DAN BICKLEY

Chase Edmonds’ chip on his shoulder makes him a great bet for Cardinals

May 10, 2018, 7:17 PM | Updated: May 11, 2018, 7:25 am
Fordham's Chase Edmonds #22 runs the ball up the field against Holy Cross during an NCAA college fo...
Fordham's Chase Edmonds #22 runs the ball up the field against Holy Cross during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, in Bronx, N.Y. Holy Cross won 42-20. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano)
(AP Photo/Steve Luciano)

Football is made for masochists, the men who enjoy the taste of their own blood. It rewards oversized hearts and those who can’t imagine life without legalized violence. And if you’re hunting for talent that can’t be measured or denied, you start with small-school running backs.

Like the Cardinals’ Chase Edmonds.

“I’m built for the underdog role,” Edmonds said. “I’ve been playing the underdog role my whole life.”

Much has been made about Steve Keim’s stellar performance in the 2018 draft. The team wandered into a goldmine at a pivotal time in franchise history, plucking a franchise quarterback (Josh Rosen) and a homegrown wide receiver (Christian Kirk). But Edmonds is the sleeper of the bunch, a player who has all the intangibles and time-honored traits.

When he was young, his father insisted he would one day wear a gold jacket, the piece of clothing that comes with Hall of Fame induction. He dreamed of playing college football in front of 70,000 fans, only to end up at Fordham, where his spirit couldn’t be suppressed.

“Fordham is a school that is not known for football,” Edmonds said. “Teachers would always ask (students) what they want to do. You hear, ‘Wall Street.’ You hear, ‘Engineer.’ You hear all sorts of stuff. And when they heard me say the NFL, you’d get these (crazy) looks. It’s something that I brushed off and just kept working. I stayed the course.”

Small-school running backs learn the hard way, away from the spotlight. They know what it feels like to be a star, even when toiling in obscurity. David Johnson, who starred at Northern Iowa, carried his football team and scrubbed toilets for $9 an hour, harboring a silent fury. The greatest of them all – Walter Payton – starred at Jackson State University, developing the need to run over every defensive player in his path.

Unlike Alabama running backs who reach the NFL with significant wear on the tires, small-school running backs don’t absorb the physical pounding that comes with carrying the ball in the SEC or Big Ten. They find supreme validation when drafted by a professional franchise, but understand the burden of proof that follows them into the NFL.

Edmonds is only 5-foot-9 and won’t run over opponents. But he has great vision and great skill. He rushed for over 1,600 yards in his first three seasons at Fordham and had a chance to set the FCS record for career rushing yards. He became obsessed with setting a new standard, and attempted to play through injuries as a senior rather than listening to his body.

He failed to achieve that goal. Then he vowed to never let it happen again.

“I don’t play this game to be second,” Edmonds said. “I try to be the hardest worker. That’s the first thing I’m going to do as a rookie to impress these vets, prove that my work ethic is second to none, even with a Hall of Famer like Larry Fitzgerald in that room.”

Unlike Rosen, Edmonds isn’t brash or cocky. He says he’s going to keep his mouth shut when minicamp commences on Friday, allowing his actions tell his story. On paper, he appears to be the perfect complement to Johnson, whom Edmonds deeply admires. His temperament is perfect.

Many rookies come to the NFL full of hopes and dreams, and they say all the right things. But something seems different about this kid. As a college football analyst, former Cardinals kicker Jay Feely immediately recognized Edmonds’ potential while covering a Fordham game, repeatedly texting Keim his full endorsement.

“Some guys, their biggest mistake is trying to be something they’re not,” Edmonds said. “I’m just going to come in, shut my mouth, do my work and let the rest fall where it may. And that’s one thing I pride myself on.”

Edmonds takes nothing for granted. When Fordham’s Joe Moorhead became a hot commodity in 2015, the impressionable running back decided to follow his head coach to his next destination. That ended when Moorhead became an assistant at Penn State, where Saquon Barkley was the established workhorse.

He also interrogated former Fordham quarterbacks coach Joe Davis, who worked at Northern Iowa when Johnson was the resident star. Edmonds wanted to know everything about Johnson’s off-field activities, his practice habits, his leadership and his work ethic.

“Anything he did, I tried to replicate,” Edmonds said.

Edmonds, 22, also understands commitment and responsibility. He has a three-year old daughter who “changed my life.” His desire and ambition dwarf his talent, and he could be the biggest surprise to come out of the fourth round, a pick that has drawn rave reviews from many draft experts.

“Rightfully so, I believe,” he said. “This is one of the few times you’ll hear me sound proud of how far I’ve come. I like to be humble and keep my mouth shut, but when you get to sit back and realize you’ve finally accomplished a lifelong dream, with all the long days and sacrifices, and it’s finally come true … it’s something where I can actually sound proud.”

The feeling won’t last long. Edmonds has reached the NFL, but he knows he hasn’t arrived. He’ll be carrying the football and a torch for all the other small-school running backs who endure the winding, anonymous path to professional football.

For guys like him, the chip on his shoulder is more than a tired cliché. It’s the reason he’s here. And given the crapshoot nature of the NFL draft, it’s why players like Edmonds are a great bet.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@bonneville.com.  Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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Chase Edmonds’ chip on his shoulder makes him a great bet for Cardinals