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Edwards directing focus to players ahead of ASU’s first game

Arizona State quarterback Manny Wilkins throwing against North Carolina State during the first half of the Sun Bowl NCAA college football game in El Paso, Texas. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton, File)

After an offseason loaded with anticipation, it’s finally here. When Arizona State lines up against UTSA this Saturday, it will mark the first game of the Herm Edwards Era. And that’s something a lot of people have been waiting to see since December.

It’s not just local fans either. It’s the college football world as a whole.

Edwards’ celebrity status, mixed with his outgoing personality, obvious skills as a motivational speaker and relative inexperience at the college level have all combined to build plenty of curiosity surrounding the program as the season approaches.

But when the Sun Devils take the field on Saturday night, Edwards says it will be all about the players.

“I’ll make some calls, make some decisions for you, but I’m not going to play,” he reminded the media on Monday.

“They won’t allow me to play anymore. I’m not worthy. I had my time. And I understand that. Coach, step aside. Let the players play, it’s their game. Need to highlight those guys. Don’t need to highlight me, I don’t want to be highlighted. I’m not one of those guys, you know, people are waiting, ‘how’s he going to act on the sideline’? You’re going to get tired of looking at me, because I’m going to be very stoic. Look at the players. They’re playing.”

The question now is who those players are. Or, more specifically, what they’re capable of.

N’Keal Harry is back, looking to make good on the growing preseason hype that has many experts viewing him as one of the very best wide receivers in the nation.

Meanwhile, Eno Benjamin is stepping into the main running back role, taking the reigns from last year’s duo of Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard.

And then, of course, there’s Manny Wilkins – one of the few constants on a team that has experienced more than its fair share of turnover since last year.

“We built the offense around him,” Edwards explained. “When I first took the job and Coach Likens decided to stay on – which I’m happy he did – I said ‘we’ve got to build around Manny. It’s his offense. And we’ve got to make sure we cater to what he likes’. And we’ve been able to do that.”

On defense, Koron Crump is working his way back from a knee injury that sidelined him for nearly all of 2017. And Chase Lucas returns to be an anchor in the secondary. It’s Renell Wren who Edwards will likely be leaning on to be the leader of a changing defense though. Particularly in this first week.

“He’s a guy with a lot of veteran spirit,” Edwards pointed out. “He’s one of the captains. I told him they’re going to have to match that defensive line of San Antoinio. It’s kind of important that we match their strength, we match what they do. Becasue the game’s going to be lost or won in the trenches. It always is.”

As far as what he wants to see from his group in his inaugural game as a college head coach, Edwards noted the importance of good communication to minimize errors. And he stressed the value of competing hard, to not only feel good about the effort that was left on the field, but to set a standard for the what this season’s going to be like. He wants his guys to build that reputation right out of the gate. And that starts this Saturday.

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