ALAMEDA – Mario Edwards Jr. has always been a big kid. He stood 6-foot-1, 215 as a freshman in high school, but could bench 315 and run like a receiver. Freak size and athleticism made him a dominant football player.
Edwards Jr. was a five-star recruit at Billy Ryan High in Denton, Texas, rated the nation's best defensive tackle and the No. 3 overall recruit. Not in the district or the state. In the country.
Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Alabama, Notre Dame and LSU, among others, were knocking on the door, but Edwards Jr. ultimately followed his father's footsteps with an early commitment to Florida State.
Have all that going for you and a driver's license and you can be a prince of Texas.
"It was kind of cool," Edwards Jr. said on the Raiders Insider Podcast. "At 16 and 17 years old, I was doing magazine cover shoots and things like that. It sped up the process of dealing with where I'm at now. It got me prepped for this in a sense. And having my dad there, giving me the blueprint also helped as well."
Mario Edwards Sr. blazed a trail from Florida State to the NFL as a defensive back. Junior knew exactly what it would to live his dream in professional football. As a prep and early in college, it didn't require much work. His father instilled an improved work ethic later in college that got him ready for the pre-draft process and the pros.
"It was like I had all the answers to the test," Edwards said. "He's been everywhere that I've tried to go. He's played at the highest level. He has been hurt. He has been to a top college and the pros. Having him there to filter out all the bad thoughts and help me to stay positive and continuing to work was great."
That sounding board was a luxury during good times. It was a necessity during a recently rough stretch.
Edwards Jr. burst onto the scene in 2015, shortly after the Raiders took him No. 35 overall. Then he suffered a neck injury in Week 15 that year – Mario explains that situation in the podcast -- and didn't return until June. He was back and rocking again in 2016's training camp, but suffered a hip injury in the preseason opener and missed 14 weeks.
He wasn't himself upon return, but another full offseason brought his explosiveness back. That's clear watching Edwards Jr. play this season. He's on a tear to start the year with two sacks – a full sack and two half sacks – and four quarterback pressures. He's an effective part of the line rotation inside and out, with versatility to play multiple techniques.
The Raiders have been waiting to pair Edwards Jr. with edge rushers Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin. They can do that now, with impact rookie Eddie Vanderdoes added to the mix. Edwards Jr. is happy, healthy and playing well, free and clear of questions about his health. His dad helped him get through the down times, and continue improving during this productive period.
"I was talking to him the other day, and saying how much I have prayed and trusted the process and am believing in myself again," Edwards Jr. said. "I'm finally getting my mojo back, and feeling like myself."