From walk-on to All-C-USA
Before head coach Kevin Sumlin became one of the all-time leading tacklers at Purdue, he had to earn his spot by walking on the team.
Whether it be from a lack of height or residual affects from an injury, certain players get lost in the recruiting process.
Sumlin understands this, so at UH, having tryouts for walk-ons is a proven way to give talented players a second opportunity.
Patrick Edwards is a prime example of a talented specimen who went under the radar. Before becoming an All-Conference USA wide receiver and All-American honorable mention, the senior got his spot on the roster the hard way.
“Here in the heart of great high school football, there’s going to be guys that come out, and we’ll give them an opportunity,” Sumlin said. “I just know that we don’t have separate locker rooms for walk-ons. We don’t have separate uniforms.
“If you play, and you contribute to our team, then you can earn a scholarship.”
Edwards didn‘t plan on taking classes at UH. After graduating from Hearne High School, it took some convincing from his high school classmate and friend Chris Carter.
“He was the reason I came to this school,” Edwards said. “I applied at the last minute and I got in. I found out he had got offered a scholarship.
“I decided I’d come with him and walk on the football team, and see what else happens after that.”
Carter just finished a successful career at UH as long and triple jumper, and he’s now trying to make it in the professional ranks. Their native town of Hearne is about two hours from Houston.
Carter came to UH to chase his dreams in track and field, and he encouraged Edwards to do the same on the gridiron.
“Starting off it was close to home, and we both would have someone we knew at school together,” Carter said. “I also told him that he should have been able to go to any school to play football with his skills. I knew he could easily get onto the field with his talent, he was just overlooked.
“He was underestimated because he wasn’t 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds. But I’ve never seen anybody with the footwork that he has.”
The two athletes still keep in touch, and continue to motivate each other in their respective pursuits.
Coming from a town of less than 5,000 people, Carter and Edwards are the pride of Hearne.
“We’ve been close for a long time, and lived basically 50 yards from each other for about seven of our younger years,” Carter said. “We were always competing, whether it was racing each other, playing football, basketball, frisbee and any other competitive thing kids could do against each other.
“For both of us to have this much success is such a big blessing. Whenever I go home people ask how’s Pat and the same with him. They always seem so proud that some of their own from that small town are doing so well at a Division I college.”
After Case Keenum was injured, Edwards quickly became the favorite target for quarterback David Piland last season.
He had his second consecutive 1,000-yard season and caught 13 touchdown receptions, and he was named the team’s offensive MVP following the season.
In his senior campaign, Edwards is expected to bring an explosive presence. His game-changing capability was on display in the Cougars’ first two scrimmages where he had two long catch-and-runs for touchdowns.
“As of now I’m known to be a deep threat, a playmaker,” Edwards said. “I can go get the ball. I come out here every day and play like it’s a game so I can make the big plays look easy.”
Edwards is fifth on the all-time UH list in touchdown receptions, and sixth in yards.
If he can maintain or in increase his level of productivity he could be considered a legitimate NFL prospect.
But none of it would be possible without the help of Sumlin and his willingness to let walk-ons prove themselves.
Their similar paths as players has led to a shared mentality about the game.
“We’re both walk-ons so we both relate,” Edwards said. “He’s always been a leader and like a father figure to me. Every chance he gets, he talks to me about how I’m doing. Sometimes he jokes with me, but it’s a cool relationship.”
Edwards gives hope to players who want continue to their careers, even if it has been deemed over by others.
He not only walked on to UH and performed well, he was awarded a scholarship in his sophomore season.
For Sumlin, he and his staff will continue to evaluate walk-ons no different than players on a scholarship.
“Over the course of time we’ve been here, 13 walk-ons have got scholarships,” Sumlin said. “It provides incentive for guys in the future that say, ‘If I come to Houston and I can contribute. I can earn a scholarship even if I didn’t have one coming out of high school.’
“Patrick was one of the first guys we gave one to. I hope that every scholarship we give to a walk-on, the guy turns out to be an All-American. That’d be great.”