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The Great Bryan Edwards

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Consistency highlighted Bryan Edwards' remarkable career in Columbia.

South Carolina's Bryan Edwards watched the final game of his college career. Though on the sidelines on Saturday, out with a knee injury, the spotlight is where Edwards will long be. The four-year standout for the Gamecocks goes down as one of the most accomplished players in school history. Edwards finishes as South Carolina's all-time leader in both receptions and receiving yards, just one score off the career touchdown mark. Coming statewide to Columbia from the coast, his impact on the program was complete and comprehensive.

At a place where the likes of Alshon Jeffery, Kenny McKinley, Sidney Rice, Deebo Samuel and Sterling Sharpe, among others, created South Carolina's downfield expectation, Edwards' statistics clearly add to that notable standard. He, in the Gamecocks' impressive playmaking pedigree, is one of the names out in front.

The Conway-native made an impact immediately. Edwards caught eight passes for 101 yards in his first-ever game, helping South Carolina beat Vanderbilt in an SEC opener. He made one of the plays of the night on the Gamecocks' late go-ahead scoring drive, opening the series with a key 16-yard catch that moved the football up near midfield; minutes later, Elliott Fry kicked the game-winning field goal. As soon as Edwards debuted at the college level, he was, impressively and from then-on-out, one of the best players on the field.

Four years later, the end result is one for the media guide. Edwards ranks third in SEC history with 234 career receptions and fourth in the league all-time with 3,045 yards.

Consistency highlighted Edwards' remarkable career in Columbia. He caught at least one pass in every single one of the 48 games he played in, catching multiple passes 46 different times. From the Birmingham Bowl Edwards' freshman season up through the end of his junior year, Edwards had at least two receptions in 27 consecutive contests. From 49.2 yards per grab in 2016 to 61, 65.1 and 81.6 here in 2019, he, starting strong, continued to develop and improve throughout his tenure.

At the end of his career, only one player in the SEC had more catches than Edwards during his senior season with 71, a total compiled despite him missing the last two games. Edwards actually leads the league with 7.1 receptions per game overall. He this fall, for example, has the same number of catches as Alabama's Jerry Jeudy, the reigning Biletnikoff Award winner. In a conference with considerable star power on the perimeter, some of the best options the conference has ever had, Edwards earned his keep.

A record-setting run with eight 100-yard games and 22 touchdowns came with many signature moments. The penultimate performance, for Edwards, was one to remember. He set new career highs with 14 receptions for 139 yards in South Carolina's 24-7 win over Vanderbilt, the Gamecocks' final victory of the season. In fact, before missing the Texas A&M and Clemson's game, Edwards was on a streak of eight straight outings with at least six catches, showdowns with nationally-ranked Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Appalachian State included.

In South Carolina's triumph over the Bulldogs, the Gamecocks scored one offensive touchdown; a tone-setting 46-yard scoring strike from Ryan Hilinski to Edwards. Fittingly, he made one of the signature plays in one of the signature wins in program history.

Big moments over the past few years have Edwards' name all over them. From his college debut in Nashville to the upset in Athens, the highlights are many. Edwards scored in his first two games against rival Clemson and his first two bowl games, his touchdown in the Outback Bowl helping South Carolina beat Michigan. Throughout his stint, Edwards was always comfortable in the spotlight. His last three outings against Georgia, for example, resulted in 20 catches for 251 yards and four touchdowns. In 15 games against ranked foes, Edwards caught 81 passes.

What Edwards accomplished at South Carolina goes well beyond the box score. He was difference-maker for his team on and off the field and an academic and athletic award winner. Not just a record-setter, Edwards was a tone-setter. Leadership is his lasting legacy. The Gamecocks, during his tenure and moving forward alike, are better for all that Edwards did.  

His name forever entrenched with Forever to Thee, the next level is what is next for Edwards. He, as a standout NFL prospect, is part of a heralded, perhaps historic, upcoming wide receiver class. Edwards, 6'3'', 215 pounds, is poised to be a high selection. In late January, Edwards will first participate in the annual Reese's Senior Bowl, a spotlight combine and contest ahead of the draft. One more college football game awaits for one of the SEC's all-time greats; properly, it's a showcase of the best of the best.

It goes without saying that there is a proven track for Edwards to follow, starring at receiver in the low country before going on to the NFL. In addition to the all-time greats, he will soon join former South Carolina standouts Damiere Byrd, Pharoh Cooper, Jeffery and Samuel in the professional ranks. Edwards finished his college career with three more receiving yards than Jeffery, a Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion. 

Edwards caught a lot of passes and gained a lot of yards for South Carolina, moving the program forward beyond just moving the sticks. He leaves an example to follow, footprints both all over the field and on the way to it.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports