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Edwards won't be satisfied with sparkling debut

Storm playmaker says things "can get better'' than his three-touchdown game in the opener.

By JOHN C. COTEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 21, 2001


TAMPA -- Bernard Edwards says he is a man of faith, of hope and of everlasting optimism.

Good thing, because he probably needed all of that and then some to get through seven years with one of Arena League Football's worst teams.

As a Miami Hooter, he was a star. When the team changed its name to the Florida Bobcats, he saw an increasingly decreased role. The one constant was losing, which Edwards hopes he left behind when he signed with the Storm after last season.

After a three-touchdown debut last week in a season-opening win over his former teammates, Edwards hopes for an encore at 7:30 tonight when the Storm hosts Nashville at the Ice Palace.

"I think things went well," Edwards said, "but I think they can get better."

There's a lot of room for improvement after the past two seasons Edwards has struggled to piece together. Injuries and a new game plan focusing on receiver Curtis Caesar sent Edwards on his way to Tampa Bay.

"Signing here was an answer to a prayer," Edwards said.

And an answer to the Storm's one glaring loss in the off-season, Lawrence Samuels. The former Storm star bolted for New Jersey, and Tampa Bay went after Edwards, once one of the league's premier wide receiver/linebackers. It wasn't hard to convince the 6-foot-5, 205-pound Ohio State product to join the team.

"I wasn't as eager (as you might think)," Edwards said. "I had confidence at Florida in what we were doing and I always felt I'd be part of the big breakthrough down there.

"But last season really got me feeling that I wanted to be a bigger part of a team. I felt like last year if I had a bad game, I'd be benched, that they were trying to weed me out."

Edwards' value had depreciated in recent years. His yardage total dropped from 920 yards in 1997 to 685, 326 and 42 the past three seasons.

Edwards didn't play after the third game last season because of an injury to his knee. He finished the season with three catches.

Not only had his team forgotten about him, so had the league. The man who caught 86 passes for 1,124 yards and 19 touchdowns in earning All-Arena first team honors in 1995 became a question: "Whatever happened to ... "

"I felt like the coaches really didn't use my talents," Edwards said. "I want to prove to myself what I can do. But I'm not trying to prove anything to anyone else really. I'm just trying to win a championship."

Edwards has proven that, although he is 32 years old, he has some good days left. His six catches for 104 yards in the opener led the team, as did his 12 tackles. He fits the same mold Samuels and Stevie Thomas did before him at the receiver/linebacker position -- a big, physical receiver with game-breaking ability -- and is the perfect complement to speedy offensive specialist James Bowden.

"I like not having to be the star," Edwards said. "I had to carry the team back in '95. I felt relieved when they decided to focus on Caesar as the guy. Here, I'm ... one of seven or eight receivers that can get the job done."

Storm vs. Nashville

WHEN/WHERE: 7:30 tonight; Ice Palace, Tampa.

RADIO: WDAE-AM 620.

COACHES: Nashville -- Pat Sperduto (21-13, third season). Tampa Bay -- Tim Marcum (127-37, 13th season).

SERIES: Storm leads 6-2; Storm won last meeting 35-31.

TICKETS: $12-$35 ($100 for front-row seats); (813) 301-6600.

NOTES: Tampa Bay has won the past four meetings, but five of the eight games have been decided by a touchdown or less. The Storm is coming off a 63-41 win over Florida as new WR/DB Bernard Edwards had a career-high 12 tackles and caught three touchdown passes to earn Ironman honors. QB John Kaleo threw seven touchdowns, and offensive specialist James Bowden had 336 all-purpose yards. But that was Florida; this is Nashville, which finished second last year to Orlando. And in Week 1, Nashville avenged its ArenaBowl loss to the Predators 50-25, playing great defense (four forced fumbles, two interceptions). Andy Kelly needs three touchdowns tonight to break Mike Perez's AFL career record of 341. -- Compiled by John C. Cotey.

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