Maine’s Earnest Edwards is expected to be a major contributor this season. Contributed photo by University of Maine Athletics

ORONO — When University of Maine quarterback Chris Ferguson calls Earnest Edwards a knucklehead, it’s a term of endearment.

“He’s a funny kid. He makes me laugh a lot. He’s definitely a knucklehead,” Ferguson said. “But he’s serious about his business when he’s on the field. He gets it done. He’s actually a good leader on the field. He brings energy, he supports everybody else.”

When told of Ferguson’s assessment, Edwards, a junior wide receiver, laughed and nodded in agreement. If talking trash, be it on the field or playing video games with friends, makes him a knucklehead, Edwards owns it, and doesn’t apologize.

“I usually talk a lot of trash, but that’s what gets me going, gets my energy up,” Edwards said after a recent Black Bears practice. “If I don’t talk trash, I don’t feel like I play to best of my ability. It’s all out of love. It’s how I get my energy.”

Already one of the top kick returners in the Football Championship Subdivision, Edwards hopes to take on a bigger role in Maine’s offense this season. The Black Bears open at home on Aug. 30 against rival University of New Hampshire.

Maine head coach Joe Harasymiak sees Edwards as a key weapon in an offense that includes a few of them. Ferguson, who started all 10 games last season as a redshirt freshman, is back at quarterback. Receiver Micah Wright is back after missing half the 2017 season due to injury. Former quarterback Drew Belcher transitioned to tight end. And there’s Edwards, who sits ahead of a group of talented but young receivers.

“What we’re really excited about him on offense. He’s shown that here over spring ball and camp. He’s always been a dynamic player,” Harasymiak said. “We’ve got to do a better job, and we’ll do that this year, of getting him the ball. That’s a focal point for Coach Charlton (offensive coordinator Nick Charlton).”

Last season, Edwards caught 21 passes for 371 yards and four touchdowns. Edwards also was used in the running game, with 11 carries for 52 yards. Those stats were similar to Edwards’ production as a freshman in 2016, when he caught 20 passes for 334 yards and three touchdowns, and ran eight times for 90 yards and a score.

Where Edwards has excelled since he arrived at Maine is on special teams. He returned a kick for a touchdown in each of his first two seasons, and last year led the Colonial Athletic Association with a 24.5 yards per return average. Edwards was named first team all-CAA kick returner, and was named to the league’s preseason all conference team.

Returning kicks has been a part of his game since he began playing football at age five, Edwards said. His speed and will to find the end zone are instrumental to his success.

“Kick returning gives me another opportunity to get in the end zone,” Edwards said. “Most of it is definitely instincts, but just believing in your blockers, and I’m taking it all the way. As long as they do their job, my job is way easier. I just respect the 10 guys blocking for me so much.”

Maine’s Earnest Edwards finds a hole and breaks away for a touchdown last season. Portland Press Herald file photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Edwards’ first kick return for a score came late in his freshman year, a 97-yard return against Villanova. Edwards caught the ball at the right hash-marks, and immediately cut left to find his blockers. After hurdling over a fallen Villanova defender, Edwards squeezed past another Wildcat, finding the left sideline and sprinting to the end zone.

Last season, in Maine’s game against the University of Massachusetts at Fenway Park, Edwards had one of those clean returns all kick returns dream of. Less than two minutes into the game, Edwards and the Black Bears answered a quick UMass score when Edwards went 95 yards, up the middle of the field and untouched, for a touchdown.

“That was the easiest one by far,” Edwards said.

After leading Aquinas Institute to a pair of New York Class AA state championships, Maine won a tight recruiting battle for Edwards, a Rochester, N.Y. native. According to a January, 2016 story in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the New York state co-player of the year in the large school division as a senior, Edwards had scholarship offers from 10 schools, including FBS school Buffalo.

When Edwards made his official visit to Orono, the school just felt right, Edwards said. Used to lake effect snow in Rochester, Edwards wasn’t deterred by the Maine weather.

“My official visit was amazing, even through there was four feet of snow. Just the people, the atmosphere at the school. I liked it,” Edwards said.

“He was a real big get for us, recruiting-wise, and we battled a lot of teams for him,” Harasymiak said. “When he came in as a freshman, we knew he was talented right away. He was just someone who was learning his way on offense, but right away on special teams, you saw his impact. Because it’s just kind of natural to him.”

Edwards has shown glimpses of how important he can be to the Black Bears offense. His best stretch last season came in back-to-back games against William and Mary and Delaware. Against William and Mary, Edwards had three catches for 66 yards. A week later against the Blue Hens, Edwards caught four balls for 80 yards.

Ferguson recalled two plays Edwards made. First, a catch Edwards made against UMass at Fenway. It was a bender route over the middle, a delta, Ferguson said.

“I hit him right in stride as he turned his head. That’s one of my favorite throws because we were on the same page,” Ferguson said. “I can trust him over the middle.”

Ferguson also pointed to a catch Edwards made at Delaware. It was just a checkdown in the flat, but Edwards eluded a defender to pick up the first down.

“I’ve seen him do a lot of stuff. Sometimes, you throw him the ball and just watch and say ‘Wow, that kid’s special,'” Ferguson said.

Edwards’ offseason was spent preparing for a bigger role in Maine’s offense. His routes are crisper, and Edwards thinks he’ll be able to get open more.

“My route running is way better since last year and my freshman year. Over the summer, I really focused on using the cones more,” Edwards said. “I know clearing separation will go a long way in this game. That’s what I’m focused on. I can’t wait for the season to start.”

Whether those opportunities come on special teams or in the flow of the offense, Edwards is eager to simply do more.

“I’ll have my opportunities, but I’ll do what the team needs. If the ball comes my way, it’s my job to make a play,” he said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.