Edwards destined to be a punter

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Edwards destined to be a punter

Redshirt junior punter Cody Edwards' football career has been plagued by injuries since the eighth grade.

Redshirt junior punter Cody Edwards' football career has been plagued by injuries since the eighth grade.

Justin Brown

Redshirt junior punter Cody Edwards' football career has been plagued by injuries since the eighth grade.

Justin Brown

Justin Brown

Redshirt junior punter Cody Edwards' football career has been plagued by injuries since the eighth grade.

Sean Hastings, Sports Editor

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Two knee surgeries, one dislocated vertebrae in his neck, both knees dislocated twice, and one ankle surgery; you’d think that would be enough to end a football career, but for punter Cody Edwards, that’s how his got started.

Football is a dangerous game for every man on the field, except for two for the most part: the kicker and the punter.

Pretty much the only time a punter will get hit is if the punt returner is making a break for the end zone and the punter might get blocked, or if he gets run into by a defender trying to block the punt. And it’s not every game either of those occurs.

Looking in a dictionary, next to bad luck you might find a picture of redshirt junior Edwards, because there is no other way to put it than bad luck with what he went through with injuries.

Edwards said once one injury healed up, another found its way to make things even more difficult for him.

The Panthers’ punter was not always strictly a punter. He played a little bit of wide receiver and quarterback as well.

Edwards, from eighth grade on, was fired up to go out on the field and play linebacker or receiver, but doctors’ orders turned him into a specialist.

“What it was for my freshman year on in high school, I would injure something, and the doctors would say ‘you can’t play,’” Edwards said. “Then with five games left they said ‘you can play, but the only thing you can do is punt.’”

Edwards went along with it his freshman year, and the same thing happened his sophomore year. Another injury forced him to be the punter.

Being told he could not play other positions was almost like a blessing in disguise. He had to fight through the injuries for those two years, but as a junior, he earned First-Team All-State for Missouri.

“It was then I was like, ‘OK, I’m getting pretty good at this because this is all I’m able to focus on because of my injuries,’” Edwards said.

And come senior year of high school, he noticed colleges were starting to look at him and that is when being a college punter became the goal.

“My senior year, I decided I need to just focus on punting and not get hurt anymore,” he said.

It is clear that a punter uses his legs to punt the ball down the field. And for a punter to have four dislocated knees, two surgeries on his plant leg, and an ankle surgery on his kicking foot, being able to do it is almost a miracle.

The injuries have forced Edwards to modify the way he punts. Most punters will explode off the ground finishing in the air, which Edwards used to do. Edwards does a “pivot punt” now, meaning he does not hop off the ground after punting the ball. But the fact that both surgeries were on his left plant leg is what has enabled him to still be a punter.

“The two surgeries I’ve had have been in the same knee — my left knee — and if they were in my right knee, I’d be done with football for sure,” Edwards said. “The strength between my left knee and my right knee is just incredible.”

Putting football aside, the surgeries in his left knee have affected him off the field.

“It’s really hard for me to just get up off my knee,” Edwards said. “If I’m down in a sitting position, to even get up off my left leg (is hard).”

Edwards would rather be able to explode off the ground to boot the ball down field, but he had to learn to do the pivot punt if he wanted to keep going.

Everyone has at one time or another looked back on their life and wondered, “what if this happened or didn’t happen,” and if things would be different. The same goes for Eastern’s punter.

His ankle injury did not even come from football; it came from track. That was one of the tougher pills to swallow for Edwards — knowing track just was not an option anymore.

“I always wonder,” Edwards said. “Track was a huge part of my life along with (football), because my dad in high school was my track coach and my coach for football. I loved doing hurdles and discus, and I was our decathlete in high school, and I loved it.”

But the injuries always had to modify things, he said.

Edwards ran the 110-meter and 300-meter hurdles while he was at Rockwood Summit High School in Missouri.

Around the time when Edwards was looking to come to college, there was a part of him that wished the injuries never happened and track could still be part of his life.

“There was a regret where I wanted to come here and try to walk on the track team and be a decathlete or something,” Edwards said.

Now as a redshirt junior and the Panthers’ punter, Edwards is in the midst of playing his first full season. He redshirted his freshman year, played in just six games as a redshirt freshman and he did not play at all last year.

He found his way to Eastern after going to a camp where he met former coach Dino Babers, and brought along a good friend… Eastern redshirt junior long snapper AJ Hantak.

The punter-snapper duo have known each other since sixth grade. When Babers invited Edwards out to the camp, Edwards asked if he could bring Hantak to snap, and Babers obliged.

Hantak said he never imagined the two of them would both end up getting recruited here and the fact that they did makes for a cool story since they have been playing since middle school.

“It’s been really fun,” Hantak said. “We have definitely developed a chemistry from playing for so long. It’s nice being comfortable with your punter — not having to worry about dropped snaps or anything.”

When the Panthers beat Tennessee State Saturday, there was some plays and aspects of the game that stand out: the Eastern running game put up over 200 yards, redshirt junior quarterback Mitch Kimble returned and the Eastern defense stopped Tennessee State in the final 34 seconds.

Maybe the biggest reason why the Panthers stepped up the way they did and kept the Tigers out of game-winning field goal range was Edwards’ 42-yard punt to the Tigers 4-yard line.

Tennessee State had to go at least 56 yards to put its kicker in field-goal range. And doing something like that gets Edwards fired up. Edwards spiraled the ball perfectly and had it nose dive inside the 5-yard line, and had the “gunners” down it.

A punt like that gets everyone on the punt team fired up, because special teams takes pride in the punt team and knowing they did a good job with such limited chances is a great feeling.

“Things go through my mind after the game like ‘what if that ball went in the end zone and came out to the 20-yard line for a touchback,’” Edwards said. “Maybe that (34-yard pass by Tennessee State) would have put them close to (field-goal range) that would have won the game.”

“I was really happy they had 96-yards to go,” he said.

Being the punter, Edwards will get on the field six or seven times if he is lucky. Eastern has to fail to get first downs if he wants to play, but he is OK with that.

“I totally get it when all the guys come up to me and tell me ‘hey Cody, you’re not going to get on the field today,’” Edwards said. “I just laugh with them and say ‘I hope so.’ I hope that our offense does that good to where you don’t need me, but I’m always here to try to make the defense’s job a lot easier and try to pin them as far down as I can.”

The life of a punter is different than any other guy on a football team. If a receiver drops a pass, a quarterback makes a bad throw or a defender misses a tackle, one play later he can redeem himself; but for Edwards, he may wait 30 minutes before he is back out there. He does not get a ‘do-over.’

“If (I) have a bad punt, I have to go on the sideline, and I have to sit there and let that sink in for a half hour before I might get in there again,” Edwards said. “It’s definitely a game of mental toughness.”

Tough is one way to describe Edwards.

But after six different injuries and three surgeries, Edwards is a Division-I punter. So maybe in some weird, twisted way, Edwards is somewhat lucky… maybe.

Missing content was added at 12:28 p.m. 

Sean Hastings can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]