In a cell in Tennessee’s Knox County Jail, the toilet does not have a liftable seat, the bed has no sheets, and dreams have low survival rates.
On an autumn night in 2009, Mike Edwards sat in the cell as "my life flashed before my eyes."
He had escaped the hardscrabble streets of Cleveland to become a highly regarded cornerback at Glenville High, and then a valued freshman at Tennessee.
But eight games into his college career, it all unraveled in a bone-headed decision. He was an accomplice in an attempted robbery, with a Volunteer teammate brandishing a pellet gun. The scheme was abandoned when the two victims showed empty wallets. The players were apprehended and, later, were left to their thoughts and regrets.
"It felt, at that point in time, every person in the world felt I was a bad person," said Edwards, who was dismissed from the Tennessee program.
Not all felt that way. Several friends, led by Ted Ginn Sr., his high school coach and father figure, posted the $1,900 bond. They also paid for a private investigator and a lawyer. Edwards eventually accepted an offer of two years of probation in exchange for pleading to a lesser charge. His record has since been expunged.
His debt of $19,900 in legal fees also was forgiven by friends on two conditions.
"They told me I had to go to school and I had to ball out on the football field," Edwards said.
Edwards turned to his faith. Daily tests came when he was in Coffeyville, Kansas, attending a junior college but not playing football.
"Almost every day, I was like, ‘What am I doing here?’" he recalled. "It was hard, but I wanted to get back to football, not just for myself but for my family. I felt I let down Coach Ginn. I let down my mother. I let down my family."
Edwards had several scholarship offers, but the most intriguing came from UH assistant coach Tony Tuioti, who offered nothing more than a second chance and the aloha spirit.
"I saw a lot of love and integrity in Hawaii," Edwards said. "I knew that’s where I wanted to be."
Edwards was faced with a difficult choice. He had a son and was expecting another. He wanted both to live in Hawaii. It was important because of the relationship with his own father.
"My father always supported me financially," Edwards said. "He did what he had to do to provide. But he wasn’t always with us. I missed coming home and talking to my dad, having him take me to school on the first day of school, coming to practice with me."
But Edwards’ mother insisted that it would not be practical to raise a family in Hawaii with school and football obligations while living on a scholarship check.
Each night, Edwards calls his sons.
"I try to get involved in their lives," Edwards said. "That’s my prayer. I know the hurt. I know what it’s like to not be able to tell your dad good night."
Edwards played most of the 2011 season with a shoulder injury that made it painful to stretch when he yawned. He did not miss a game. And this year, he has not missed a chance to serve as mentor to younger players. His grades have improved.
"I wasn’t always the best student," he admitted. "I’m still not the best student. I used to do what I had to do to get by. Now I do what I need to do to be a success in life."
It is advice he has garnered from his own mentor, Ginn:
"Coach Ginn always told me: ‘Don’t play this game for recreation. It’s not a recreational game. This is your life. You have to use football as a tool for your life. Use football to get an education, to be a good man in society.’"