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ASU showing progress in Herm Edwards’ first year

(AP Photo/Ralph Freso)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Herm Edwards’ first season as head coach at Arizona State is drawing to a close. And it’s tough to consider year one as anything less than a success.

Granted, a 7-5 record heading into the Las Vegas Bowl is hardly the ultimate goal that Ray Anderson laid out for the program when he hired Edwards last December. But it’s a good start. The feeling when Edwards took the job was that his greatest strength would be his ability to draw quality players to Tempe. So even the most optimistic Sun Devil fans didn’t know what to expect in his first season with someone else’s guys and a limited recruiting window.

Throw in a daunting schedule and an extremely young defense, and there were many who thought ASU would struggle to win more than three or four games in 2018.

Instead, they delivered a winning record, picking up notable victories against Michigan State and Pac-12 South winner Utah, plus a rare road triumph over USC. The game against the Spartans, in particular, set the stage for the season and highlighted Edwards’ ability to manage a game and handle the clock in key situations.

Oh yeah, they also capped it all off by rallying from 19 down in the fourth quarter to beat rival Arizona. In Tucson, no less.

“The Arizona game,” Edwards noted, when asked for something that stood out in his first season. “How much passion is involved in that, with people that don’t play the game of football. And that’s a good thing, I like that. When you have two fan bases that are that passionate about a game. That’s how I grew up, watching stuff, being passionate about ‘I like this team, they like that team’. I’m good with that.”

“And there’s history,” he went on. “When you sit from afar, and you hear about it, you go ‘okay’. But when you’re a part of it, and you go 119 years, you go ‘hmmm… this game’s been around awhile’. And stories get told from one generation, and it filters down to the next generation and then the next generation and then all of a sudden it’s what it is. And it makes it very interesting.”

Of course, this isn’t Edwards’ first rivalry. He often mentions his years in the NFL, playing for the Eagles against the Cowboys. Or his time as a college athlete at California, facing Stanford. He’s even brought up the intensity of playing high school football in northern California for Monterey, against Seaside.

But this is his first real experience as a college head coach, so it’s also his first time seeing a rivalry from that specific point of view. And it’s been an opportunity to evolve as a leader of young men.

“I think my life lesson is this – and I tell the players this all the time, I tell my daughters this as well – everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned from someone else,” Edwards explained.

“You never stop learning in life. And that’s what makes life so great. Regardless of what age you are, you can always learn something. And the more I’m around these players, the more I learn about college football, and how they function. I’m real big on how people function, and how do you maximize your talent. Every individual’s a little bit different, so I enjoy doing that. I enjoy meeting with different players everyday and having conversations with them.

“I enjoy that,” he continued. “I really do. Because I just think you learn about people. And when you learn about who they are and what motivates them, then you have an opportunity to make sure they maximize their talent.”

That attitude hasn’t been lost on the players, who speak glowingly about their first year coach. Including Manny Wilkins, who took on an even bigger leadership role as Edwards’ senior quarterback this season.

“There hasn’t been one time in my life that, throughout a whole entire year, the coach didn’t have one blowup,” Wilkins pointed out. “One yell at somebody crazy, you know, cuss words slip, something like that – that doesn’t happen. That’s just not who he is. When he’s in here talking to you guys, he talks to you guys how he talks to us, how he talks to our parents.

“He doesn’t waver his character because he’s talking to media. He’s not up here giving you guys cookie-cutter responses and things like that. He’s a genuine, real person. That’s the thing I’ll take away the most: to be successful in life, to be successful in whatever you put yourself in front of, you don’t have to be different because of what a piece of paper says you need to be like. If you remain yourself, the correct things will fall in your path that need to be there. And that’s something that I’ve learned from Coach Herm.”

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