Tariq Edwards has enough metal in his body to set off alarm bells at any major airport, but you’d never know it.
The redshirt senior linebacker has had to endure myriad surgeries thanks to some brutal injuries over the last two years, yet Edwards has played like a star on defense in 2013.
Cornerback Antone Exum might get all the attention for his rehabilitation from a torn ACL, but Edwards endured an equally grueling recovery over the course of the last year.
“It was a long road, a long and hard one,” Edwards said.
The linebacker had a breakout season in 2011, but over the course of the year, a stress fracture developed in his shin. That means that a small crack gradually appeared in one of Edwards’ critical load-bearing bones.
Doctors had to insert a metal rod into his leg to stabilize the fracture, an invasive procedure that set Edwards back for the entire 2012 offseason.
He returned to the practice field last August, but injury trouble found him once more. This time, it was his knee that betrayed him, and he needed another surgery.
Edwards ultimately returned for last year’s game against Bowling Green, but he played sparingly all year long. He ultimately started in the Russell Athletic Bowl against Rutgers, when he finally began to feel comfortable once more.
“Honestly, I didn’t feel 100 percent up until the bowl game,” Edwards said. “I was just feeling a lot of nagging pain within my leg. Just certain moves, it wasn’t as flexible.”
The senior started to prepare for 2013 in earnest over the course of spring practice. Despite having a few months off, Edwards was still apprehensive out on the field.
“I felt like 100 percent during the spring, but I still felt an unease being out there with people that might aim for your leg unconsciously,” Edwards said. “I just felt like I had to get back to a certain level that I felt comfortable with as far as playing full speed and being able to hit people and not letting people hit me.
I know the linemen cut a lot at the second level and different things like that, and I just had to make sure I was comfortable before I got back. It took so long before I even felt that way.”
But despite that early insecurity, Edwards has been a confident and reliable performer on the field this season.
He’s started all seven games so far, and is third on the team in tackles with 38, five of which went for losses. He’s also recorded 1.5 sacks and an interception, making it clear that he’s finally adjusted to his surgically repaired body parts.
“Honestly, it’s still not as flexible, but I feel comfortable with my leg and I’ve been playing with it so I think it just goes with reps, being in the game, actually playing on it, making those certain cuts,” Edwards said.
With Exum hoping to return to the field himself for the upcoming game against Duke, Edwards can identify with his struggle.
“You can definitely relate, because coming back you feel uneasy being out there trying to make certain movements,” Edwards said. “It’s a big transition from not being able to walk to running full speed and making cuts in the field.”
The two have kept in close contact throughout their respective rehab processes, since they’ve shared many of the same setbacks.