On the Elk River defense, senior middle linebacker Bryan Edwards is Mr. Indispensable.

"He's one player we hoped would never go down because we have so little experience behind him," Elks coach Steve Hamilton said. "He's the brains of the operation out there."

Edwards, a starter since Elk River's well-publicized 2010 hazing incident pressed him into action as a sophomore, calls the defense, makes adjustments and makes sure teammates are in proper position.

When the ball is snapped, the 6-4, 205-pound Edwards gets physical. He led the team in tackles as a junior, racking up three times more tackles than any Elks defender. He leads the defense in that category again this fall.

Edward spoke to Star Tribune reporter David La Vaque about Elk River's playoff surge, taking the defense on his shoulders and the Class 5A state tournament quarterfinal game against perennial power St. Thomas Academy (9-1). Kickoff is 7 p.m. Friday at Osseo High School.

Q Going to state is sweet for anybody, but given you guys went from 2-5 at one point to state, how great is this?

A It's awesome. Everyone on the team the whole season has been saying, 'Believe, believe, believe.' We all knew we could go far and it worked out well.

Q Did you have any doubts that you kept to yourself as the losses added up?

A Our regular season schedule was really hard compared to our section. So I never had any doubts at all because I knew our team could do really well when we played our best. I mean, I got frustrated sometimes after losses but I tried to go out there and have fun every day because I love playing football.

Q You are asked to do a lot as the middle linebacker. Talk about the work you put in to meet those expectations.

A During the game my coach will signal in the play and I'll call it. I also make adjustments and make sure everybody is where they are supposed to be. We work on it a lot during practice. And also, I watch a lot of game film.

Some people might get distracted, but as soon as I step on the football field I focus on football and only football. Off the field I still think about football sometimes.

Q You were a sophomore when the hazing incident took place. Does going to state help put that completely behind this program?

A I think last year's seniors and our senior group this season have helped turn it around. We were 6-3 last year. This year we took it a step further by going to state.

A lot of people have been talking about us going to state. I don't think a lot of people expected us to go as far as we have, except for everybody on the team. We believed and that's what matters most. Now we're getting everybody else to see and believe.

Q A lot of people consider St. Thomas Academy one of the favorites to win the Class 5A title. What kind of game are you expecting Friday? What's it going to take to beat the Cadets?

A I think our offense will be fine and score a bunch of points. And our defense will stop them; I know we will. They are a good team and they've won a lot of games. I've watched film on them and they look pretty good, but we can handle them.

David La Vaque • 612-673-7574