The first time Willie Edwards applied for an apprenticeship in the National Football League he was rejected.
While Edwards wasn’t 100 percent certain why he was turned down, the indication was that he didn’t have enough college coaching experience under his belt. When he applied, he had been an assistant at Brown University for just one year.
Never one to give up and always ready for a challenge, after completing his second season as an outside linebackers coach at Brown, Edwards threw his hat back in the ring and applied once again.
Now, in a year filled with continuous setbacks and disappointments due to the Coronavirus pandemic, including the recent cancellation of the Ivy League’s fall season, the tragic death of an incoming Brown freshman and even the postponement of his own wedding, Edwards now has something to celebrate and look forward to.
The 44-year-old Brown assistant and former longtime Moses Brown coach is one of eight in the country to earn a spot as a scouting apprentice with the Los Angeles Rams.
“I’m really excited,” said Edwards. “This is a great opportunity for me to learn and grow. That’s my goal.”
In fact, Edwards was accepted into not one, but two NFL apprenticeship programs. He was invited to be part of a coaching apprenticeship, but his love for scouting led him to accept the position with the Rams.
“When I got to college, I fell in love with the recruiting process,” said Edwards. “I love evaluating kids. I love predicting how good they will be in a year or two. I love everything about recruiting.”
The West Warwick native continues to climb the football ladder – starting in high school, advancing to college, and now reaching the sport’s top rung with a stint in the NFL.
He has always been up for a challenge.
As the head coach of Moses Brown for nearly a decade, he built the Quakers from virtual anonymity into one of the top high school programs in Rhode Island; compiling a 71-22 record. In doing so the former USA Today and Providence Gridiron Club RI Coach of the Year led the Quakers to five straight Super Bowl appearances from 2013 to 2017. He won back-to-back Super Bowls in 2014 and 2015.
His strong emotional attachment to the program he built at Moses Brown made the decision to leave the program difficult, but Edwards couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take his coaching game to the next level right next down at Brown University.
“Coach (James) Perry does an amazing job and gave me a great opportunity,” said Edwards. “I just want to learn and get better. I’ve already learned so much from Coach Perry and being part of the Brown program.”
“I think what impressed the Rams during the Zoom I had with the Head of Scouting is that I find my own players (recruits), I book my own travel…I do all the little things myself,” said Edwards.
As he prepares for the Rams’ apprenticeship, his goal is simple: to keep learning and improving his recruiting game. He is embracing this opportunity to work with an NFL team. He is ready for the next level.
“The goal for me is to get out of my comfort zone and learn. That’s what i am really looking forward to,” said Edwards.
He anticipated having a dual role this fall serving as the Brown assistant while diving into the LA Rams apprenticeship program. But the plans have now changed with the recent Covid-19 induced cancellation of Ivy League fall sports, including football.
For the first time since 2004 Edwards won’t be standing on the sidelines. For the first time in the history of Brown University, there will be no football played on Saturday afternoons on Providence’s East Side.
Without a vaccine for the unprecedented virus, Edwards wasn’t surprised the Ivy League cancelled all sports this fall.
“I sensed that (cancellation) was the direction we were going. I think the right decision was made. I don’t think the reward outweighs the risk” said Edwards. “The seniors, of course, are devastated and I feel so bad for them. I am hoping they will still get to play at a later time.”
Brown will begin developing specific plans for the status of athletics facilities for the fall term. Those decisions will be guided by — and may shift based upon — the evolution of the pandemic, Brown campus policies, and health officials’ guidance.
“I don’t know what we are going to be able to do,” said Edwards one day after it was announced the season was cancelled. “It’s still being figured out. Will we be able to get in the weight room? Will we be able to run our guys? Will we be able to hold workouts? That stuff needs to be determined.”
There is so much uncertainty for collegiate athletes, but Edwards remains positive.
“A setback is nothing but an opportunity for a comeback,” said Edwards. “When we’re allowed to get back out there competing….we’ll be ready. And you best believe we WILL turn some heads.”
For now, Edwards will continue his Brown duties from home and engage in the new apprenticeship virtually. He’ll participate in a series of virtual workshops and meetings and plan to head to the West Coast and meet with the Rams staff in December. Edwards will then begin honing his craft by working at the major college events leading up to the NFL Draft, including college senior all-star games and the NFL combine.
“It’s such a great opportunity to learn and get better,” said Edwards. “I am really looking forward to it.”
When he’s not wearing Brown or LA Rams gear while on a zoom call, Edwards can be seen wearing a t-shirt offering a powerful message: Coaches for Change.
He recently bought two of the shirts from a football coach he connected with on Twitter; one for himself and one as a gift for Coach Perry. Proceeds support the fight to end racial injustice and inequality.
“(Coaches for Change) Means a lot to me,” said Edwards. “Football brings people together. It breaks barriers. Coaches for Change is amazing. I am always going to support the organization. Lot of kids playing football are dealing with injustices. We need to let them know we support them and we’re willing to support the need for change.”