For the Daily Journal
A.J. Edds was set to make his high school football debut his freshman year at Columbus East’s Stafford Field.
He had grown up in Columbus and was planning on following his older brother Nick to East, where his mother worked in the guidance department.
In August 2002, there he was, playing in his first high school game at Stafford Field … in a Greenwood uniform.
Story continues below gallery
Against Columbus East.
About three weeks before practice started, Edds’ father David took the job as superintendent at Greenwood Community Schools. He had been Greenwood’s assistant superintendent when A.J. was in middle school, but the new job carried the stipulation that he had to live in the school district. The family packed up and moved north to Johnson County.
“I went and told coach (Bob) Gaddis and (defensive coordinator Eddie) Vogel and some of the guys, ‘Hey, unfortunately, I’ll see you Week 1, but I’ll be wearing green and gold,’” Edds said.
Edds, now 29, remembers that game vividly. A storm pushed back the start of the contest, and he recalls sitting with his Woodmen teammates in the hallway outside the gym stretching and trying to keep loose until the game started.
Edds already was slated to be Greenwood’s long-snapper — a role he continued throughout his four years with the Woodmen — but he got an unexpected surprise the week of the game. A linebacker was injured in practice, and Edds was in the starting lineup for good.
As it turned out, the game went down to the wire. Greenwood won 20-16, but not without a little controversy. East quarterback Corey Londeree remembers trying to get out of bounds around the 30-yard line as time was running out in hopes of giving the Olympians one more play. But officials ruled the clock ran out before he reached the sidelines.
“I was looking forward to going to high school at East just because I knew a lot of people,” Edds said. “My mom worked in the building and still does. But things happen for a reason, and kind of overnight, it was a change. Going from playing at East to playing against East the first week, as a 15-, 16-year-old kid, it was quite the 180. It was definitely a little bit unique to look across and seeing a bunch of my good friends that I was around for the last 8 to 10 years of my life.”
Edds went on to be a star linebacker and tight end at Greenwood and played linebacker at Iowa. He was drafted in the fourth round by the NFL’s Miami Dolphins in 2010 and played that season.
The next year in training camp, then-Dolphins general manager Bill Parcells talked to Edds about trying to evolve into a three-down linebacker, so he could stay on the field on third down to cover running backs and tight ends in passing situations. Parcells was lamenting having to play New England twice a year with standout tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez; the Dolphins had no answer for them.
“His thinking was, ‘We have to do something because those two players, in addition to the rest of their team, are eating us up twice a year,’” Edds said.
But Edds tore his ACL the third day of training camp and was released. He played the first three games of 2011 in New England before being released and catching on with the Indianapolis Colts.
Edds played the final 13 weeks of 2011 for Indy. Head coach Jim Caldwell and most of his staff were fired after that season, and new coach Chuck Pagano held open competition for spots in 2012.
But just like in Miami, Edds tore his ACL (this time the other one) on the third day of training camp in Anderson.
“Things happen for a reason,” Edds said. “I have no qualms, no regrets at all. I have nothing that I would have changed. It was a great experience, and I’m thankful for the opportunity that I had.”
After that, Edds spent the better part of a year with the New York Jets and a year with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He told his agent if he wasn’t on an NFL roster for a full year, he would move on, so he retired in 2015.
Edds now lives in Chicago and is the Midwest territory development regional manager for RockSolid, a company that produces soft-shell helmets and shoulder pads. He was back in Columbus on Saturday introducing those pads to Vince James and the Columbus Youth Flag Football League during a clinic at Central Middle School.
Edds’ job includes educating people about the helmets, helping leagues grow and attracting as many participants as possible to get out and play. He looks at the clinics as a chance to answer questions, be a resource to parents and support to directors of leagues that Rock Solid partners with that are going to get questions and try to be as informational and transparent as possible.
“I try to get out to their activation clinics like this where we’re spreading the word about what we’re going to be doing, get their first taste of wearing the soft-shell helmets, get them rockin’ and rollin’ and moving around, feeling what they are going to be like for later in the fall,” Edds said.
RockSolid also works with tackle football programs that have flag football as part of their feeder program. Edds and the company even work with some collegiate and NFL partners who use the shoulder pads during the offseason and on non-contact days.
Edds, who has a bachelor’s degree in management from Iowa, is attending graduate school at Northwestern for his master’s degree in sports administration.
Name: A.J. Edds
High school: Greenwood
NFL teams: Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts, New York Jets and Jacksonville Jaguars
Current occupation: Midwest Territory Development regional manager for RockSolid