The fact that Dwan Edwards is already heading into his eighth NFL season didn’t really hit home until he came home.
“I was just talking to my wife (Kelsey) about this actually,” Edwards said while back in Billings last weekend for a brief visit. “When I get to come back home, it seems like I can sit back and really kind of reflect on how far I’ve come.”
That opportunity to reflect and reminisce came when Edwards ran into old classmates and school teachers at the West End Walmart, where he was staging a fund-raiser for his upcoming Dwan Edwards Elite Football Camp.
“When I’m in Buffalo, I’m always focused on what I have to do next,” said Edwards. “I’ve got to get better. I’ve got to train.”
But that wasn’t the case last Saturday for the 30-year-old Edwards, who grew up in Columbus and has now achieved celebrity status as a starting defensive end for the Bills.
He mingled with old friends and new fans, posed for pictures, caught up on hometown news and signed autographs, while also raising attention and money for his fourth annual summer camp in Billings.
“They’ve got nothing but great things to say, so it makes me feel good,” Edwards said of all the impromptu reunions.
His free camp, which is for 300 kids in grades fifth through eighth and has become a popular tradition, will be held on Saturday, July 9 at Wendy’s Field at Daylis Stadium. It is close to being full, and details are available at www.dwanedwards.org.
Edwards is excited about helping kids reach the next level, too, and he will be bringing along a half-dozen of his NFL friends, including Baltimore Ravens Pro Bowl defensive lineman Haloti Ngata, to help out.
“I’m real excited,” he said “I’ve got a great group of guys coming in here, guys that the kids are really going to enjoy. They’re really good people and are really passionate about coaching and helping kids.”
The 6-foot-3, 305-pound Edwards, fully recovered from a torn hamstring that cut short one of his better NFL seasons last year, can’t wait to hit the field with the kids.
“I just think that it’s important to give back,” he said. “I’ve been blessed by just having the support of so many people growing up, whether it’s my friends, my family or just the people that watched me play.”
Now, he said, he wants to help inspire area youngsters “and raise their expectation levels of themselves.
“All it takes is someone to tell you that you can do it. Tell you some of the things that might help you be successful,” Edwards said. “Some people just take it and run with it.”
Edwards is indeed living a kid’s dream — and he knows it. That’s why he is hopeful that the three-month NFL lockout will soon end and his own playing season will unfold as usual.
“I’m optimistic that we’re going to have a season ... we’ll play and everything will happen as scheduled,” he said. “But you just never know. It will be real unfortunate if we end up missing some games or a season.”
With the work stoppage approaching 100 days, Edwards said he is concerned, but is staying busy by organizing his camp and plowing ahead with his personal training regimen.
“It’s tough not to think about it, especially when you know this is the time where you would be together with your teammates working out and going through mini-camps, OTAs,” he said. “With a team like the Bills, we definitely need all that stuff. We need those opportunities to get better.
“It’s just a tough situation, and it’s going to hurt a lot of NFL teams.”
The labor talks have taken on a sense of urgency with NFL camps normally opening in late July, and preseason games beginning in August. Recent wire reports indicate there have been some positive negotiating sessions.
“We’ve got such a great thing going with the NFL,” Edwards said. “It’s, obviously, the number one sport. Everybody is making a ton of money. It just seems silly we can’t find some kind of way for both sides to be happy.”
Especially with Edwards craving another opportunity to record more tackles and sacks and help revive the Bills this season.
“We went through a rough (4-12) season last year. It was probably one of my toughest I’ve had to go through,” he said. “We got better. We were in a lot of games. We’ve just got to find some way to get over the hump.
“I definitely think we’re a team on the rise. We’re continually trying to get better. Our front office is doing a great job of adding pieces that are moving us in the right direction. I’m confident we’ll be a lot better than we were last year.”
While Edwards was at Walmart promoting his camp, renewing friendships and discussing the Bills’ future, the Class B All-Star football game was underway a few miles away at Rocky Mountain College. He played in that game in 1999.
“Now here I am,” he said, in looking back. “It’s definitely amazing, how fast it goes and what a crazy ride it has been.”