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Sometimes it takes a little positive peer pressure to get a teenager to make the right choices.
Darius Edmundson arrived at Southern Nash High as a freshman in August 2015 with a reputation as an outstanding two-sport athlete, but he had already decided that he was leaving football behind at Southern Nash Middle and would focus on basketball with the Firebirds.
Southern Nash varsity football head coach Brian Foster was aware of Edmundson’s talent, especially his speed, and made one attempt to invite the youngster to play football for the Firebirds.
“When I talked to Darius that eighth grade year, he really wasn’t wanting to play football, so I just left him alone and never said anything else to him,” Foster said.
Edmundson played only basketball his first two years at Southern Nash, oblivious to his talent that would be put to good use on the football field as well as the track surrounding it in Firebirds Stadium.
Luckily for him, his friends didn’t just leave him alone. They kept pressuring Edmundson to play football and run track.
He finally decided to do both and, as the saying goes, the rest is history. Despite being behind in learning the Firebirds’ double-wing offensive set and defensive schemes, Edmundson was an impact player right away as a junior and was a starter as a senior. His grades improved and so did his maturity level. He earned a scholarship to play football at Louisburg College with the hopes of moving on to play at an NCAA Division I four-year college in the sport in which he once had no interest.
And Tuesday, Edmundson was presented the 2019 Tom Ham Athlete of the Year as presented by The Wilson Times.
“I’ve been proud of how he’s matured,” Foster said. “I think before maybe he had a misunderstanding of what athletics in high school is all about and how to go about it. I think he realized just being around some of the football guys, just what you have to put into it and what it means and how it starts to mean something.”
I remember a conversation with former Firebirds football stars Dae’One Wilkins and Kendrick Bell after the 2016 season. They were discussing the chances of Southern Nash placing a relay team in the state 3-A track meet that spring and one of them mentioned that if they could get “the fastest kid in the school” to run track, they would have a chance.
“Who’s that?” I asked.
“Darius,” came the reply.
“Edmundson? The basketball player?” I asked again.
“Yep, he’s the fastest kid in the school.”
Bear in mind that Nadir Thompson had won the boys 200-meter dash at the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A championship meet the previous spring.
“Faster than Nadir?” I asked incredulously.
His friends finally convinced Edmundson to run track the spring of 2017, although that season was interrupted by the death of his grandmother. By the time football season rolled around a few months later, Edmundson had made up his mind.
“I figured it was time for me to come back to play football,” Edmundson said. “They’d been egging me on to play football all this time and I finally decided to come out and I really enjoyed it my junior year.”
Edmundson is nowhere close to his peak as a football player, having only played for two years.
“That’s the thing about him going to Louisburg: They could mold him into whatever they want to mold him into,” Foster said. “He’s just so far behind right now of what he could have gotten with four years (of playing football here).”
Edmundson, who was the 3-A Big East Conference Player of the Year in boys basketball this past season, was recruited to play the sport in college. But standing just 6-foot, he knew that his best option was on the football field.
“I knew it was going to come down between football and basketball,” he said. “A lot of schools like me for basketball and a lot liked me for football, but I figured that the right thing for me was to play football. I’m glad I got the opportunity at Louisburg.”
The son of Mary and Steve Edmundson of Middlesex, Edmundson said when he signed with Louisburg, his ultimate goal was to play alongside his first cousin Zonovan Knight at North Carolina State University. Knight left Southern Nash as its all-time leading rusher after this past fall and enrolled early at N.C. State in January. Edmundson’s mother and Knight’s father, C.J. Taybron, are brother and sister.
Taybron and Edmundson’s older brother Dwayne Herndon were also Firebirds stars who went on to play for the Wolfpack. I wouldn’t bet against Edmundson wearing an N.C. State uniform in a couple of years and maybe having a chance to play football after college — all because his friends provided some positive peer pressure.
“Hopefully, he’ll take advantage of the opportunity he’s got,” Foster said. “He got behind academically and that’s just the situation he got himself in, but, it’s like I tell him, we’ve all got different paths and this is the one he’s going to go down and see what he makes of it.”