CHARLOTTE, N.C. – It’s no surprise that Duke’s DeVon Edwards and North Carolina’s Ryan Switzer are opposed to any thought the NCAA has raised to possibly banning kickoff returns for safety reasons.
Edwards, a senior defensive back, has six career kickoff returns for touchdowns. Switzer, a senior wide receiver, has taken back seven career punts to the end zone. They are both one TD shy of the NCAA career record at their specialties.
The subject came up at the ACC Kickoff media days while they were among players representing Coastal Division schools Thursday at the Westin Hotel.
“Oh, I wouldn’t like that very much,” Edwards said. “I feel like that’s a game-changer play. I’m pretty sure there are a lot of injuries that come with that, though. You have people coming full speed.
“I would think the returner is the person that would take the most punishment at the end of the day, and I don’t really have a problem with it. I like kick returning and I don’t think it should go away.”
The subject of athlete safety on kickoff returns was raised earlier in the week by Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, who also serves as Chairman of the NCAA Division I Oversight Committee.
Bowlsby told CBS Sports that the Oversight Committee and American Football Coaches Association executive director Todd Berry are studying data on injuries in football overall and the high number suffered on kickoff plays.
Bowlsby and Berry no doubt understand banning kickoffs would alter the game dramatically. But the NCAA, similar to the NFL, faces increasing liability risks related to concussions and head injuries.
Switzer returns punts, so it’s a different discussion. But since North Carolina senior kick returner/running back T.J. Logan wasn’t in Charlotte, Switzer was willing to field the question and ran with it.
“I think the game would take a big hit if that were to happen,” Switzer said. “Football’s a dangerous game regardless of what play it is. We know as players you put yourself out there risking injury every time you step out on the field.
“Kickoff and kickoff return are tough because guys are running full speed, but there are also plenty of other times guys are running full speed. I’ve gotten hit across the middle (on a pass pattern) and got hit catching punts where I didn’t think I was going to get up. To see kickoffs taken out of the game, I don’t feel would be positive for the game of football.”
The return game has added the overall value to otherwise undersized players such as Edwards, a 5-foot-9, 180-pounder from Covington, Ga., and Switzer, a 5-10, 185-pounder Switzer of Charleston, W.Va.
They earn half their scholarship value with their ability to make split decisions to catch and run and where to cut to find running room. Their versatility also increases their NFL value, especially as sub-6-footers.
Last year Edwards was a first-team All-ACC specialist and honorable mention safety on the All-ACC team selected by the coaches.
He returned three kickoffs for touchdowns and average 29.2 yards on 24 returns despite teams kicking the ball away from him. He led the ACC in kick return average with 29.2.
Edwards has been playing safety for the Blue Devils, but this year he has been switched to cornerback in the 4-2-5 scheme. He was second on the team in tackles last year with 101. He also had one sack and one interception, although as a redshirt freshman in 2013 he returned two picks for touchdowns.
On the All-ACC coaches team, Switzer was the second-team specialist and a third-team wide receiver.
He led the Tar Heels in receptions with 55 catches for 697 yards and six touchdowns. He had two punt returns and his 302 yards of returns ranked second in the ACC. He averaged 13.7 yards per punt return.
The kickoff TD career return record Edwards is trying to tie is seven by Clemson’s C.J. Spillers.
“He was one of my favorite players growing up,” Edwards said. “I want to break his record and hopefully meet him.”
The punt TD career return record Switzer hopes to tie is eight by Texas Tech’s West Welker.
“To be mentioned with someone like (Welker) that — the success he’s had not just at the college level, but the professional level as well — it just bodes well for my confidence. The punt return record would be something I would love to have.”