TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The first few days were the toughest. After about a week, it actually wasn't so bad. When Mario Edwards Jr. was hungry, he ate. When he was full, he stopped, regardless of what was left on his plate.
The meal plan Florida State's nutritionist prepared for him was fine -- grilled food, not fried, more vegetables and fewer sweets -- but it didn't take long for Edwards to scrap it and come up with own regimen. At 315 pounds, Edwards didn't need to overhaul his diet in order to see a difference. A few little changes made a big impact.
"If I'm going to eat fries, don't get the big plate of fries," Edwards said. "No super-sizing."
Had those little changes come a lot earlier for Edwards they might have saved him a lot of heartache during a tumultuous freshman season. Instead, he learned his lessons the hard way.
Edwards arrived at Florida State billed as the No. 1 recruit in the country, but all his coaches saw last fall was an overweight kid with an equally outsized sense of entitlement. It was only a slew of injuries at the top of the depth chart that allowed Edwards to get on the field at all, but the taunts from coaches about his size continued for months.
Even now that he's a slimmed-down 278 pounds and the clear favorite for a starting job at defensive end, Edwards can't shake the lingering memories of his difficult first few months in Tallahassee. But what he has come to realize is that he was the cause of his own pain, and he's now eager to pass along that insight to the latest additions to Florida State's roster.
"I tell them my story, don't put yourself behind the 8-ball," Edwards said. "Don't give them a stick to beat you with."
A year ago, Edwards provided his coaches with all the ammunition they'd need to make his life miserable.
He'd arrived amid massive hype, but his coaches were unimpressed. By the midpoint of fall camp, he knew he was destined for a redshirt, and when Florida State opened the 2012 season against Murray State, Edwards wasn't even on the sideline. He thought he deserved better, but Jimbo Fisher provided a harsh reminder that this wasn't high school.
"I had to come in and change my whole mindset," Edwards said. "I was coming in kind of, 'I'm No. 1 this, No. 1 that' and thinking it was going to be easy. I had to figure out that it's a different level."
Edwards' story isn't unique, Fisher said, but that didn't make the transition any easier.
"When you're 17 years old and everybody in the world is telling you all that, it takes a very disciplined, heck of a young man to keep things in perspective," Fisher said. "But you get to these levels and you find out it's different. There's a lot of No. 1 guys out there, and that's what happened. Reality hit him."
But Brandon Jenkins went down in Florida State's opener, and Edwards lost his redshirt. He played sparingly in the early going, but he showed moderate signs of improvement. His weight dipped a bit, though he was still too heavy. He made progress, but patience was the key.
"I had to put my ego aside, put my pride aside, and wait," he said.
When Cornellius Carradine went down with an ACL injury in Florida State's regular-season finale, Edwards was the next man up. Three months into his freshman season, he finally believed he was ready.
He started the ACC championship game against Georgia Tech and performed well. Tech's offense was similar to many he'd played in high school, and handling the option came easily. In the Orange Bowl, Edwards got his second start, and again, he held his own. When Bjoern Werner announced he was leaving for the NFL a few days later, Edwards' transition from redshirt to veteran was complete.
That rise up the depth chart wasn't simply about attrition, however. Edwards made real strides. He's still big by defensive end standards, but that's what sets him apart. Now nearly 40 pounds lighter than when he arrived on campus, he's moving well -- dancing around blockers on the pass rush and dropping back into coverage as part of FSU's new defensive scheme.
"I feel a lot more explosive, a lot more quick-twitch muscles," Edwards said. "I'm able to drop back in coverage, stand up and do everything. So me being lighter helped me be more versatile."
But his svelte appearance and spot on the depth chart also have reintroduced those massive expectations. He's a year removed from the recruiting hype, but he now bears the burden of replacing three former starters who were all NFL draft picks in April.
It's a massive undertaking, but Edwards insists he's trimmed his ego along with his waistline.
"I don't look at it like it's any pressure," Edwards said. "Now, I've got my weight down where it needs to be, and now it's about just going out there and doing it. There's no more talk, no more, 'He's just a freshman,' that's just to the side. It's time to go out and do it now."