HE’S the country boy who has come from the clouds.
Charlie Edwards is the boy from the country, who grew up on a merino sheep farm in Bendigo. His parents own a local café in town and Edwards is the fourth generation of the family to live on their property.
“The nature of your sporting career in the country is that you’ve got to drive everywhere and be in a lot of places at once, Mum and Dad have been nothing but supportive of me and my two siblings and our sport,” said Edwards.
“I’m around hard work a lot, I’ve seen them work hard, early mornings, late nights and it’s instilled a sense of hard work in me.
“I’m a guy who gets his confidence for a game or an exam from preparation and professionalism.”
Edwards made the move from the country to the big smoke in 2020, when he received an All-Round Excellence Scholarship at Melbourne Grammar.
“I cruised through primary school and in high school I wasn’t academically challenged as I would like, so I said to Mum and Dad that I thought I could get a bit more out of myself.
“Melbourne Grammar was the place for me, everything about it spoke to me. The structure of the boarding house and the way it’s set up lets you work really hard.
“Whether that be in the gym with your footy, in the cricket nets or even in the library, I’ve absolutely loved it.”
Edwards was appointed captain of the Perry House this year and has thrived, acting as a role model for younger students.
“It’s been awesome, there’s a real culture around doing well and succeeding.
“I loved being in there, you’re like family at the other side of it, they’re like a bunch of brothers to me now.”
Edwards has also formed a strong bond with fellow Dragon Ryley Sanders, who’s room at the boarding house is just a thirty second walk from his.
“We do a fair bit together – touch, get in the pool or gym, go for a run.
“He’s been huge for me, he drove the standards and showed me what it was like last year, we bounce off each other really well.
“He had his car here, so he took me to every Sandy training throughout the year.”
Not only is Edwards a gun footballer, he’s also a very high achieving cricketer.
The Bendigo product has played representative cricket for Prahran in the Dowling Shield and for Coburg in the Craig Shield, whilst also having played for Bendigo during Country Week and for the Northern Rivers in the YPL.
The 191cm footballing utility is an all-rounder who bowls medium pace and loves to swing the willow in the middle order, but he insists that footy has always been his number one love.
“I’m very grateful that I’ve been able to do everything this year.
“The preparation I’ve learned over the years of cricket has certainly held me in good stead.
“You get pretty tired playing cricket; I remember there was a game during our Sandy pre-season where I bowled 15 overs on a Friday night and then played half a practice match the next morning.”
Juggling multiple sports has meant Edwards has had a clear focus on doing his recovery in the pool and stretching every day, so that he can continue to be at his best whenever he hits the track.
“Footy is only two hours, you can make heaps of mistakes and still have a good game but with cricket, it’s hot and you’re getting sunburnt and have to be on top of a lot of things, it’s definitely taught me to be meticulous in my preparation.”
Edwards’ school cricket commitments meant that his Dragons pre-season was severely interrupted, and he believes that’s why he took a while to get going in 2023.
“That’s why I think my form came a bit later this year.
“I’ve never had a full pre-season before, if I end up somewhere I’m hoping I can get stuck in to a proper one.
Edwards’ versatility has made him one of the most in-demand prospects of this year’s draft crop and it certainly is an asset that will hold him in good stead at an AFL club.
“I started in that key back role, playing as a third tall, it took me a little bit but then I moved into a high running half-back role.”
His breakout performance came against the Dandenong Stingrays in round 13, where he racked up 29 disposals and six tackles in a swashbuckling performance.
“I didn’t really know many of the midfield setups or much stoppage craft, I remember Cooper Lord was teaching me all the hit-to zones in the warm-up.”
Since that windy Friday night in Frankston, Edwards has shone in Sandringham’s star-studded midfield group.
“The conversation with Rob was around where I play my best footy. He probably originally thought it was on the wing.
“We had that game against the Northern Knights where we were getting smashed in the first half and I was playing on the wing.
“He threw me back into the midfield and I hit the scoreboard with a couple of goals and had probably my best half of the year in a Sandy kit.”
His form throughout this stretch of games certainly wasn’t going unnoticed.
“We saw a lot of talent with Charlie, we loved his ability to drive his legs and carry the ball off half back initially,” said Sandringham Dragons head coach Rob Harding.
“We saw those same attributes when we played him as a midfielder, he was able to push forward and hit the scoreboard, his stoppage craft was pretty good without having done a lot of work on it.
“He forced his way into our midfield, and it was the springboard for him to go on with his season.”
Despite his strong on-field performances that were garnering more and more external attention every week, Edwards missed out on Vic Country selection for the National Championships.
“It fuelled me a bit more, I had some really good school footy form and there was talk of it happening, but I didn’t get picked,” said Edwards.
“I didn’t even get a tryout which I was a bit flat about, but it really motivated me.
“I knew eventually if I kept playing well that recruiters would notice and that it didn’t matter what level it was at.”
Whilst other draft prospects were showing their wares in the Championships, Edwards used the time off to knuckle down and improve.
“I had a little mini pre-season, did a few more running sessions and I got in the gym, I tried to get myself fitter and ready to go, I think you could see it, I definitely had a bit more strength and drive and power, especially around the contest.
“It was a blessing in disguise, I got a rest from footy and got myself fit and it meant that my second half of the year was bigger and better.”
Edwards went on to average 21.5 disposals and a goal a game in the final seven matches of the season, stepping up on the big stage as the Dragons won their second consecutive flag.
The former St Francis Falcons and Sandhurst junior credits two Melbourne Grammar figures as key mentors in his footy development, alongside Harding.
“Leigh Clarke, our school coach this year has been awesome for me, he’s been preaching play above the standards and play consistently.
“Rhy Gieschen as well, he was tough on me but in a good way.
“He knew how good I could be, he always saw me as a midfielder long term, and it was good to prove him right this year.
“Rob’s always backed me in, he’s always there for us Sandy boys.
“If you had have walked in to the changerooms at the start of the year, the St Kevins boys sit here, the Brighton boys sit here, but Grand Final day it didn’t even matter, we were just 23 best mates, which is a credit to Rob and his interpersonal skills and the way he helped build our culture.”
Unlike some of the other names who are set to hear their name read out on draft night, Edwards’ rise has come rapidly in recent months.
“It’s come all at once, it’s been a dream of mine forever to play high level footy.
“I’ve put a lot of work in and its recognition for the work I’ve done.
“I’m really grateful for the people around me, they keep me pretty grounded.
“I’m just keen now to prove the people who believe in me right, hopefully get to a club and get to work.”
“It would be pretty special, if a club was to give me an opportunity, I would be so grateful.
“It’s been a dream for a long time, it’s only coming to the fore now, but I’m so stoked to be in the position I am and so ready to get to work wherever that is.”
Edwards sees himself as a midfielder long term but understands that he may have to bide his time before stepping into that role but believes he can utilise his versatility to help him make an impact no matter the level of football he plays next season.
“I think the strengths of my game, being my kicking and decision-making are pretty applicable to lots of positions.
“If there’s a game for me anywhere at any level, I’ll be pretty happy.”
Harding also believes that irrespective of where Edwards lands, he’ll make a strong impact at his new club.
“He’s incredibly humble and down to earth, he builds great relationships with everyone he comes across.
“Wherever he goes and whatever he does, he’ll fit in straight away.
“Everyone sees tremendous upside in Charlie’s future.”
If one thing is for sure, Edwards’ upside is enormous, and he will leave no stone unturned as he works hard and looks to make an impact on the big stage.