Class of 2017
Grounded Edwards evolved from small-town basketball star to NFL stalwart
Growing up in Columbus, Montana, Dwan Edwards never dreamed he would someday play in the Super Bowl. In fact, one of the Treasure State’s most successful small town stars did not think football, let alone in the Pac 10, would ever be part of his future plans.
Edwards comes from a town of less than 2,000 people situated along the Yellowstone River in Stillwater County. As a freshman and sophomore in high school, Edwards believed he was destined to play basketball at the University of Montana in Missoula. As his 6-foot-3 frame continued to gain more mass, football recruiters became more prevalent despite his explosive abilities on the hardwood.
His junior year of high school, Edwards received a letter from former Oregon State head coach Mike Riley. At that moment, the 16-year-old “didn’t really even know where Oregon State was”. When an upper classmen at Columbus High told him Oregon State played in the Pac 10 against teams like UCLA, USC and Washington, Edwards couldn’t help but wonder if he was good enough to play against that level of competition.
In 1999, Riley took the head coaching job with the San Diego Chargers. Dennis Erickson, the famed head coach who led Miami to national championships in 1989 and 1991, took over in Corvallis. Meanwhile, Edwards was dead set on going to Montana with a goal of playing football for Joe Glenn and basketball for Don Holst.
Erickson changed Edwards’ mind.
“He told me I was too good to play in the Big Sky Conference and that’s actually the only reason I didn’t go play at the University of Montana,” Edwards said. “I was pretty set on playing there and people even talked about me having the opportunity to play football and basketball. I don’t know how that ever would’ve worked out but I really wanted to go to the University of Montana but Dennis Erickson told me I was too good.”
Erickson’s recruiting pitch worked. Edwards went to Oregon State and transformed from an athletic, explosive 6-3, 230-pounder with basketball quickness into a hulking 300-pound defensive tackle that would become a top NFL prospect.
The two-time All-Pac 10 selection was the 51st selection by the Baltimore Ravens in the second round of the 2004 NFL Draft, opening the door for one of the most successful careers put together by a Montana native. Edwards played six seasons with the Ravens, learning alongside all-time great defensive players like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. He played two seasons in Buffalo in 2010 and 2011 before playing his final four seasons with the Carolina Panthers, reaching the Super Bowl in his final year in 2015.
Edwards retired at the end of that dream season. The 35-year-old is one of the inductees for the Montana Football Hall of Fame’s class of 2017.
“The opportunity to leave the small town of Columbus where I was so unsure of myself and not as confident as you might think, to get the opportunity to go to Oregon State and to be around these different people that influenced my way of thinking, it changed my life,” Edwards said. “To be recognized in my home state is a great honor.”
Edwards’ athleticism was apparent from a young age and he rose to become a three-sport Class B star at Columbus. He was a force on the football field, an athletic marvel on the basketball court and a point-scoring thrower on the track team. He started getting college interested between his freshman and sophomore years. Once Erickson challenged him, he committed to play for the Beavers.
Even once he signed with OSU and arrived on the Corvallis campus, Edwards had no aspirations of playing professional football. In 2000, Edwards’ redshirt freshman year, Erickson helped the Beavers to a historic 11-1 season that included a win in the Fiesta Bowl. It was Oregon State’s first winning campaign in nearly 30 years.
The following year, some of Edwards’ talented teammates like stud wide receivers T. J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson began receiving NFL interest and were eventually drafted. Edwards remembers one of his older teammates telling him that someday soon, the NFL scouts and agents would be calling him, too.
“It wasn’t until my sophomore year until I realized I might be able to play in the NFL,” Edwards said. “That’s honestly when I realized it might be a dream.”
Edwards graduated high school at 230 pounds. He prioritized his conditioning and agility because his basketball dreams were still fresh. The summer after his senior year, he embarked on his first “hardcore weight lifting” because, in his mind, he was still way too small to play defensive line at the Division I level.
He reported to Oregon State at 250 pounds. The quickness he honed the basketball court helped him turn the heads of his teammates both in pickup games and in workouts.
“I was training constantly to play basketball up until then,” Edwards said. “My foot quickness, my lateral quickness, my hand speed, my overall conditioning was far better than most big guys at least that I came in contact with.
“When I got to college, that basketball skill, being able to translate that to workouts in agility drills, overall conditioning gave me a huge leg up. Then we would go play basketball at the gym and they couldn’t believe this 250-pound guy could dunk and do reverses and 360s. It wasn’t like anything they had seen. That gave me confidence in myself.”
During that redshirt freshman year, Edwards’ then girlfriend and now wife Kelsey gave birth to their first daughter, Kaitlin. He would marry Kelsey, who he met in middle school in Columbus, shortly after. Their first daughter’s birth grounded Dwan and gave him motivation to work harder.
By his third year in Corvallis, Edwards was starting on a defense that featured future NFL Draft picks like Nick Barnett, Richard Seigler, Dennis Weathersby and DeLawrence Grant. Training with men with a common goal opened Edwards’ eyes. Erickson believed passionately in his potential, too.
“Montana guys like him, they bring their lunch bucket to practice all the time,” said Erickson, himself an inductee to the Montana Football Hall of Fame this year. “Dwan was a great athlete playing in Columbus, played all the sports. He was a projection. We knew he was going to get bigger and stronger so we had to look at him down the road. But more than anything, it was his attitude, how he played the game. That showed up at Oregon State and showed up in the National Football league for a long time.”
That projection became a reality in 2002 and 2003 as Edwards blossomed into an All-Pac 10 talent. In 2004, Edwards watched teammate Steven Jackson get selected as the No. 24 overall pick in the NFL Draft. He heard his name called shortly after as the 51st pick. Two days later, Kelsey gave berth to the couple’s first son, D.J.
The family that motivated him to reach that point served as a compass as Edwards adjusted to life in the NFL. It’s what helped him surpass the norm and play 12 seasons despite undergoing spinal fusion surgery that cost him the 2008 campaign.
“For me, having a family grounded me,” Edwards said. “My first son was born two days after I was drafted. We were in a situation where it wasn’t about me. I was well aware of that. That responsibility to watch my money and not try to do too much, really trying to figure it out at the same time, being a young guy, it didn’t feel like I could risk much. I was a second round pick so I didn’t get millions and millions of dollars. It wasn’t a situation where I felt like I could go and be stupid with my money because you never know in the NFL.”
Edwards resigned with the Ravens after missing the entire 2008 season for a one-year deal. By Week 6 of the 2009 campaign, he was a starter. He used that success to earn a two-year contract with the Bills. He had his best season as a pro to date in 2010, notching 3.5 sacks, forcing a fumble and snaring one of his three career interceptions.
The veteran defensive tackle was released during the final roster cuts in August of 2011. He signed with Carolina and started 14 games in 2012. He notched a career-high six sacks, the second-most by a defensive tackle in team history. He also had 56 tackles, eight quarterback hurries, a forced fumble and three passes defended for one of the top 10 defensive units in the NFL.
Edwards battled injuries in 2013, making three starts and playing in 11 games but he still managed three sacks and 15 quarterback pressures for a unit that ranked second in the NFL in total defense and scoring defense. In 2014, he was third on the Panthers with four sacks and 15 QB pressures.
In his final season, Edwards was part of a ride to remember. Led by the MVP duo of quarterback Cam Newton and linebacker Luke Kuechly, the Panthers posted a 15-1 record and marched all the way to the Super Bowl before losing to Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos.
“It was an amazing run,” Edwards said. “It was awesome I was able to be along for four years to see the process. We weren’t so good. I got to see guys like Luke (Kuechly) and Cam (Newton) grow up and mature. The organization added different pieces. We grew. Getting to see that made it even more special to go on that run and see us play at our peak, our maximum capacity with guys I had grown to really care about.”
The Edwards clan has now grown to seven, adding a daughter Ava in 2009, a son Kai in 2014 and a third son Kingston last year. The family is based in Charlotte. Dwan is considering going back to school to get his master’s degree — he has a bachelor’s in business administration from OSU — or exploring getting into an NFL front office in player development. But for now, he’s enjoying helping with his kids and even got his first taste of coaching, helping D.J.’s seventh grade team win a championship last fall.
“I can’t even tell you how good it feels to be retired,” Edwards said. “My wife is amazed. I hear so many bad stories about guys’ transitions into retirement. I’m just in a good place. I made more money than I ever thought I would. I didn’t think I would play this many years. I saw so many guys come and go so it’s hard for me to be sad or disappointed. I feel blessed.”
Edwards returns to Montana whenever he can, giving motivational speeches and hosting a free youth football camp each summer. His hope is he can give another small-town kid like he once was the sense of belief to chase their dreams no matter where they are from.
“I didn’t go to Oregon State ever thinking I was going to the NFL,” Edwards said. “To get around some people who had that goal helped me believe. I just learned so much. The ability to travel and go somewhere else and be influenced by other people, I wouldn’t have ever had that opportunity if not for football.”
By COLTER NUANEZ
Colter Nuanez is the founder and senior writer atSkyline Sports, an online newsgathering multimedia organization providing comprehensive coverage of Big Sky Conference athletics. He has covered the Big Sky since 2006 and has been involved with the Montana Football Hall of Fame since 2016. He can be reached at Colter.Nuanez@gmail.com.