While he isn’t the flashiest hire on Justin Wilcox’s staff, new Cal wide receivers coach Nicholas Edwards has the potential to be one of the most interesting. Just 27 years old and without a day of FBS experience prior to arriving in Berkeley, the young coach certainly has a lot to prove.
To his credit, this isn’t Edwards’ first time in that position. As recently as 2009, Edwards was a walk-on wide receiver at Eastern Washington, playing for another future Cal coach in Beau Baldwin. Edwards started all 15 games in his sophomore season and helped guide the Eagles to an FCS championship in 2010. By the time he graduated in 2012, Edwards had become an FCS All-American and one of the most prolific receivers in the history of the program.
He returned to his alma mater in the fall of 2013 after failing to secure a spot on an NFL roster as an undrafted free agent. Edwards spent a year as a strength and conditioning assistant for the Eagles before Baldwin handed him control of the receiving corps. Once again, success soon followed. Three of his wideouts earned All-Big Sky recognition in his first season.
Edwards’ greatest success in his three-year EWU stint has to be the development of wide receiver Cooper Kupp. If the press kit on Edwards is to be believed, he helped develop Kupp into “one of the greatest FCS football players ever.” The numbers make a compelling case for that bold assertion: Kupp finished his college career with 428 catches, 73 TDs, and the NCAA record for career receiving yards with a staggering 6,464. Kupp won the Jerry Rice Award for top FCS freshman in 2013 and the Walter Payton Award for best FCS player in 2015, and some draft scouts believe he could translate such an impressive resume into a second round pick in this year’s NFL draft.
Producing a talent like Kupp is the kind of credential that gets an otherwise unproven guy like Edwards the chance to coach at Cal. It also helps that he will inherit one of the deepest receiving corps in college football, including young talents like Demetris Robertson and Melquise Stovall that should help ease his transition to the Pac-12. Cal fans shouldn’t be surprised by a step back in passing game production between the move away from the Bear Raid and the loss of QB Davis Webb, but Edwards’ squad is well-positioned to carry the offense into a successful 2017. Beau Baldwin appears to have convinced Coach Wilcox that Edwards is up to the task, perhaps a sign that Baldwin will have a high level of autonomy over his squad and scheme. Both Baldwin and Wilcox are going to look like very smart men if their young assistant coach can produce the next Cooper Kupp for the Bears. Could 2017 signee Taariq Johnson be that guy?