After closing the book on a six-year career in the NFL, Mario Edwards Sr. has experienced plenty on the sidelines as a coach.
He has been on staff for a national championship at the collegiate level and has been a part of turnaround campaigns on the high school gridiron. This season, for the first time in his career, Edwards will take the reins as a head coach.
On Tuesday, Edwards was announced as the next head football coach at John Paul II.
“I’m excited to be here. It’s a great opportunity. The potential this place has is through the roof and I’m excited to get started,” Edwards said.
That potential played an integral part in steering Edwards to Plano after coaching last season as an assistant at Rockwall-Heath. He takes over for George Teague, who stepped down from his coaching post to continue as the private school’s athletic director “with an increased focus on school advancement,” according to a press release.
Edwards will look to build off the foundation laid by his predecessor.
“It’s a program that was playing for a state championship two years ago, so the potential that it has to get back to that level and even beyond is through the roof,” Edwards said. “I know we have our work cut out for us and it’s going to be a challenge this year but it’s one we gladly accept.”
Edwards logged coaching stops at Dallas Samuell and Denton Ryan — on staff when the latter made a run to the Class 4A Division I state championship game in 2010 — before returning to his alma mater, Florida State University, as the college’s director of player development from 2012-19.
Having won a national championship as a defensive back with the Seminoles in 1999, Edwards added another as a coach during the program’s undefeated run to a title in 2013.
Upon returning to the high school level, Edwards coached the secondary and was head of recruiting during a resurgent 2020 campaign for Heath. The Hawks went 11-3 and advanced to the regional finals in 6A Div. II playoffs, falling in overtime to powerhouse Cedar Hill, after winning a combined eight games the two years prior.
“It reminded me of my first three years at Florida State. We knew FSU, at that point in time in 2012, was on the verge of being a national contender once again,” Edwards said. “We had a few pieces to fill. That 2012 class came into Florida State as the No. 1 group in the country and they won a national championship in 2013. It came from creating the right culture and filling the gaps with quality players to help obtain that championship.
“At Heath, they were right on the brink of doing something special. They brought in a couple new coaches and we helped cultivate the culture they were trying to create there and they went on to win 11 games last year. We hope we can do the same at John Paul.”
Although this season marks Edwards’ first as a head coach, he noted that he had received interest at other junctures in his career to lead a program. Waiting for the right opportunity was key in Edwards’ decision, however, and the recent upswing within John Paul’s football program provided just that for the coach.
Much like his predecessor, Edwards also has plenty of roots within the Metroplex. After a decorated collegiate career at FSU, Edwards was a sixth-round draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys in 2000. He logged a combined 46 starts at cornerback for the Cowboys from 2001-03, amassing 148 tackles and four interceptions during that span, and had additional stints with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Miami Dolphins.
“Texas has always been a home for me. My kids are here in Texas — I’ve got a daughter who was a senior this year and a son who’s going to be a freshman in high school this coming year,” Edwards said. “If I wasn’t going to be on the collegiate level, I’d rather come home, spend time with my kids and have an opportunity to coach my youngest son.”
Edwards and the Cardinals will hit the ground running with their 2021 campaign right around the corner. The Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools will allow football programs to begin fall practices on Aug. 2.
“It’s about getting everybody back from vacation and getting an opportunity to meet with the guys by position. I want to meet with a lot of them 1-on-1 and set realistic goals for this year,” Edwards said.
The Cardinals are coming off a 3-4 campaign that included myriad cancellations and schedule alterations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. John Paul still managed to qualify for the playoffs, advancing to the regional round before falling to Fort Worth Nolan, 32-17.
The Cardinals open their 2021 season on Aug. 27 on the road against Lovejoy, ranked No. 3 in 5A Div. II by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football.
“The games are going to be played so we have to make sure we’re coaching these guys to the best of their potential and putting them in a position to where they can max out that potential,” Edwards said. “We want them to go out and compete, and let’s see what happens.”