ORONO — When University of Maine quarterback Chris Ferguson calls Earnest Edwards a knucklehead, it’s a term of endearment.

“He’s a funny kid. He makes me laugh a lot. He’s definitely a knucklehead,” Ferguson said. “But he’s serious about his business when he’s on the field. He gets it done. He’s actually a good leader on the field. He brings energy; he supports everybody else.”

When told of Ferguson’s assessment, Edwards, a junior wide receiver, laughed and nodded in agreement. If talking trash, be it on the field or playing video games with friends, makes him a knucklehead, Edwards owns it and doesn’t apologize.

“I usually talk a lot of trash but that’s what gets me going, gets my energy up,” Edwards said after a recent practice. “If I don’t talk trash, I don’t feel like I play to the best of my ability. It’s all out of love. It’s how I get my energy.”

Already one of the top kick returners in the Football Championship Subdivision, Edwards hopes to take on a bigger role in Maine’s offense. The Black Bears open at home on Aug. 30 against New Hampshire.

Maine Coach Joe Harasymiak sees Edwards as a key weapon on an offense that includes a few of them. Ferguson, who started all 10 games last season as a redshirt freshman, is back at quarterback. Receiver Micah Wright is back after missing half the 2017 season because of injury. Former quarterback Drew Belcher transitioned to tight end. And there’s Edwards, who sits ahead of a group of talented but young receivers.

“We’re really excited about him on offense. He’s shown that here over spring ball and camp. He’s always been a dynamic player,” Harasymiak said. “We’ve got to do a better job, and we’ll do that this year, of getting him the ball. That’s a focal point for (offensive coordinator Nick) Charlton.”

Last season, Edwards caught 21 passes for 371 yards and four touchdowns. He also was used in the running game, with 11 carries for 52 yards. Those stats were similar to his production as a freshman, when he caught 20 passes for 334 yards and three touchdowns, and ran eight times for 90 yards and a score.

Where Edwards has excelled since he arrived at Maine is on special teams. He returned a kickoff for a touchdown in each of his first two seasons, and last year led the Colonial Athletic Association with a 24.5 yards per kickoff return. Edwards was named first team all-CAA kick returner and is on the league’s preseason all-conference team.

“Kick returning gives me another opportunity to get in the end zone,” Edwards said. “Most of it is definitely instincts, but just believing in your blockers and I’m taking it all the way. As long as they do their job, my job is way easier. I just respect the 10 guys blocking for me so much.”

After leading Aquinas Institute of Rochester to a pair of New York Class AA state championships, Edwards chose Maine from among 10 schools that offered him a scholarship, including FBS school Buffalo.

“He was a real big get for us, recruiting-wise, and we battled a lot of teams for him,” Harasymiak said. “When he came in as a freshman, we knew he was talented right away. He was just someone who was learning his way on offense, but right away on special teams you saw his impact, because it’s just kind of natural to him.”

Edwards has shown glimpses of how important he can be to the Black Bears’ offense. His best stretch last season came in back-to-back games against William & Mary and Delaware. Against William & Mary, Edwards had three catches for 66 yards. A week later against the Blue Hens, Edwards caught four balls for 80 yards.

Ferguson recalled two plays Edwards made. First was a catch against UMass at Fenway Park. It was a bender route over the middle, Ferguson said.

“I hit him right in stride as he turned his head. That’s one of my favorite throws because we were on the same page,” Ferguson said. “I can trust him over the middle.”

Ferguson also pointed to a catch Edwards made at Delaware. It was just a checkdown in the flat, but Edwards eluded a defender to pick up the first down.

“I’ve seen him do a lot of stuff. Sometimes you throw him the ball and just watch and say, ‘Wow, that kid’s special,'” Ferguson said.

Edwards’ offseason was spent preparing for a bigger role in Maine’s offense. His routes are crisper and Edwards thinks he’ll be able to get open more.

“My route running is way better since last year and my freshman year. Over the summer I really focused on using the cones more,” Edwards said. “I know clearing separation will go a long way in this game. That’s what I’m focused on. I can’t wait for the season to start.”

Whether those opportunities come on special teams or in the flow of the offense, Edwards is eager to simply do more.

“I’ll have my opportunities but I’ll do what the team needs. If the ball comes my way, it’s my job to make a play,” he said.