T.J. Edwards has missed games. He wasn't going to miss an opportunity to play Big Ten football.
So the Lakes senior made a tough decision last week, withdrawing his commitment to Western Michigan University and verbally committing to a University of Wisconsin program that has played in the last three Rose Bowls. The Badgers are ranked 21st in both the BCS Standings and AP Top 25 after losing to Penn State last week.
Despite playing primarily quarterback the last two seasons, Edwards was recruited as a linebacker. Western Michigan also projected him as a defensive player.
Lakes coach Luke Mertens calls Edwards the most explosive player ever to come through his successful program.
"I knew it was an opportunity that you don't let wait around for a while," said Edwards, who visited UW's Madison campus last week. "I really loved it there."
So then came the breakup.
Edwards called Western Michigan head coach P.J. Fleck and recruiting coordinator/linebackers coach Tim McGarigle and explained that he wouldn't be going to Kalamazoo, where what is considered a strong incoming recruiting class hopes to turn around the Broncos' fortunes in the Mid-American Conference. It wasn't an easy phone call, especially considering how well the Western Michigan staff treated Edwards during the recruiting process.
"Those guys have been so good to me," Edwards said. "I felt bad for it, but it's just something I had to do for myself.
"Coach McGarigle actually recruits our area, so he recruited me. It was tough because he knows Coach Mertens. We had a really good relationship. (McGarigle) was obviously disappointed and so was Coach Fleck, but they understood."
It was only a couple of weeks ago that Wisconsin entered the picture.
"They just started showing interest in me," Edwards said. "I wasn't going out looking for them because I had my verbal to Western, but they just called me one day. It just fell into my lap, and it went from there."
Edwards wound up playing essentially just a little more than half the 2013 high school football season. He banged his finger against Grant in Week 6 and sat out the second half of the Eagles' 40-0 win. The following week, he tore his right meniscus at Vernon Hills. He then had his knee scoped. He missed Lakes' remaining two regular-season games, against North Chicago and Mundelein, as well as the Eagles' playoff-opening loss to Prairie Ridge.
"I was going to come back the second round if we made it,"Edwards said. "It's just unfortunate we didn't."
Edwards is a good basketball player, too. He missed the Eagles' first three games this season at Mundelein while still letting his knee heal, but played the final two games and actually scored 13 points in the second.
"I'm probably going to miss a couple more, just to be safe, because I don't want to risk anything (with the knee)," Edwards said. "It's doing good, but it's not at 100 percent, and I just don't feel comfortable coming back if it's not 100. I owe it to my team to come back fully ready to go."
With the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Edwards behind center, Lakes' football team won the North Suburban Prairie Division championship the last two years, going a combined 12-0. He played only three games on defense this past season but still recorded 22 tackles, including 2 for loss, 1 interception, 1 fumble recovery, 1 sack, 1 pass breakup and 1 QB pressure. Offensively, he rushed for 372 yards, averaging nearly 8 yards per carry, and 5 touchdowns, and threw for 708 yards and 6 TDs.
He earned all-conference and all-state honorable mention honors the last two years.
"More importantly," Mertens said, "T.J. is an even better person who treats everyone with respect."
"My family and I are so excited," Edwards said. "It was tough. It was just something I had to do that was best for me and school."
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