The Monday after scoring a school-record six touchdowns in one game, Brighton running back Ricardo Edwards Jr. went into football coach Randolph Abraham’s high-ceilinged office near the front door of the mammoth school building that sits atop a hill like a haunted mansion.
The 19-year-old running back, who leads Division 5 in touchdowns with 12, sat at a round table in front of Abraham’s desk with the game ball from the 44-22 victory against East Boston Sept. 20.
Edwards hasn’t seen his mother since immigrating from Jamaica when he was 12 years old to move in with his father, who was incarcerated shortly after Ricardo arrived in the United States. Football had been the only constant in his life since he moved to America, but it looked as though the game would be at arm's length this year until he called Randolph the day before practice started Aug. 19 to ask if he could come back as a fifth-year senior.
“Last year, I really thought I wasn’t going to play anymore but I knew I would still have to come to school,” said Edwards, who applied for and eventually was granted a waiver by the MIAA to play a fifth season. “So before football started, before the year started, I called Coach and said, ‘Coach, can I please come back and play for you?’
“He said he would name his first-born after me,” Abraham deadpanned.
“I said that,” Edwards said in his low, husky voice, with no hint of sarcasm or a Jamaican accent.
“He will obviously do that,” Abraham joked.
“I’ll keep that, I will,” Edwards said before finally baring some teeth through a grin. “I feel that me coming back to the school and seeing them play without me would hurt me. So I’d rather do whatever it takes for me to play again and that’s what I did.”
That is an amazing sentiment for a person who could not be hurt much more than he has already been so far in his short life.
Only 39 days after being granted the waiver, Edwards scored all six of Brighton’s touchdowns against East Boston, including runs of 70 yards, 50 yards, and 45 yards.
Edwards has logged 600 yards on 40 carries in three games this year and has four 2-point conversions.
“I never thought of it, but it happens,” Edwards said of scoring six touchdowns. “It was good. It was great. The team was right there to enjoy the win that we had on Friday. They just came, everything just opened up, so I just took it.“
Edwards said the 70-yarder was his favorite of the bunch.
“Everything just opened up,” he said. “I split two defenders and it just opened up. It was just good. The hole was right there. The blocking was great. Everything just opened up and I just ran full speed. Untouched.”
Last season, Abraham’s first as head coach, Brighton ran a spread offense that forced Edwards to juke and read blocks. This year, the Bengals are running a pro offense that allows Edwards to run straight up the gut.
“It helped me a lot because it taught me how to be a downhill runner,” Edwards said. “Smash-mouth football, basically. It helped me to run behind my blockers and be able to trust my line.”
Trust has been hard to come by in Edwards’s life.
Born in St. Andrew Parish just outside of Kingston in 1994, Edwards spent most of his childhood living in a Kingston neighborhood called Portmore. He played soccer and ran track while living with his mother, who sold candy outside his school. In Jamaica, Edwards never knew his father, Ricardo Edwards Sr., who he said moved to Boston as a 16-year-old and later moved to Phoenix.
“He was never there when I was born,” Edwards said. “I liked living [in Jamaica] but life was hard, so I didn’t want to stay there. Life out there is different than here.
“It was very different than this. At a young age you were like a grown man.”
Edwards moved to Arizona in 2006 when he was 12 to live with his father and stepmother, Shannon Edwards.
“Basically, to my dad, it didn’t feel like my mom was doing what she had to do, so she didn’t have a choice to keep me or not,” Edwards said.
To this day, Edwards has not been back to Jamaica and has had only limited communication with his mother.
“It hurts, but you have to get through it,” Edwards said. “You have to do what you have to do.”
The week he arrived in Arizona, Edwards said, his father was arrested and subsequently was incarcerated in California, where he remains. Edwards declined to say why his father is in prison.
“I only saw my dad for two days in my life,” Edwards said.
Living in a suburb of Phoenix called Queens Creek with his stepmother and stepbrother and stepsister, Edwards was enrolled in the sixth grade -- a grade behind where he was in Jamaica. He became friends with the quarterback of a local Pop Warner football team and started to play himself about a year later.
“I never used to talk to anybody," he said. "I would just keep to myself, and I started playing football and I started meeting new people and the language started to become natural to me. So I started speaking it. Within a month or two, I was speaking English. Which is a good feeling.”
The language might have come easily to him, but the rules of the sport still escaped the newly minted running back.
“It took me a long time," he said. "I know offsides and all that you are not supposed to do that. Up to this day, I don’t know all the rules.”
Edwards had a great relationship with his younger stepsiblings, whom he calls his brother and sister, but by the time he reached ninth grade, his relationship with his stepmother soured. From prison, his father arranged for a friend from Boston to fly his son to Massachusetts in August of 2010.
Edwards moved into the Mattapan home of his father’s friends the Dowmans, whose son Tre Dowman was a 6-foot-7-inch center on the Brighton basketball team before he graduated in 2012.
Edwards enrolled at Brighton as a sophomore and joined the JV football team, but his transcript from his old school still hadn’t been filed so he couldn’t play in games. The Individual Education Plan (IEP) that was established for him in Arizona to address his learning disabilities also had not been transferred. He was put into large classes and struggled, failing math and history.
“I wasn’t used to the school system and I wasn’t used to being in big classes,” Edwards said. “I liked it here but school was confusing. It was mad loud [in class] and when it’s loud, I can’t hear anything. I can’t concentrate. When people start talking to me, I’m going to talk back. It’s just a habit. Now that I’m in a small class, it’s different.”
Abraham said it took a long time to get Edwards's transcripts and to get him tested for learning disabilities. His IEP was not established at Brighton until his junior year, which meant he could be put into smaller classes that suited his learning style.
Edwards was a backup running back on the varsity team his junior year and carried a 2.14 GPA. But the Dowmans' son moved on to college and Edwards didn’t like how strict the household rules were and how far the home was from school. The Dowmans were not thrilled with how much the 200-pound running back ate. So he moved in with Tre Dowman's uncle, who lives in Roxbury.
Edwards was the starting running back last fall on a team that showed promise but finished the season .500. His living arrangement lasted until March, when Edwards moved in with a female friend in East Boston. His grades slipped, and after his friend moved to Minnesota, he found himself homeless, surfing from sofa to sofa for a few months.
Edwards said he stayed out of trouble during his period of homelessness and was never forced to sleep on the street. But he said the stress took a toll on him and he lost nearly 30 pounds.
“I was just stressing about everything,” he said. “Where I’m going to rest my head at night sometimes and whether I’m going to eat or not.”
Just before school started, Edwards moved in with a friend who attends Madison Park.
Edwards worked out with the Madison Park football team all summer, and because he didn’t take summer school, he still needed to return to Brighton High this year to finish the last four credits to graduate through the school’s credit recovery program.
The day before football practice started, he called Abraham and begged to return to the team. They applied for an MIAA waiver but it was initially denied.
Edwards and Abraham traveled to the MIAA headquarters in Franklin to appeal that decision Sept. 12 and received an email later that day saying that his waiver was granted.
“I really didn’t think I was going to get the waiver,” Edwards said. “It just happened and I was happy. I’m just happy.
"I feel great. I feel good. I feel like I’m striving to be better. When I look back on everything I’ve been through, it’s basically made me the man I am today. “
Edwards has communicated with his mother back in Jamaica more often recently but when asked if he would tell her about his six-touchdown performance, he said she probably wouldn’t understand and think he was talking about soccer.
She might not understand football, but she remains Edwards’s motivation to play his adopted sport and his safe haven.
“I also think about my mom when I play football,” he said. “I think about my brother and sister.”
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