ARLINGTON, Texas — “What’s in a name?” So the line goes in the famous play about those star-cross’d lovers, Romeo and Juliet. But it’s an applicable question especially in the sports world.
“It’s the name on the front of the jersey that matters most, not the one on the back,” legendary Penn St. coach Joe Paterno once said, but what if you never had one on the back to begin with? This is the predicament walk-on guard Lexx Edwards found himself in. A walk-on with a brother who played for Florida’s 2008 national champion football team, Edwards was awarded an academic scholarship to come to Gainesville. He followed in the footsteps of his grandfather and aunt as well as his brother by attending UF to “challenge himself academically,” per the school’s website.
As soon as he’s asked about Edwards, assistant coach Matt McCall lights up. This is the general first reaction to a question about Edwards. “Two-X Lexx” he calls out to the stoutly built 6-foot-2 guard, who sits in his locker on the opposite side of the dressing room quietly listening to music, minding his own business.
“As a walk-on, it’s not always glitz and glamour,” McCall said. “You’re asked to do a lot of different things. You’re asked to guard like you can’t believe in individual instruction, dummy defense and do all kinds of things that aren’t very glamorous. And then to be able to be a part of something like this is special and I couldn’t be happier for him.”
He’s a cool customer, on the court he says he wants to be an “everyday guy,” consistent and always doing the right thing. Off the court he endeavors to be a positive influence, and a good role model staying on top of his teammates when it comes to their schoolwork and social lives.
A walk-on’s life is an interesting one, not granted the perks of an athlete on full scholarship but often pushed to work just as hard doing yeoman’s work behind the scenes. There are no All-American accolades, no throng of media following him around and little fame to be had.
During an open locker room media session at Florida’s opening round tournament site in his hometown of Orlando, Edwards actually got up to move to allow more room for media members encroaching on his personal space while attempting to get center Patric Young on camera. “Don’t worry about it,” he responded to the reporter’s “are you sure?” as he moved to the other side of the room. That is who he is, selfless, in McCall’s words: “a big time human being, which is what you want out of your walk-on position.”
He didn’t dress for any games as a freshman but practiced and then, because of roster numbers, wasn’t with the team in 2012-2013. He came back to the Gators in 2013-2014, and this time he wasn’t watching games from home when the team was on the road.
— Gator M-Basketball (@GatorZoneMBK) November 16, 2013
“I realize I don’t have to be here,” Edwards said. “Coach [Billy] Donovan didn’t have to let me be apart of this, so that’s why I appreciate the chance and the opportunity. At any given moment I could have been let go, or I could have sat out so I treat every day as if it was my last.”
The original jersey they got for him didn’t even fit the right way when he was told he’d be able to suit up against Arkansas-Little Rock. He ended up dressing, of course, and even though the jersey may not have fit, his shoes did. A social media cult following began surrounding Edwards’ eclectic footwear selections:
— Gator M-Basketball (@GatorZoneMBK) March 8, 2014
— Jordan Bryant (@Jordan_Bryant13) March 4, 2014
— Gator M-Basketball (@GatorZoneMBK) February 19, 2014
My boy @LexxEdwards_2 has the best shoe game in all of the SEC.
— Jonathan Lowrance (@j_low_fasho) February 5, 2014
— Gator M-Basketball (@GatorZoneMBK) January 30, 2014
My boy @LexxEdwards_2 always has the freshest kicks for the Gators
— Marshall (@MarshHurley) February 5, 2014
The shoes were part of his ensemble but the name still wasn’t, until finally in February after a simple shipping of the jersey to Nike, manager Colby Donovan presented Edwards with a game jersey that featured his name on the back.
“I guess it was kind of in the making for awhile and I just didn’t know,” Edwards said. “It just took awhile for it to happen. Like the night before the game Colby showed me that it was on there, so I wasn’t annoyed about it, I was just happy to even have a jersey, a lot of people didn’t have one.”
Both Colby and junior Jacob Kurtz remember his emotions around the time he received his named duds. Donovan said he tried to play it cool, but he knew that Edwards was excited. Kurtz, a walk-on himself, also echoed a similar sentiment.
“He looked at it,” Kurtz said. “You know it was pretty cool to see, he can take off his warmup and you know it says Edwards on the back. It was good for him, I’m happy for him.”
Lexx Edwards is one of those guys that plays for the name on the front of his jersey. He’s not selfish, not on the team to grasp for glory, he has a role he’s content to fill, and he does it well. Edwards certainly doesn’t play for the name on the back, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t nice to have it on there.