LEVELLAND — A remarkable person with an even greater story, former Texan basketball standout and current NASCAR pit-crew member Derrell Edwards will be recognized at halftime of the men's basketball conference opener, which is slated for a 2 p.m. tip against New Mexico Military Institute on Saturday, Dec. 4 at the Texan Dome.
A special meet and greet will also be held for Edwards, who earlier this year was named a 2021 South Plains College Distinguished Alumnus. The meet and greet will take place at 1 p.m. in the Texan Club room of the Texan Dome, as fans and the general public are welcome to attend, free of charge.
Throughout life, opportunities, some greater than others, will come and go at a moment's notice.
Derrell Edwards seems to have a niche for recognizing said opportunities and capitalizing when they arise.
Raised in Baltimore, Maryland, Edwards was like most young athletes, dreaming of one day playing in the professional ranks. In his case, the National Basketball Association. As a student at Dunbar High School, Edwards was a standout on the hardwood, attracting a number of four-year schools. His path, however, would take a slightly different route, making a pit stop in Levelland, Texas.
"When my teachers would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, the answer was always an NBA player, Edwards said. "I signed with Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi out of high school but didn't quite clear the NCAA clearinghouse to make it down to Corpus Christi. I got a call from Coach (Steve) Green who told me he was interested in coming out to Baltimore to see me play. Coach flew in the following week and watched me play, and told me he had seen enough and offered me a full scholarship."
Following a conversation with his high school coach, Edwards decided to take Coach Green up on that offer and make the trek down to West Texas.
Edwards arrived on campus in 2010 and instantaneously became a leader for Coach Green and the Texan basketball program. Admittedly, Edwards became frustrated with his play, and the performance of the team, as they went 17-12 during his freshman stint. Nevertheless, Edwards was adamant about raising the level of his game, and of those around him, during his second year at SPC.
"I was a typical inner-city tough kid, and I think that's why Coach Green came to Baltimore and found me," Edwards said. "He knew I would give it my all and run through a wall for him and the program. Once he got to know me when I arrived on campus, we made a lot of memories. In my opinion, choosing to go to South Plains College was the best decision of my life."
What would unfold during Edward's sophomore season is a testament to his selflessness and relentlessness to make the most of the opportunity at hand.
Edwards was a catalyst for the Texans as a freshman, scoring in double figures in 17 games and was second on the team in total scoring with 12.1 points per game. During his second season, Edwards would make his name a role player for the Texans, a position Edwards was more than willing to fill to get the Texans where they ultimately wanted to be.
"I was a key guy for our team my freshman year," Edwards said. "I went from a leading scorer to more of a support role my second year. That was hard for me to do after the success I had my first year, but being selfless helped us win a national championship. I was a leader, and I could have easily chosen a different route to be a problem for our team. I didn't do that, and I made a sacrifice to help our team."
Edwards would average 4.4 points per game as a sophomore and made an impact on both ends of the floor as the Texans went wire-to-wire, becoming just the sixth team in the history of the NJCAA to go unbeaten, as South Plains College won the program's second national title, with an unblemished record of 36-0.
"We went to Dallas to compete in a jamboree before the season started, and were down at the half during one of those scrimmages," Edwards said. "At halftime, we were in a classroom, and I stood up in front of the guys and was almost in tears talking to them. I told them these scrimmages matter, and we need to set the tone for the rest of the season. We went out in the second half and kicked their tails.
"After the game Coach Green looked at us and told us we're going to run the table, which means go undefeated. And that's exactly what we went out and did that year."
Edwards' success in Levelland would once again attract a number of four-year schools. Edwards would make the move to High Point University in North Carolina, where he led the Panthers to back-to-back conference titles, including their first-ever regular-season conference crown at the Div. I level during his junior season.
"While I was at High Point, there was a man named Richard Payne who would come to our games and talk to me all the time," Edwards said. "One day he told me he worked at a NASCAR company and I should come check it out sometime, but I just kind of brushed it off. During my senior year, I realized how hard it was going to be to play professionally or go overseas and play.
"So, one day I realized I should probably take this guy up on his offer. I went over to Richard Childress Racing, and I was blown away. I've always been a guy willing to try things and step out on faith, so I did an internship there my season year and basically put my head down and got to work. I got along with everyone there and met a lot of great people. One day at work, right before I graduated from High Point, they wanted to meet with me and ended up offering me a job. That's how I got into NASCAR."
It didn't take long for Edwards to find success on the track after his hiring in 2014. Some four years later, during the 2018 season, Edwards made history, becoming the first African-American over-the-wall pit crew member to win the Daytona 500 as part of Austin Dillon's iconic No. 3 Chevrolet car.
"That experience was super divine, and I knew at that moment I was right where I belonged, in the NASCAR world," Edwards said. "Fast forward to today, I've been a part of winning 20-plus races, an Xfinity Championship, I won the Drive for Diversity Pit Crem Member of the Year award, and have won 14 races this year alone at Joe Gibbs Racing.
"Working for Joe Gibbs is a dream come true. Gibbs was an NFL coach in Washington and won a Super Bowl with them. I always wanted to work for him because I knew he was a winner, and he knows what it takes to be a winner. I want to be around winning mindsets, and I started with Joe Gibbs Racing this year and have already won 14 races."
Currently residing with his wife Emily in North Carolina, Edwards remains adamant his time at South Plains College helped him reach his current destination in professional racing.
"Baltimore is a tough place to grow up as a kid," Edwards said. "It's easy to get caught up in the streets and go down the wrong path, and Coach Green coming down to Baltimore and offering me a scholarship was a big deal for me. I just want to thank Coach Green and South Plains College for everything they have done for me."