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Inside stories on Edgerrin James’ remarkable journey to Pro Football Hall of Fame

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Over 25-years later, Gary Meadows is still stunned. 

In 1995, Meadows was a baby in the high school coaching game: fresh out of school, leading his first team, jitters beyond belief.

And then his running back did it again. 

Three hundred yards in a single game? Check it off. Rushing for 2,355 yards in a single season? Book it. 

Edgerrin James was no longer Immokalee, Florida’s little secret.

For Meadows, his first head coaching season delivered the best player he would ever watch on Friday nights. 

“He was phenomenal. It was like a boy possessed playing football. We were all shaking our after the first practice like, ‘We have to check his birth certificate,’” Meadows said.

Riding with the Edge

James’ impoverished childhood quickly met the excitement and challenges of football stardom. 

But on one particular afternoon, on what was supposed to be a simple trip to the mall, James’ confidence convinced the Miami Hurricanes wide receiver and future Colts teammate Reggie Wayne the gold teeth were going places. 

“I remember one time we were in college, and we were going to the mall,” Wayne said. “He had an ’86 box chevy; it was pretty trash. We were lucky enough just to make it to the mall, and I am not talking about going back.

“We are driving through south Miami going to the mall, and we get pulled over. I am looking at Edge, Edge is looking at me, and he says, ‘Hey bro, I don’t have any papers on this car.’ I’m, like ‘OK, how are we going to get out of this one?’ The police officer comes up to the car, asks for license and registration. Edge says, ‘I don’t have any papers on this car.’ The police officer goes back to run his license. I am starting to get nervous because the officer is taking too long. The police officer finally comes back, and I am thinking we will have to get out of the car or something. The police officer says, ‘You better be glad that my computer is down right now.’

“So I am like, ‘Alright, phew, let’s turn this thing around and go back to campus.’ But, Edge takes off, continuing to go straight, and I am like, ‘Bro, where are you going?’ He said, ‘Man, we are going to the mall!’ I said, ‘Man, we were supposed to be going to jail, I don’t know if this car is legal or not. What do you have me in?’

“He looked at me and said, ‘You got to trust me, man, you are riding with the Edge!’ And from that point on, I have been riding with the Edge. That is my dog.”

The tragedy that changed a father forever

Behind the scenes of this Hall of Fame career, a father who faced the worst.

In April of 2009, just months after his lone Super Bowl appearance with the Arizona Cardinals, James’ longtime girlfriend and mother of four of his children, Andia Wilson, died of leukemia. Wilson was just 30 years old.

“When Edgerrin lost his kid’s mother years and years ago, it was tough,” James’ longtime friend Amp Harris said. “I saw a guy who really made a decision for life. When I saw him embrace fatherhood the way that he did, I mean, everything he does in life right now is about his kids.”

“To see the amount of love he gets when he comes back to Indy … sometimes I find it hard to believe,” James’ 17-year-old son Eden James said. “I am proud of him. I am happy to see that all the hard work and sweat has paid off because it has been long overdue.”

Edge’s way

There are countless stories to back up this fact for those who know James’ best: No. 32’s most impressive stats numbers came nowhere near a football field. 

Early during his professional tenure in Indianapolis, while still playing on a rookie contract, James donated $250,000 to his alma mater, the University of Miami. 

When the damage from two hurricanes threatened to halt athletics at Immokalee High School, James put up the funds to keep students on the playing field. 

And the now legendary year-round free workout clinics at James neighborhood hangout ‘The Property?’

It would be impossible to add up how many hours James has spent coaching Orlando-area youth about football and, more importantly, life. 

All of these afternoons? Free of charge. 

“He brings everybody in,” Wayne said. “I can tell you stories, man; Edge would go around the neighborhood and get charter buses for other families kids and take them to Orlando to go to Disney (World).

“It was never an issue with him. He wanted kids to have fun, experience things he never could experience, and see smiles on their faces. That is one thing I learned from him, just being able to go out and reach and touch people. Go out and show them another part of the world.”

A path to Canton, Ohio, carved out Edge’s way.