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Michigan-bound Donovan Edwards of West Bloomfield named winner of the STATE CHAMPS! Mr. Football award for 2020

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, January 29, 2021, 3:24 pm

When his senior football season was halted in mid-November, Donovan Edwards had not yet announced his choice for his college destination. 

Nor had his West Bloomfield team — with which he’d desperately wanted to win a state title, before his prep career was over — advanced through regionals at that point. 

And when many of the statewide awards — the various players of the year — came out in late December, his name was absent from many. 

By signing and enrolling early with the University of Michigan, he might have put himself at a loss to change any of that, but the running back was motivated to at least try. 

Getting himself a waiver from the NCAA to allow him to finish out his senior season of high school ball, even if it extended past the start of classes at U-M, left Edwards a chance to correct the absence of state title mittens in the Lakers’ trophy case.

And by his performance in the process of helping lead West Bloomfield to its first football championship, Edwards helped sew up another coveted trophy: The STATE CHAMPS! Mr. Football Award.

The 13th winner of the award, which dates back to 2008, Edwards is just the second running back to claim it, joining Oxford’s Prescott Line (2011). 

“He came back. He came back. He knows he’s the best player in the state. But most importantly, he came back to win a championship. He was on this team, (for the) 3-2 (loss in the 2017 Division 1 title game), and he watched the seniors cry. He said ‘I don’t want that my senior year,’” coach Ron Bellamy said after last Saturday’s 41-0 win over Davison in the 2020 D1 championship game. “We’re here.”

And they were there in large part because Edwards was. 

He finished his senior season with nearly 1,700 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns, a large portion of that coming since the resumption of the postseason in January, after Bellamy limited his workload for the early portion of the season. 

In the district finals vs. Macomb Area Conference Red co-champion Sterling Heights Stevenson, just before the ‘pause,’ Edwards rushed for 146 yards and five touchdowns, adding a receiving TD, in the first half alone.

When play resumed with regionals, he ripped off 245 yards on 19 carries, scoring four times in a win over Romeo. Against KLAA champion Belleville — the Lakers’ postseason roadblock each of the previous two years, and a team that allowed more than two scores in only three of its first 10 games— he ran for 150 yards and three touchdowns.

And against a defending D1 champion Davison team that, through regional finals, had allowed just five rushing touchdowns and 725 rush yards all season long (3.34 yards per carry), he dominated again, going for 257 yards — just 50 shy of the MHSAA finals record — and three scores in just three quarters of work.

His final four games of high school produced 798 yards and 15 touchdowns rushing, and one receiving score, against a slate of opponents that had come into their games vs. the Lakers a combined 33-5.

When the clock ticked down to zeroes in the title game, Edwards was on then bench, head in his hands, overcome with emotion. 

“I was embracing the moment, thanking God for leading us here. I thank God every day, every moment. Thank you for the opportunity, that you’ve endured for us — us as human beings,” Edwards said.

Bellamy said he knew that they were going to win a state title the moment he found out Edwards had gotten Michigan’s blessing to get the waiver from the NCAA.

“Because I’ve never seen him locked, and focused like this. And I’ve been around him since he was in elementary school, acting like a fool. … Nonetheless, he’s the best football player in the State of Michigan. All due respect to Brady Rose. I think (Muskegon Mona Shores’) Brady Rose is a phenomenal athlete. This IS the best football player in Michigan. Five-star. Big college. Whatever it may be,” Bellamy said after the title game. 

“Teams come to stop one football player. And to have 200-some yards — and remember, we’re a team that does not play our players the entire football game. So if we want to make Donovan Edwards a 3,000-yard rusher, we could. We win it the right way. And is this my Public Service Announcement for Donovan? Hell yeah it is. It is not close.”

In all his years of coaching and playing football, Bellamy — who played in the NFL after a solid career at U-M, where he’s now returning as a coach — said that his star, who he’s known since elementary school, has all the earmarks of greatness.

“I’m from Louisiana, and I got a chance to play against Ed Reed in high school, I got to play against Reggie Wayne in high school, Eli Manning. I played against some NFL Hall of Famers in high school, on the same field. He looks like them,” Bellamy said. “It ain’t the cliche, ‘Best football player,’ for nothing. He looks like he’s going to play football for a long time in the NFL, be an All-American at Michigan. Obviously some things have to happen in his favor. But you saw it — he just looks different on the field. Probably only touched the ball no more than 15 times today.”

In the recruiting world, Edwards recently received his fifth star from 247Sports, which has him ranked as the No. 1 player in Michigan, and No. 32 in the nation, as well as the No. 2 running back in the 2021 class. Rivals has Edwards as a four-star recruit, No. 58 nationally, and No. 2 in the state’s 2021 class. 

Edwards was judged the winner of the 2020 Mr. Football award by the STATE CHAMPS! panel of experts and contributors, using the formula of performance throughout the season (30 percent), level of competition (20), online vote (20), big-game performance (15), team success (10) and highly recruited athlete (5).

The other three finalists for the award included: Mona Shores’ Rose, who quarterbacked the Sailors to a second straight Division 2 title, earning Division 1-2 Player of the Year honors from the Associated Press and MLive’s statewide player of the year award; Belleville quarterback Christian Dhue-Reid, who will be indelibly marked in the MHSAA record books as its all-time leader in touchdown passes; and DeWitt’s Ty Holtz, who led the Panthers to their first state title in a breakout debut season under center, earning the AP’s Division 3-4 Player of the Year honors. 

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Previous Mr. Football winners:

2008 — Torsten Boss, WR, Lowell

2009 — Jason Fracasa, QB, Sterling Heights Stevenson High School

2010 — Tommy Vento, QB/S, Farmington Hills Harrison

2011 — Prescott Line, RB, Oxford

2012 — Mark Chapman, QB/DB/KR, Port Huron

2013 — Travis Smith, QB, Ithaca

2014 — Alex Malzone, QB, Birmingham Brother Rice

2015 — Donnie Corley, WR, Detroit Martin Luther King

2016 — Cody White, WR, Walled Lake Western

2017 — La’Darius Jefferson, QB, Muskegon

2018 — Dequan Finn, QB, Detroit Martin Luther King [STORY]

2019 — Cameron Martinez, QB, Muskegon [STORY]