DENTON, Texas -- As five-star defensive end Mario Edwards (Denton, Texas/Ryan) put on his Under Armour All-American jersey and hat, he thought about how life has been as the No. 1 recruit in the country. What he's done. Who was there to help. How he's gotten to where he is.
The life of the top-ranked ESPNU recruit, Florida State commit and the nation's most-sought-after athlete is complex, yet he does everything he can to make it simple and easy. That's also how he makes the game of football look when he lines up on the defensive line.
Simple and easy.
Edwards accepted his Under Armour jersey Tuesday morning as part of the American Family Insurance jersey presentation tour and arguably will be the most recognizable of the 80-plus participants in the annual event, which will be Jan. 5 in Florida. Everybody wants to know two questions: Why is Edwards No. 1, and why not someone else?
"It has its pros and its cons," Edwards said. "When you go places, people know you, but when you make a mistake, because you're No. 1, you're not supposed to be human. All in all, it's been good. It feels like any other day."
Being better than great
The son of a former professional football player, Edwards has been properly educated on what it takes to be a star athlete. To Edwards, being good is average and being great is becoming commonplace.
Any adjective better than "exceptional" is what Edwards thrives to be. That may explain why at 6-foot-4 and 285-pounds, he can run the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds. That also may explain why Edwards bench-presses 405 pounds and squats 570 and has recorded more than 200 tackles and 25 sacks in his career at Ryan.
"The thing that separates Mario from most kids is his work ethic," Ryan coach Joey Florence said. "It's been refreshing for me to watch a kid with his talent work so hard. It's no surprise he's the No. 1-ranked kid in the country. I would be very surprised if he's not playing on Sundays."
Chalk up the assist for Edwards' will to work to his father, Mario Sr., a former cornerback who played in the NFL for the Cowboys, Buccaneers and Dolphins. Mario Sr. has watched his son grow from just another solid athlete into a player who can be a leader among a group of stars on any level.
"He's accomplished so much in such a short time," Mario Sr. said. "Just with his growth as a football player, you can look at him and tell that he's so much more aggressive as a 12th-grader than he was a couple of years ago. I'm really proud of him and the work he's put in to get to where he is."
Recruiting switch? Just looking
Edwards committed to Florida State in March but recently made national news when he said he wanted to check out other schools. Edwards said that while he is still committed to the Seminoles, Oklahoma and LSU have caught his attention as possible college homes.
Edwards attended the Red River Rivalry game between Oklahoma and Texas on Oct. 8, as Oklahoma's defense dominated Texas by scoring three times in a 55-17 rout. That was when Edwards went public about his interest in the Sooners.
"I told FSU I'd be looking around," Edwards said. "I'm verbally committed to them, but I still have my options open. I still like FSU, but I want to keep all my options open and just watch how [OU and LSU's] seasons go."
Mario Sr. added: "He's just weighing all of his options, that's all. He's taking his time and making sure this is the right decision for him. What people don't understand is that a high school commitment is not a marriage. A commitment is more like an engagement. It's not until you sign when that engagement becomes a marriage."
Edwards said the defenses of Oklahoma and LSU made him want to explore other options. Before last week, LSU and Oklahoma had the No. 1 and No. 3 defenses, respectively, in the country. The Sooners lost to Texas Tech this past weekend, but Edwards still saw the positive in the team.
"The really impressive thing with OU was that they didn't give up," he said. "They almost came back after being down by a lot. That really impressed me."
State championship or bust
Ask Edwards about his ultimate objectives, and you won't hear him discussing life as a college All-American or even life as a Pro Bowler. At 17 years old, Edwards' first priority is still the teammates around him. He wants to help Ryan win a Texas Class 4A state championship.
"I'm definitely honored to be playing in the Under Armour All-America Game," he said, "but the ultimate goal is to finish the year right and to enjoy my senior season. We want to make it to state and win it this year. We made it last year and didn't win it."
Ryan fell short of a state title in 2010, losing to a Lake Travis (Austin, Texas) team that claimed its fourth consecutive Class 4A championship. This year's Ryan team features many talented players on defense, including four others who have committed to Big 12 schools.
Jan. 5 will be a special day for Edwards, as the UA All-America Game will be televised on ESPN, but if Edwards has his way, he'll be celebrating a state title by Dec. 17 with the friends and standout players he's grown up with.
"We've got something to shoot for, and we know what we have to do," Edwards said. "It's just going to take hard work. We all know that hard work really does pay off."
Particularly when you're the No. 1 player in the country.
Damon Sayles covers recruiting in the Midlands for ESPN Recruiting. He can be reached at email@example.com.