ULM

Louisiana-Monroe’s Jyruss Edwards has returned from a devastating wrist injury late in the 2012 season to lead the Warhawks in rushing.

ULM photo

Everyone from General George Custer to Vince Lombardi to Rocky Balboa has uttered the phrase. It’s not how many times you get knocked down, but how many times you keep getting up.

For Jyruss Edwards, such words resonate far deeper than any emotion-stoking pregame speech. Life has knocked Edwards down, over and over again. He has felt pain.

But here he is, still standing on his feet.

In spite of whatever adversity he has faced, the Louisiana-Monroe senior running back didn’t ever consider giving up. How could he? His mother Debra never did.

“I give all praise to my mom,” Edwards said. “We grew up in a rough neighborhood, didn’t have too much of anything. But she busted her butt to make sure all her kids were taken care of.”

It was never easy, though. Edwards has 17 brothers and sisters, though some are half-siblings by his father. It was a hardscrabble upbringing, to say the least, in White Castle, La., a river town of about 1,900 people some 25 miles south of Baton Rouge.

Despite its name, White Castle has no White Castle restaurants. Didn’t have much of anything, really, except a reputation for hard-nosed football teams.

“It’s a real tough town, not too many people,” Edwards said. “There’s a lot of poverty. We played sandlot football in the neighborhood from the time we were really young. It was either that or get into trouble. That’s what you did.

“That’s where I developed my talent, my love for football.”

As he grew, Edwards’ talent extended far beyond the boundaries of White Castle. As a junior in high school, he led the state of Louisiana in rushing with 2,210 yards and 22 touchdowns. Suddenly, college scouts all over the Southeast knew the name of Jyruss Edwards.

“The minute I led the state in rushing, that really opened my eyes,” he said. “Coming from a small town, it was like, ‘Hey, maybe I can get my education paid for.’ ”

Edwards opened his senior year with hurricane-level force, rushing for 1,100 yards and 15 touchdowns in White Castle’s first five games. But then one night he stepped into the midst of a fracas between a friend and another teenager. Edwards said he was stabbed in his leg while trying to break up the fight, and the injury cost him the rest of the regular season.

For Edwards, it was a devastating case of wrong place, wrong time. While some colleges still expressed interest in signing him, others backed away.

“I think (the stabbing incident) did stop some teams from actually recruiting me,” Edwards said. “Even at ULM, when the coaches came to see me, they were like, ‘Wow, this is a rough neighborhood.’ ”

Edwards sensed a certain belonging at ULM. Though Monroe was all the way across the state from White Castle, he believed he’d found a new home, a new family.

It was a family like none he’d ever had before, honestly.

“When I got to college, I couldn’t believe all the free food,” he said. “Even now, four years later, I sometimes can’t believe it.”

In Edwards’ redshirt freshman season of 2010, he bounced onto the field in a variety of ways, from returning kicks and punts to acting as a third-down back on offense. He finished the season with 1,151 all-purpose yards, and a career full of promise was underway.

The next year, Edwards branched out even more, leading the team in carries (143), rushing yards (667), all-purpose yards (1,217) and touchdowns (12).

Edwards looked like a potential all-conference back again last season, rushing for 438 yards and six touchdowns in the Warhawks’ first eight games. That included a 120-yard effort in a scrappy 47-42 loss to Baylor.

“What he brings to the table for them is what they’re looking for,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “They’re looking for a guy who takes the pressure off Kolton (Browning). He can do that. Browning can check down to him, he can hand the ball to him and he’ll pick up four yards or he can bust a long one, whatever needs to be done. He’s a good back for their system.”

Unfortunately for Edwards, the running back’s progress came to a screeching halt in ULM’s ninth game of the year against South Alabama. He stuck out his right hand to ward off a tackler and got his wrist caught in the defender’s facemask.

“It was a freak accident, but it separated my wrist from my hand. I had a dislocated wrist, and they basically had to re-attach my wrist to my hand,” Edwards said.

Ouch, right? Naturally, the injury was painful, but so was having to sit and watch the Warhawks’ final five games. When ULM made the Independence Bowl for the school’s first bowl berth since becoming an FBS school in 1994, Edwards was happy for his teammates, but he ached to be on the field with them.

“It was definitely hard to watch,” he said. “We lost three of our last five games, and watching that, knowing you could help them, that was real tough. But stuff happens. God puts you in places, and you’ve got to find the blessing.”

Therein lies the fuel for Edwards’ senior-year surge. Through ULM’s first three games, he is back to his old self, running for a team-best 193 yards while averaging nearly seven yards a carry. Even better, he is on track to graduate in December, and declared himself “absolutely fine” with whatever career path he lands upon, be it professional football or something else entirely.

Edwards has been thrown for a loss before. He refuses to let it beat him.

“Everything that’s been thrown at me, I’ve handled it well, because of my upbringing,” he said. “A lot of guys can’t handle adversity. I can look it right in the eye, go toe-to-toe with it, and I’ve never broken down. I just keep trying to strive for everything good.”