PANA — At the conclusion of basketball season last year, Bryce Edmiston followed the routine he's been on for his whole high school career.
He walked into football weight lifting, said his hellos and prepared to get to work in advance of his senior season. Pana football coach Trevor Higgins was a bit perplexed as to why is 5-foot-9 wide receiver was in the room.
"You need to go out for track," Higgins told Edmiston, who already had more than enough speed to do damage on the football field. In fact, he was the Panthers' second leading receiver with 498 yards and three touchdowns and had 1,131 all-purpose yards and six touchdowns once his kick and punt returns were factored into the fold. Those yards, combined with 72 tackles and an interception meant Edmiston was on the field all the time. He was already a playmaker.
After a couple days of pondering, he joined track for the first time since eighth grade and was instrumental in the Panthers taking home a second-place team trophy in Class 1A. It also boosted his already plus speed and endurance.
"Normally when I didn’t do track and got to football, I was out of shape," Edmiston said. "This year I’m in shape and I feel like I’m a lot quicker now."
He'll have a new quarterback in Jonah Lauff getting him the ball, replacing Jack Armstrong, who graduated. Higgins will make it a point to get Edmiston the ball in an effort to get him in open space. Since his JFL days, Edmiston has grown to realize he has that ability to shake a defender to his core. He comes out the winner in most one-on-one matchups.
“The youngsters talk about breaking ankles; that’s what they talk about with (Edmiston)," Higgins said. "Any time he catches the ball, and you’ve got to do a one-on-one tackle, you’re liable to fall on the ground and get your ankles broke."
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Edmiston will have plenty of chances to hunt ankles to break. Higgins is clear that he wants to get the ball in Edmiston's hands as frequently as possible, and in whichever method works. There will be handoffs, screens and deep routes. There will also be more breaks. Last year, Edmiston hardly left the field. Higgins wants to keep his receiver rested, especially as it gets later in the season.
He also wants to maximize Edmiston's make-'em-miss talent. When one-on-one with a defender, Edmiston doesn't get too deep into thought.
“Just trying to get past them," he said. "I just want to get around them. I know when I get around them I can do more damage."
Said Higgins: “Any time we can get him in open space and get him the ball, he has a chance to make people miss and make some big plays for us. It’s going to be exciting to watch him do that."
Does Edmiston like idea of getting the ball in a variety of ways?
“I love getting the ball. I’m in love with getting the ball," he said.
Edmiston returns to the Panthers as the offensive skill player who had the most production by a measure of yards last season. Gone are Armstrong and standout receiver Cody Klein to graduation. This year, Edmiston has a younger group of receivers to help along the path. Other receivers include Wes Kile, Drake Spracklen, Cameron Owens and Jacob Klein.
Perhaps that's the biggest adjustment Edmiston will have to make this season. He'll step into the role of a vocal leader and mentor. That's just fine with him, as long as he gets to break ankles on Friday nights.
“The No. 1 thing I’ve already talked to him about is leadership," Higgins said. "I need him to be vocal. You can always count on him doing the work and putting the work in. The one thing I told him I need from him is for him to get others to do the same."
Contact Joey Wagner at (217) 421-6970. Follow him on Twitter: @mrwagner25