PROVO — From his seat in the loge inside the stadium that bears his name, legendary coach LaVell Edwards was enjoying last Saturday night's BYU-New Mexico State game when suddenly his grandson, walk-on senior tight end Matthew Edwards, caught the first pass of his career — a nine-yard touchdown late in the third quarter — in his final home game.
LaVell Edwards was known for his stoicism on the sidelines when he coached the Cougars for 29 years. So what was his reaction after watching his grandson catch a pass and score for the first time?
"There was jumping up and down, just like (Jim) McMahon had thrown the touchdown pass to Clay Brown (in the 'Miracle Bowl')," said LaVell, chuckling. "It was that spontaneous and that exciting. I even jumped out of my seat."
Starting in the 1970s, LaVell put BYU's football program on the map with an explosive aerial attack that produced hundreds of touchdowns. And, now, finally, another Edwards has etched his name in the Cougar record book — a TD that simply adds to the family's legacy.
"That was very special. It was right out of the clear blue," LaVell recalled. "We always get excited when Matt goes in, but I don't think he had ever been in for a pass play, particularly one that was designed to go toward him. For that to work out the way they did it, it was just very special on the part of (offensive coordinator) Brandon Doman to work that out for him."
Earlier that quarter, another senior, Matt Marshall, scored his first career touchdown on a direct snap, a play also designed by Doman.
"I think that says a lot about the program and about the coaches, like Brandon and others, responsible for letting both of those guys score," LaVell said. "That was nice."
Matt Edwards credited quarterback Jake Heaps for throwing a perfect pass to him on that touchdown play.
"To be able to play in this stadium, even in spring games or practices, is really cool," said Matt, who was 12 when LaVell coached his final game at BYU in 2000. "Then to have something like that to happen, where I could score in a game, on Senior Night, in my grandpa's stadium, is like a dream. It was a really awesome experience. The coaches have been really good to me, so it's humbling that they would want to have that happen, to have me and Matt Marshall both score."
After the game, when the senior class was honored, LaVell and his wife, Patti, came down to the field. "My grandpa was obviously excited, all smiles," Matt recalled. "My grandma was crying, so happy."
LaVell said the real story behind his grandson's success, though, is his attitude the past four years. Matt quietly worked hard behind the scenes, spending his first two years in the program on the scout team.
"He's a guy that was always totally supportive of everybody and never groused at all about not getting a shot," LaVell said. "This year, he made the traveling squad. It's just gotten better. He's a kid that's paid the price for it."
And if Matt gets his way, his time in the BYU football program won't be over yet.
Matt is the son of John Edwards, a doctor, and the grandson of one of the greatest coaching in college football history. LaVell guided the Cougars to 257 victories, 19 conference titles and one national championship.
An outstanding student, Matt, who played at Woods Cross High, decided to walk-on at BYU after his mission with the idea of going into medicine, like his dad. But about two years ago, he decided coaching was his true calling.
Matt graduated last April and is attending graduate school. He is planning to apply to be a graduate assistant on coach Bronco Mendenhall's staff next year. Matt has talked to Mendenhall and Doman about his coaching aspirations, and he knows that his "unique perspective," playing without a scholarship, will serve him well as follows his grandpa's footsteps and goes into coaching.
"He stuck it out, worked hard in practice and did everything the coaches wanted," LaVell said. "It was a great opportunity for him to learn and get that experience that will help him down the road. To be a coach, it doesn't matter how good of a player you were, it's just the fact that you were around it and in a good program."
Last summer, LaVell arranged for Matt to meet with Andy Reid, a former Cougar, and coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.
"He gave me the best advice about coaching," Matt said. "He said to cherish every moment at practice this year. He told me to watch the coaches, how they work and see what I like," to help him start developing his own coaching style.
Matt is getting married in December and being a grad assistant at BYU would be an ideal, fitting place to begin his coaching career — at the same place where the stadium is named after his grandpa, the same place where Matt has enjoyed an unforgettable, unexpected ending to his playing career.
"Football has always been a part of my life," Matt said. "Growing up, it's pretty much just been BYU. I came down here and was around the team a lot when my grandpa was coaching. Then to be able to play here too has been incredible. It's kind of in my blood."
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