Why three-star safety Kaleb Edwards is becoming a top priority for Notre Dame

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

The role carved out for Kaleb Edwards last season continued to expand in a way that his coaches didn’t expect.

Dacula (Ga.) High head football coach Clint Jenkins thought his star safety would serve as a utility player for his offense. He planned for Edwards to rotate at quarterback, running back and slot receiver. Jenkins intended to use his versatility in creative ways and make the most out of him via a handful of touches per game.

From niche player to featured weapon, Edwards became more involved in the offense after injuries plagued the Falcons. He finished the season with 66 rushes for 1,153 yards and 15 touchdowns and 29 receptions for 566 yards and three scores. Edwards impressed again on defense, recording 86 tackles, 10 pass breakups and four interceptions in 14 games.

The Gwinnett Daily Post named the 6-foot, 190-pound Edwards as the Offensive Player of the Year for Gwinnett County, one of the more fruitful football recruiting areas nationwide.

“That was kind of a shock,” Jenkins said about the award. “He’s a defensive guy, but the more you watch him down the stretch, you say, ‘Well, he’s pretty good with the ball in his hands too.’”

What Edwards demonstrated not only caught Jenkins’ attention. Louisville, Stanford, Virginia and Iowa State were among schools to offer a scholarship to the three-star recruit this offseason. Then came Notre Dame on May 18.

Former cornerbacks coach Todd Lyght stopped by Dacula multiple times before last season but never expressed much interest in Edwards, Jenkins said. The versatility and athleticism Edwards displayed as a junior influenced Notre Dame into circling back.

The Irish favor those who play both ways not necessarily due to position flexibility, but because they perceive those athletes will often bring more toughness and athleticism than those who play on one side of the ball.

Sophomore safety Kyle Hamilton impressed Notre Dame’s coaching staff as a former three-star recruit at Atlanta Marist in part because of what he accomplished as a wide receiver. What former Notre Dame All-American Julian Love flashed on offense at La Grange (Ill.) Nazareth Academy showed the Irish coaches he brought the skills necessary to overcome his size and speed concerns at cornerback.

Revisiting Edwards also dealt with Notre Dame missing on a handful of defensive back targets. But the Irish are now comfortable about pursuing and prioritizing Edwards. His prowess on offense even made Notre Dame wonder about his versatility on defense.

“They know I can play multiple safety positions,” Edwards said, “especially their rover position, apparently. They think I can play both, but they also told me they are in need of a rover. They like my size and speed.”

247Sports projects Edwards as a safety, ranking him No. 65 at the position and No. 867 overall in the 2021 recruiting class. Rivals considers Edwards to be positionless, ranking him as its No. 24 athlete.

Craig Edwards said most college coaches are recruiting his son, Kaleb, at safety.

“But he’s pretty adamant with all his recruiting coaches that, ‘Hey, I’m a team player. And I want to be an impact player.’ So he’s vying for being able to play offense and defense, which is his hope,” Craig said.

Kaleb playing both ways being his preference and not a requirement begins to explain why the Irish considers his personality as a fit for their football program.

Perfect persona

No factors deterred Edwards from neglecting the routine he had developed last summer.

Craig said his son started each day with a prayer and workout. Vacation didn’t mean a break from the standard. No access to a weight room didn’t mean no exercise. Kaleb found a way, even if that required body-weight workouts.

Edwards attributes that discipline to the lessons his father learned in the military. Craig said he served nine years in the National Guard after graduating from high school and served one tour duty in Iraq from 2003 to 2004.

“If you know anything about the military,” Craig said, “there’s a set of core values that we as soldiers years ago implemented. Those are things that I set to live by in life. And I try to instill them into my son as well. Discipline being one of them. He’s a very, very disciplined person about the things that he does and the way he goes about doing things. Even as a young athlete and training him, he took it very, very seriously.”

So the coronavirus pandemic hardly affected Edwards from a training perspective. Craig had acquired weights over the years. Because he’s Dacula’s wide receivers coach, Craig’s able to borrow equipment from the school that Kaleb needs for training purposes.

The work ethic Edwards showed last summer also carried with him.

“He’s a little more squared away and a little more mature than most kids his age,” Jenkins said. “Great student and is just a great kid you don’t ever have to worry about in the community or in the school. He’s a no-risk guy. He’s a guy you’re going to want in your locker room. He’s a hardworking kid. Smart kid.”

Smart enough to hold a 3.7 GPA and accrue offers from the likes of Harvard, Stanford, Vanderbilt and Northwestern. To Edwards though, few schools offer the combination of football, academics and the values his father instilled in him like Notre Dame.

That’s why the Irish became one of his favorite schools after offering him.

“Faith, family, academics and football in that order. Those are the core values I base myself on,” Edwards said. “Making sure I get the best of both worlds. That I can flourish in college, not just with football but academically and prepare myself for life after college.”

Recruiting process

Edwards remembers watching Stephon Tuitt shine at nearby Monroe (Ga.) Area High.

So when the former Notre Dame and current Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end contacted him in May, Edwards recalled those childhood memories.

“I was shocked honestly. It was great,” Edwards said. “He was just telling me what Notre Dame could do for me later on down the road and the things Notre Dame had done for him. Not just being in the NFL. He has businesses and stuff that are in his name and he can take care of on his own. That’s just by the degree he has from Notre Dame.”

Head coach Brian Kelly, defensive coordinator Clark Lea and defensive pass game coordinator Terry Joseph have also made Edwards feel special in recent weeks. Kelly held a Zoom video call with Edwards last Tuesday for a virtual visit.

The Irish feel confident about Edwards’ standing but will likely need to host him for his first recruiting trip before securing a verbal commitment.

“Just the location of South Bend,” said Edwards on his biggest remaining question. “What’s the city like? I’ve never been there. Me being a Georgia boy, can I get a good feel for South Bend and be able to see that as home?

“I’m pretty sure I can’t commit to a school without visiting. That’s one of the things that’s hard in this recruiting process right now.”

Edwards sticking to his recruiting timeline and desire to visit before committing would worsen Notre Dame’s chances. The NCAA extended the recruiting dead period through July last week. Edwards likely wouldn’t be able to visit Notre Dame until at least its Sept. 12 home opener against Arkansas. He’s aiming to commit before his senior football season.

Cornerback commit Philip Riley and Warwick (R.I.) Bishop Hendricken defensive end Jason Onye pledged to Notre Dame in May despite having never visited campus. Now they are looking to convince Edwards to do the same.

“Even though time is getting short,” Craig said, “we are not going to rush. We are not going to hurry. He wants to take his time and go through the recruiting process so he can make the best possible decision based on not just the next four years, but also the rest of his life.”

At 10 commitments this class, the Irish would add Edwards to their defensive back duo of Riley and safety Justin Walters. Gaithersburg (Md.) Quince Orchard corner Ryan Barnes also looks promising to land at Notre Dame.

What coming to Notre Dame would mean for Edwards became clear to him when he received his offer.

“They are definitely one of his top schools,” Jenkins said. “He’s had nothing but good things to say about them. Academics are obviously the most important part, coming away with a degree. A degree at Notre Dame would mean a lot for him.”

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Dacula (Ga.) High’s Kaleb Edwards, a three-star safety in the 2021 recruiting class, reported a Notre Dame scholarship offer on May 18.