ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Patrick Edwards, an undrafted free-agent receiver who is trying to make it with the Detroit Lions, has been fighting the odds since the day he was born.
Premature babies aren’t supposed to go on to NFL careers, but that’s the dream that Edwards is trying to live out these days.
His mother, Patricia, was six months pregnant when she woke up one morning and suddenly went into labor.
“He weighed 2 pounds, 14 ounces,” she said. “I could actually hold him in the palm of my hand. He was that small.
“He had tubes in his head. His lungs weren’t fully developed. He stayed in the hospital for three months. He had to stay there until he was five pounds. They (doctors) didn’t tell me why he was born early. I don’t know why.”
One message has become clear when it comes to Patrick Edwards: Don’t tell him he can’t do something. He has been proving people wrong his entire life.
Edwards started out his college career as a walk-on at the University of Houston before earning a scholarship a year later.
He suffered a horrific leg injury as a redshirt freshman, came back sooner than expected and put up more than 1,000 receiving yards the very next season.
He finished his college career with 43 touchdown catches, including 20 as a senior, when he caught 89 passes for 1,752 yards.
Nevertheless, he was not one of the 253 players selected in the NFL Draft last spring after suffering a quadriceps injury at the Senior Bowl and running poorly during his pre-draft workouts for pro scouts.
“I was very surprised that he didn’t get drafted,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “He’s very quick and elusive. I don’t care who you scored them against, 20 touchdowns deserves to be respected.”
Edwards, 23 years old and listed at 5-foot-9, 175 pounds, entered the Lions’ training camp last month planning to beat the odds one more time. He is in the mix — but not necessarily the favorite (of course) — to make the club’s 53-man roster as the fifth or sixth receiver and backup return specialist.
His chances could depend on whether second-round pick Ryan Broyles continues to make progress in his recovery from knee surgery. If Broyles suffers another setback, the Lions will have more of a need for Edwards’ skills. If not, Edwards could be the odd man out, although he would be a logical pickup for another team needing a receiver/return man.
Edwards caught a 10-yard pass against the Cleveland Browns in the opening preseason game and then returned two punts for a 4-yard average last week against the Baltimore Ravens.
In other words, nothing special to this point, which makes the game Saturday at Oakland that much more important for him.
And just when you count him out, that’s when Edwards is often at his best.
“My mom said I was a miracle baby” he said. “That alone tells you how I am, how I’ve been brought up. It’s a blessing that I’m still here today, being born that small.
“It’s been nothing but hard work. I was always the smallest, but I was also always the fastest and quickest. Can’t nobody touch me. I tried to use that to get through every other obstacle I’ve got.”
College coaches saw his stats at Hearne High School in Texas and came to check him out, but they left disappointed and without offering a scholarship. Edwards, despite his breathtaking speed, simply didn’t look like he could survive as a football player.
“They’d say, ‘He’s too little,’ ” Patricia Edwards recalled.
What they didn’t realize is that Patrick Edwards is a survivor. Always has been, always will be.
Houston coach Kevin Sumlin gave him a chance to show what he could do as a walk-on. Edwards was redshirted for the 2007 season, giving him a year to put on some much-needed weight.
“He’s always been a small little kid — a small and tough little kid,” his mother said. “When we went up to talk to the coaches at U of H, he weighed 145 pounds.”
Edwards quickly showed he had the work ethic to make it with the Cougars. His mother always knew that much. She would frequently wake up when he was in high school and find Patrick working out in the backyard, putting himself through different drills using cones and tires.
He was small, but his heart was big and his will to succeed enormous.
Edwards forced his way into Houston’s lineup in 2008. But in the eighth game, everything changed in a frightening moment. He suffered a gruesome injury when he tried to catch a pass deep in the end zone at Marshall and ran into some carts used by the Thundering Herd’s band.
A compound fracture forced him to undergo surgery that same day to have a rod inserted into his lower right leg.
It was the type of injury in which many people, to this day, have to turn away from watching the replay.
Not Edwards. He claims he watched it over and over during his comeback.
“I used to watch it every day,” he said. “I’ll look it up every now and then just to see how far I’ve come. At any given point in time, it can be gone just like that. I’m thankful to be out here.
“I’m kind of different. A lot of stuff that I went through, pain and struggling, gives me energy. Wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, talk to myself, thank God.”
Many wondered how much he would be affected when, and if, he returned from the injury, especially considering it was such a severe leg injury and he relied so much on his speed.
But he was in rehab three times a day, using that same determination he acquired at birth to keep on fighting.
“Through God’s grace and hard work, I made it,” Edwards said.
In his final three years at Houston, following the injury, he caught 245 passes for 3,873 yards, and scored 39 touchdowns. He was named Conference USA’s Offensive Player of the Year last season.
Not bad for a preemie.
“People have always said he couldn’t do this and he couldn’t do that,” Patricia Edwards said. “He always had to prove himself. I guess that’s what made him so tough and work so hard.”