as a senior in 2000, Edwards led Los Gatos to a perfect 13-0 record and a share of the California Division III state championship.
“Playing in and winning my last high school game, for the championship, is something I will remember for the rest of my life,” Edwards said.
With a victory over the University of Pennsylvania last weekend, Harvard has clinched at least a share of the Ivy League title, guaranteeing Edwards a second championship senior season.
“There are a few very memorable moments from my collegiate career,” Edwards said. “But I think the most memorable one has to be our win last Saturday against Penn.”
Contributing four catches for 66 yards and a touchdown in the Crimson’s unexpectedly lopsided 31-10 road victory against the Quakers, Edwards, as usual, looked at ease at wideout. The economics major said he was not as certain about other things in his life.
“I really don’t know what my future, post-graduation, will look like,” Edwards said. “I’d really like to travel but have also thought about going to law school.”
For now, at least, Edwards only has to worry about football. And no one should be surprised if No. 82 goes streaking down the sidelines again Saturday, leaving Yale defenders and the ghost of Carl Morris in his wake.