MADISON, Wis. — David Edwards, the midseason All-America right tackle for fifth-ranked Wisconsin, arrived on campus here two years ago as a 245-pound tight end with little sense of the work required to succeed in the trenches for the top program in the Big Ten West.
He didn’t eat breakfast. Didn’t lift weights. And two years prior, Edwards ran the option as a quarterback at Downers Grove (Illinois) North High School. His weight then? About 215 pounds.
“It’s crazy to think about where I came from,” Edwards said, “and where I am now.”
His remarkable journey is unlike those of his teammates. For Edwards, the trip from the southwestern suburbs of Chicago to stardom in Madison involved challenges that only an egg- and potato-filled burrito, complex carbohydrates and lean meats could help him conquer.
Long reputed for its building of offensive linemen, Wisconsin has outdone itself with Edwards, a third-year sophomore and key offensive piece for the undefeated Badgers as No. 24 Michigan visits Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday. He has added 100 pounds to his 6-foot-7 frame since Big Ten teams began to recruit him primarily as an athlete some five years ago.
Edwards, you could say, with a little help from his love for peanut butter, serves as the current poster boy for Wisconsin’s ability to manufacture its brand of football talent through a 5,100-calorie daily intake.
“He’s worked at it,” coach Paul Chryst said. “He’s got athleticism. You add size to that athleticism, and he’s obviously a smart football player. With his work ethic, you’ve got a chance to make something special happen.”
Let’s rewind to 2012, when Edwards emerged as a sophomore at Downers Grove, where his cousins Garrett Edwards and Tommy Edwards starred before him. Both played QB — Tommy en route to walking on at Iowa and Garrett before earning scholarship to play safety at Illinois.
Edwards’ father and uncle also played at Illinois, so he had big shoes to fill. Edwards watched film of former Georgia Tech quarterback Joshua Nesbitt. He saw himself in high school as a glorified running back.
The Hawkeyes recruited him as a lineman, but Edwards liked the idea of staying more involved in the offense. So he signed with Chryst’s new staff as a tight end. When the Badgers threw the rare pass to him in practice, Chryst joked that if Edwards dropped a ball, he’d find knee braces in his locker by the end of the day — a sign that he was moving to the offensive line.
Edwards added breakfast to his daily food plan and gained 20 pounds in his first six months on campus, which was not unusual, said Shaun Snee, Wisconsin’s assistant strength and conditioning coach. It was unusual, though, that he kept slowly gaining weight, up to 275 pounds by August 2016.
And then came the suggestion from Chryst, no joke this time: How about right tackle?
Chryst said he felt good about the move immediately.
“Is it good for the individual and is it good for the team?” the coach said. “You paint a picture that is realistic. And they’ve got to own it. Otherwise, it isn’t going to work. These guys are smart. You just talk to them.”
Edwards went straight to Snee, the strength coach who devised a meal plan that included a minimum of 5,100 calories. As a lineman, he had freedom to go even higher.
And instead of just any old breakfast, Edwards bought into the aforementioned burritos, which also include bacon and cheese. He ate one last Wednesday, in fact, before the Badgers’ morning practice, followed by a protein shake packed with fruits. Lunch came later.
By Week 7 of last year, Rudolph felt comfortable enough with Edwards as to play him when Jacob Maxwell was bothered by a shoulder injury against Ohio State. Early in the second quarter, Sam Hubbard blew past Edwards for a sack of QB Alex Hornibrook.
Edwards got an earful on the sideline from Rudolph.
“It’s time,” Edwards said, recalling Rudolph’s message. “It was time for me to grow up. He said that — and some other stuff. I felt like I was letting our team down.”
Edwards did not play for the remainder of that game, a 30-23 win for the Buckeyes.
“There are guys who learn from that,” Rudolph said, “and there are guys who do the opposite. David was ready to learn. You teach him to use that experience and make it work for him. ‘It happened. What are you going to do? Where are you going to grow from that?'”
Soon, he was starting — and still gaining weight — as injuries took a toll on the Badgers up front. He started the final seven games as Wisconsin won every one but the Big Ten championship against Penn State and rushed for 233 yards per outing.
“The jump he’s made has just been crazy,” said Michael Deiter, the Badgers’ most veteran offensive lineman who starts opposite Edwards at left tackle this year. “He’s got all the attributes. He’s strong. He’s quick. He’s long. He’s got great technique, everything that it takes.”
Edwards’ weight stabilized at 310 pounds last spring as Snee reduced his calorie consumption to 4,100 daily. They cut fried foods and late-night sacks. And Snee limited Edwards’ favorite, peanut butter.
“It’s really tough to keep David off his peanut butter,” Snee said.
Edwards is willing to make the sacrifice, though.
His motivating factors now include living up to the standard set by Badgers like Ryan Ramczyk, a Division III lineman turned All-American in Madison and first-round NFL draft pick this year.
Ramczyk helped mentor Edwards through his transition to college — a transition unlike most. And if Chryst ever needs a lineman to run the option or throw a wobbly pass, Edwards said, “I think I’ve still got it in me.”
The coach figures to stick with Edwards in his traditional role.
“It’s in him to do this now,” Chryst said. “Once he got the technique down, he started reverting back to his athletic ability. It’s a process. He’s not done yet.”