Claire Voltarel, Campus Carrier News Editor
On Sept. 27, Berry football traveled to Centre College to compete in a typical yet important conference game against the Colonels. Little did they know the outcomes of this game would impact the team, the trainers and the Berry community as a whole.
When sophomore defensive back Justus Edwards hit the ground after a hard collision with an offensive Centre player, fans, trainers and players on both teams took immediate action.
“We immediately started praying and asking if he could get up,” junior wide receiver Mason Kinsey said.
According to Kinsey and Kat Duncanson, football’s assistant athletic trainer, it was Edwards’ positive and calm attitude that helped everyone at the game to continue and take the necessary steps to get him help. Duncanson said as soon as she reached Edwards on the field, he told her he just wanted to continue playing. He then started praying out loud.
As soon as the athletic trainers rushed to the field, both Colonels and Vikings joined in the center of the field while one Centre player led the group in prayer, according to Duncanson.
“The positivity that Justus exuded allowed Mary [graduate assistant athletic trainer] and myself to stay stress free throughout the evaluation and spine-boarding process,” Duncanson said. “It calmed the team as they finished the game, calmed his parents as they drove up from Birmingham in the middle of the night, and calmed the coaches and athletic department as we all tried to dot i’s and cross t’s to make sure everything was taken care of.”
Edwards’ friend Daniel George and his mom rushed to the Kentucky hospital Edwards was taken to as soon as he heard about the injury.
Edwards has requested to keep his physical condition and recovery process private, but sustained a major injury which required surgery and a long path to recovery through physical therapy. However, this setback did not quell his spirits. His optimism and strength through faith moved members of the Rome community who rallied in support for Edwards and were inspired by his bravery and attitude.
Duncanson shared a video of Edwards only a few hours after the injury, smiling and dancing with his mom in the hospital room.
According to Edwards, this strength and optimism derives from the support he’s received and his faith in God.
“It’s God,” Edwards said. “I don’t walk by what I see, I walk by what I believe. That’s how I live day by day.”
George agreed with him and said Edwards’ faith has been the sole motivator to say optimistic.
“It’s 100 percent his faith,” George said. “His reliance on God through everything is the only reason that he’s able to get through this.”
On the team, Edwards served as a hard-working defensive leader who led as an example to everyone both in practices and games, according to Kinsey.
“A lot of people looked up to him and tried to mirror what he was doing on the practice field,” Kinsey said.
While his talent was missed on the field after his injury, Kinsey and Duncanson said he provided support to the team in a new role. According to Duncanson, she Face Timed Edwards before and after every game. Prior to the players entering the field, Edwards would lead them in prayer and provide motivating thoughts for the upcoming game. Then, after every win, which was every game until Nov. 10, Edwards would FaceTime in again to dance and celebrate with the team and share his congratulations.
“He was our motivator,” Kinsey said.
Kinsey and Duncanson said Edwards’ positive attitude and commitment to faith inspired the team to appreciate what they often take for granted and push through, not only for him, but for themselves and the community. According to Edwards, the accomplishments the team made throughout the season were bigger than the game.
“The focus has been off of football and more on Christ and coming together as one unit in faith,” Edwards said.
His impact on the football team carried into campus and throughout Rome which immediately inspired community members to find a way to help.
“It’s been an example for everybody on campus and on the team that it is more important than football,” Kinsey said. “He has shown people what they can do and that faith can move mountains.”
According to Sports Information, aside from the hundreds of people who showed their support to Edwards and his family following the game, a GoFundMe fundraiser was created the following Wednesday to help his family through the recovery process. The page raised over $2,500 in just eight hours after it was posted and now totals $20,655.
On campus, students and faculty orchestrated several ways for the community to express their support and wishes to Edwards and his family. The Chaplain’s Office compiled letters that were sent to Edwards weekly. Additionally, a large banner signed by faculty and students was delivered to Edwards.
Off campus, many local groups found ways to support Edwards through his recovery as well. Frios Gourmet Popsicles, a local shop on Broad Street, donated $1 to his GoFundMe page on every purchase made the weekend following the game.
According to Duncanson, other schools also rallied around his cause. Sports Information said many schools in the Southern Athletic Association (SAA) expressed support for Edwards and Berry football via social media. For example, in honor of Edwards, a video from the Birmingham Southern College football team showed the Panthers performing 14 “up-downs”, 14 being Edwards’ jersey number.
In addition, Duncanson said that the Centre athletic trainer made a 45-minute trip almost daily to visit Edwards while he was still in a hospital in Kentucky. She also said the coaches paid him a visit after the injury to bring his family clothes for their overnight stays and a Visa gift card for Edwards to get food outside the hospital.
Outside of social media, George said that when the football team traveled to the game between Birmingham Southern and Centre, both teams and fans recognized Edwards and addressed him to show their support.
To encompass all the support Edwards has received, the trending hashtag “#14Strong” has developed meaning more than just support for Edwards injury, according to George and Duncanson.
“For the team it means ‘we are going to win games, fight for our brother and support him,” George said. “For the school it means everybody coming together to show support for our classmate and our friend.”
Duncanson said his consistent positivity provides the community with an example of how to deal with adversity.
“It’s less about us being strong for him and more the strength he portrayed during the whole incident from the second he was injured all the way to today,” Duncanson said.
Edwards said he is continuing his recovery process and maintaining a positive attitude, which, according to Duncanson is why he is a favorite among the nurses and physical therapist at his rehabilitation center. George said Edwards is making significant progress in his recovery.
“I’m doing well, and I’ve been strengthening every day,” Edwards said. “I’ll be back.”
Duncanson noted that even in the training room before practices, he would watch film and go over plays while getting treatment. She said this passion for football has continued through this process and served as another part of his motivation.
According to Edwards, the support his friends, family and the community has shown has largely impacted his recovery.
“Seeing their faces there when I’m at PT (physical therapy) pushes me even harder,” Edwards said.
Through this difficult process, Edwards’ inspiration provided unity and encouraged faith throughout the Berry community, and Edwards hopes Berry members will continue their strength and stay motivated.
“Continue life,” Edwards said. “Continue pushing until you get to your goal no matter how impossible it may look to other people.”