FCS football: Fordham's Chase Edmonds is the best running back you don't know enough about
As best he can remember, Chase Edmonds has only bragged about his football skills once.
It was a mistake.
A spritely freshman at Central Dauphin East High School in central Pennsylvania, Edmonds first set foot on a varsity football field to return a kickoff, all nerves and fast-twitch muscles. He caught the ball and broke up field, slipped the entire coverage team, and returned the kick for six points.
A few days later, Edmonds’ father, Reginald, overheard him bragging to his friends about the play.
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Edmonds has since done his best to avoid talking about himself, letting his production speak for him.
Seven years after that kickoff return, Edmonds is a senior at Fordham University, arguably the best running back in the FCS, maybe even the best of all-time. At his current pace, he’ll break the FCS career rushing record set by Adrian Peterson (no, not that one) of 6,559 regular-season yards later this fall. And you won’t hear him say a word about it.
“We haven’t had one discussion about it,” Breiner said. “Chase is a very humble young man. Breiner said. “He doesn’t really enjoy talking about himself.”
But now, he doesn't need to. His numbers tell you everything you need to know: he’s 5-foot-9, he has piled up over 6,000 all-purpose yards in three seasons, and he’s the best running back you don’t know enough about.
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When Edmonds joined Fordham in 2014, the team was stacked at running back, with two seniors, a junior, a sophomore, and another freshman all ready to compete for playing time. Nineteen starters were returning from the previous year, when the Rams went 12-2 and made it to the second round of the FCS playoffs.
Edmonds knew earning playing time was going to be a grind.
“I remember freshman year, I was just trying to do everything I could to find a role on the team, no matter what that role was,” he said.
But it took just one snap to make it known, without uttering a single word, he was going to be a force.
Breiner still remembers the moment he saw his future star announce himself.
“It was his freshman year, fall camp,” Breiner said, “and I remember it was the first scrimmage we had. We ran an outside zone play, and he stuck his foot in the ground and made our all-conference linebacker absolutely whiff, and took it the distance for a touchdown.”
Breiner and the other Fordham coaches watched the freshman cross the goal line, and looked at each other.
“We just said, ‘Okay, we have something here that’s more than just a good player. We have a great player on our hands.’”
Edmonds became the Rams’ starting running back as a freshman, piled up 1,838 yards and 23 touchdowns, and won the Jerry Rice Award as the most outstanding freshman in the FCS.
“It was eye-opening,” Edmonds said, to have that much playing time as a freshman. “It was the best blessing I could’ve received, and I just took that momentum and ran with it.”
Before he joined Fordham’s coaching staff, Breiner was in charge of running backs at UConn, where he worked with Donald Brown, the 2008 Big East Player of the Year and a first round pick in the 2009 NFL draft.
He says he’s never coached a running back with Edmonds’ all-around ability.
“If I was scouting him, one thing I’d point out is his knowledge of the game,” Breiner said. “He understands the game at a deeper level than running backs I’ve been around before. He understands blocking schemes, defensive schemes, and I think he uses that to his advantage.
“Physically, he has the ability to change direction and accelerate to his top speed very quickly, and the other thing he has is contact balance. He’s not tall, he’s not small — he’s a thick ball of muscle — and he can absorb hits and keep his balance, stay on his feet, and extend runs. I haven’t been around a back with that kind of ability in my career.”
Fordham quarterback Kevin Anderson said playing with Edmonds makes his life substantially easier.
"It’s a huge help," Anderson said. "You can be a good running back -- you’re fast, you’re strong, that's great. What Chase does is a great job on the other things. He can see things so well. The way safeties skew helps identify rushes, and he sees all that. I can’t imagine a single RB being as good as he is at picking up a blitz. Even if I miss it, I know he’ll help me sort it out. He’ll see the corner blitz no one else could see."
This offseason, not interested in resting on his accomplishments, Edmonds said he hasn’t changed a lot, but he’s doubled down on the things he does well.
“I’ve been trying to work on my top end speed,” Edmonds said. “I have a teammate who’s really, really fast, [wide receiver] Jordan Allen, who was a track star, so I’ve worked with him this offseason. I worked on my footwork, and just kept everything right. I didn’t change too many things up, because what I’ve been doing has been working.”
It’s been working so well that, since Fordham’s fall camp began, Breiner’s office has been inundated by pro scouts eager to get a more in-depth look at Edmonds. If size isn’t scaring teams off anymore — Edmonds points to Christian McCaffery and Dalvin Cook, two high draft picks last season who are just barely bigger than Edmonds — there’s no reason to think Edmonds can’t make the leap to the next level.
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There was just one moment, after the 2015 season, when Edmonds' future with Fordham felt uncertain: Joe Moorhead, Fordham's head coach, announced he was leaving to become Penn State's offensive coordinator.
Penn State? That's the big time.
Those were the bright lights and big crowds Edmonds had been dreaming about since he was a kid. Fordham was great, but Big Ten football? Beaver Stadium? It's an entirely different world.
"That was my number one goal coming out of high school, was to play FBS football," Edmonds said.
That December, he tweeted out some personal news: he was weighing his options.
As of right now I am attending Fordham University but after talking with my family I will be exploring my options.https://t.co/9f1aMbUmOp— Deuce Deuce (@ChaseEdmonds22) December 20, 2015
But then Edmonds thought back to the summer before his senior year of high school. His Central Dauphin East career was legendary -- he rushed for 1,984 yards as a senior -- but he wasn't generating college interest. Not a single FBS school offered Edmonds a scholarship. His size was scaring teams away, as was his lack of Cadillac-style top speed.
"I remember at one point, I just had a feeling where I felt like the work I was putting in, I was proud of myself for being a hard worker, but I wasn’t getting the results I wanted," Edmonds said.
When the first college offer finally came, it was from an FCS program: Fordham.
"I was so grateful," Edmonds said, "and loyalty is a big thing for me. They were the first team to believe in my talents."
The Rams had believed in him when no other school in the country had. He'd built friendships with his teammates that he said he knows will last the rest of his life. For him, it was just too much to turn back on. So he repaid the favor and remained at Fordham instead of leaving to follow Moorhead.
Now, because he stayed, he's chasing FCS history.
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About that history: remember when Breiner said Edmonds hadn’t brought up the FCS record with him? That Edmonds didn't like to talk about?
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it,” Edmonds later admitted, coyly. “When someone tells you that, and then you learn more about it, it’s going to stay in your mind.”
Edmonds said he couldn’t remember the exact number of yards he needs to break the record off hand, but he was very close when he gave it a guess.
“Twelve hundred and some change, I think,” he said. The number is 1,275.
This is typical of Edmonds, Breiner said. The senior back has always liked to set goals, and the all-time FCS rushing record is the probably the best goal he could possibly set.
"It's the way he approaches things," Breiner said. "He has goals in mind, and all of his actions match his goals, from a work ethic standpoint in the weight room, to how he takes care of his body, to the nutrition aspect, and the sleep — everything he does, every decision he makes, is focused on being the best football player he can be."
Anderson, who is also Edmonds' roommate, has seen the never-ending drive firsthand. And it's not just on the field where Edmonds is competitive. Edmonds once spent an entire summer playing FIFA to get better than Anderson. Now, Anderson said, Edmonds is the best player on the team. When it comes to gym time, Anderson said, Edmonds is the most ardent supporter of leg day he's ever seen; he'll get frustrated if he feels like he's not cranking out his squats hard enough.
Anderson said he thinks that because Edmonds was taught not to dwell on his current accomplishments, he's driven by the future.
Maybe he's chasing a day when people all over the country know his name.
"When I get the response from people, or from the media, saying they don’t know my name, it's just another thing," Edmonds said. "I don’t really care too much. I don’t play to satisfy anyone else, you know? I play to be the best football player I can be."
He's been overlooked before. Whether it's been his height, or his speed, or his level of competition, Edmonds has had to work his way into the spotlight.
With one year left in his illustrious career, it seems like the spotlight is finally figuring out he's the one it should be following.
Just don't expect Edmonds to change his approach when he becomes a household name.
“I remember my old running backs coach Tim Zetts, he always told me, my freshman year, ‘Never forget what got you to the top of the mountain.’ I just take it in every day, do the same thing I’ve been doing since freshman year.”
That means more of the same: staying quiet, putting his head down, and keeping his legs moving forward.