What better time than July 4 to celebrate the long, rich and, yes, weird marriage between college football and food? From tailgating to meals at recruits’ houses, food is a part of the sport’s DNA. In honor of that tradition and the kickoff of summer picnics and BBQ season, we’re taking a look at just a few of the many food-related stories dotting the CFB landscape.
The first thing people notice about DeVon Edwards is the smile. That’s what grabs them, what brings them into his orbit.
Sure, he’s usually sporting a Duke T-shirt, and the highlights of his first three seasons as a starter in the Blue Devils’ secondary have made his name synonymous with the program’s revival, but there’s still a better chance folks around campus will recognize the smile before they remember it belongs to a football star.
“He looks like a normal student,” Duke defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said of the 5-foot-9 Edwards, “but he smiles at everybody.”
After all, on the field, he’s cloaked in a helmet, with a grass-stained jersey advertising his name and number but not his personality. And while Edwards hopes football becomes a career, he thinks it’s the smile that’s his ticket to something beyond the game, so for his first four years on campus, he put it to use behind the counter at a fruit smoothie bar.
Edwards was a true freshmen when he noticed the “help wanted” sign at Quenchers, a juice bar outside the main campus gym, and asked for a job. Four years later, he rarely goes out without someone recognizing him — not from the field, but from the juice machine.
“I’ll see 100 people a day,” Edwards said. “They’ll ask, ‘Do you remember me from Quenchers?’ and, I don’t remember a lot of them, but I’ll act like I do.”
As a football player on a small campus, Edwards is used to a few stares. But his time at Quenchers was about more than getting recognized. Even amid the cliched landscape of amateur athletics, Edwards stands out for actually treating the college experience, well — like college.
“We talk about relationships and how our program is so much about that,” Knowles said. “We don’t get the five-star kids, so it’s all about how we work together and how we treat other people, and he’s the No. 1 representative for that.”
Edwards first got the job after redshirting during the 2012 season. He needed some spare cash, and it seemed like a good way to meet some new people. The way he sees it, more than half his time outside of class is spent with teammates, and it was important to Edwards to expand his circle.
Jack Chao, the owner of Quenchers, was willing to offer Edwards both a job and flexibility. If football or classroom demands were high, his schedule could be cut back. When the season kicked off, he could take some time away to focus on football. And when Edwards was on the clock, Chao loved talking football to pass the time, critiquing Edwards’ play and offering advice on how to get better. (For Edwards’ favorite smoothie recommendation, scroll to the bottom of this story.)
“He’s a funny character,” Edwards said.
Edwards’ typical schedule involved a few hours per night on Fridays and Saturdays. It often meant skipping out on social activities, but it put a few bucks in his pocket for a new pair of shoes or to help his family back in Covington, Georgia.
“It’s about balance and knowing your priorities,” Edwards said.
That’s typical of Edwards, who had a reputation as a smart kid with a winning personality long before he’d made much of an impact on the football field.
At Alcovy High, Edwards excelled on both offense and defense and was a star on the track, but his small stature and minimal hype made him a complete afterthought on the recruiting trail. He didn’t have a single offer from a major school, but Edwards’ teachers and coaches convinced the Blue Devils to take a chance on him.
“He was just walking the halls, smiling in high school,” Knowles said of Edwards’ recruitment. “We went in there just because people at the school spoke so highly of him. It was just that his character was so good. Just a really happy kid who doesn’t come from much but just has a great smile and a great presence and an energy.”
That’s what rubbed off on the clientele at Quenchers, too. He had his signature smoothies – a bit of orange juice could take a drink to the next level, he said — and he knew his regulars by name (and smoothie preference).
After Edwards’ breakout game against NC State in 2013 in which he returned two interceptions for touchdowns, the regulars got to know him, too.
“Once the word kind of got out, everybody knew I’d be there and what days I’d be there,” Edwards said. “They’d come and take a picture. But I never talked about football there unless somebody said something to me about it.”
Instead, Edwards’ goal was to learn about the people he was serving. That bright smile was an entryway into a conversation, and he has a knack for putting people at ease.
All his customers left with a smoothie, but Edwards wanted them to take a bit more from their time together.
“I’d try to make people smile, start a conversation, develop a relationship so they come back and always want to talk with me,” he said. “Just starting conversations with people sparks something. You can never go wrong by making someone’s day.”
And the way Edwards sees it, you never know who you’ll meet. Maybe he meets the son of a business executive or the daughter of a prominent investor. Relationships are important, Edwards said, and he wants people to remember their time with him in case he runs into them again down the road.
This summer though, Edwards had a more immediate goal. He wanted to take a trip to the beach.
It has been four years at Duke, a time filled with numerous awards and honors, eight touchdowns, five interceptions, 298 tackles and too many smoothies to count. But all that time spent engaging others has put a kink in his own plans, and with time dwindling at Duke, he wanted to enjoy one last summer as a college student. That’s meant an end to his career making smoothies and friends at Quenchers.
He’s hitting the gym hard. Last season, he was forced to switch from safety to corner after an injury to starter Bryon Fields, and his body wasn’t quite ready for the transition. He’s spending plenty of time with younger teammates, too. He has helped create a legacy at Duke, and he wants to make sure they’re ready to carry it on after he’s gone. But really, he wants to be a normal guy for as long as he has left before football or a job takes over on a full-time basis.
That has been the fun of this whole ride for Edwards. He has made so much progress on the field, met so many great people off it. There’s a lot to smile about.
Edwards’ top smoothie pick at Quenchers
The Chocolate Elvis, DeVon style