By Zach Stipe
Assistant Sports Information Director
GULF BREEZE, Fla. - Watching Mario Edwards Jr. powerfully bat down tackling dummies, while effortlessly gliding through the obstacles it’s clear the former Florida State all-conference performer was a cut above the rest of the defensive linemen in his morning workout group on a Thursday in early February at the EXOS training facility.
Edwards and former FSU offensive lineman Cameron Erving stood out among 36 aspiring professional football players all looking to stand out at the large multi-level building located next to the world-renowned Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine.
The pair constantly fielded jokes from the other former college players about being the stars among the group thanks to their notoriety and success playing at Florida State.
“Everybody always calls us ‘big time’ because we went to Florida State,” Erving said. “People wish they could’ve been (at FSU). And I’m not saying anything disrespectful to any other programs, but they wish they could’ve come to Florida State. They wish they could’ve experienced some of things that we experienced – such as all the winning, the ACC championships, the national championship, going to the college playoff.”
Erving had high praise for Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher and also his position coach, assistant head coach/offensive line coach Rick Trickett, saying the discipline they instilled will make his adjustment to the professional level a smooth one.
“I feel like I’ve gained so much knowledge and so much perspective from Coach Trickett,” Erving said. “Not even from what he did, just how he treated us. He treated us like men. He pushed you to want to do better. It’s been a tremendous help for me thus far, going through this process.”
The NFL Combine began on Tuesday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The event features 12 Seminoles, including Edwards and Erving. It’s the most of any school in the nation, which comes as no surprise since Florida State has been one of the most successful programs in the nation since Fisher was named the head coach in 2010. Florida State has a record of 39-3 the last three seasons and will look to set the modern record for most players drafted in a three-year span later this spring.
Under Fisher, Florida State has continued to shape outstanding football players on the field by providing first-class support and resources. FSU has dramatically upgraded facilities and became the first collegiate football team to use state-of-the-art GPS technology to improve workouts. Additionally, the Seminoles completely revamped their nutrition department under director of sports nutrition Katy Messick.
Simply put, Florida State is preparing players for success on the field and getting them ready for the next level as well as any program in the country.
“I definitely have to credit that to Coach Fisher, the FSU staff and my father (FSU Director of Player Development Mario Edwards Sr.),” Edwards said. “Coach Fisher always said his goal here is for us to graduate and become a better man. So everything that he’s taught me in these three years made this process easy.”
The team working with Edwards and Erving at EXOS included several performance specialists who focus on specific areas, such as a movement coach, strength coach, dietician and former professional football players.
For six weeks, the EXOS team is focused on getting its group of players ready for what is essentially a one-day event. It’s a lot different than preparing for a 14-game, four-to-five month collegiate season. The pair were both grateful for the workouts they did under Fisher and head strength and conditioning coach Vic Viloria and felt very prepared for the different combine-specific workouts at EXOS.
“All my years it’s been preparing for a whole season,” Edwards said. “Now it’s similar workouts but it’s different preparing for one day.”
Added Erving: “We come from an A-1 program. A lot of people don’t get the opportunities that we had. We had the resources and the tools that other people don’t. We’ve learned so much and taken so much from the Florida State program. We have to just come out and focus on what we individually need (now).”
The performance managers at EXOS raved about the two Seminoles.
“I do think there’s a lot to be said for the years they put in previously at FSU, which is huge,” said Stefan Underwood, EXOS performance manager and movement coach. “You can’t say enough about that. They come to us and you can really tell they’ve been coached in a good way which makes my job really easy.”
Longtime NFL defensive lineman Fred Robbins was excited about Edwards’ potential after working with him for several weeks.
“Mario is definitely an athletic guy,” Robbins said. “He’s able to play multiple positions along the defensive front. I think he’s moving good at his weight right now. I think he has the ability to play in any defense – 3-4 or 4-3.”
EXOS performance manager Anthony Hobgood runs many of the weight room workouts with the players and has trained athletes for the NFL Scouting Combine for several years.
He was impressed with Erving’s fun personality, but also said his strength is a cut above the rest.
“He’s got some very impressive strength in the weight room,” Hobgood said. “He’s got really long arms, and yet his strength is as good as anybody’s.
When Erving shows off his long arms and exceptional strength during an intense morning lifting session, Edwards is right by his side, spotting and motivating his collegiate teammate.
They both lived in the same Gulf Breeze condominium tower overlooking the Gulf of Mexico during their combine training and often spent their down time together, playing video games or hanging out.
“It’s definitely cool to have somebody that you’ve been with for three years,” Edwards said. “To have someone that I went to school with (here) and then I used to push him to make him better in practice; he pushed me to make me better. Now we’re here chasing the same goal and we’re pushing each other.”