By Michael Kinney
The softball diamond has always been a safe haven for Tallen Edwards. It has been the place where no matter what was going on in life, she felt happy.
It’s one of the reasons Edwards has developed into one of the top players in Oklahoma despite just concluding her junior season in high school.
However, during the darkest days of Edwards’ life, the softball field wasn’t there for her. That was when the 17-year-old found out just how strong she really was.
“I think the main thing I learned about myself is how strong and independent I am and how far I can go,” Edwards said.
The 2021 school year couldn’t have started much better for Edwards on the field. While batting .409 with 17 doubles, 4 triples, and 35 runs scored with only 2 strikeouts, the junior helped lead Southmoore High to the class 6A State Fastpitch Championship. It was her second title with the SaberCats.
A month later, after a long and arduous recruiting process that began when she was in sixth grade, Edwards found her future home when verbally committed to play collegiate softball at Oklahoma State University.
Before Edwards decided to play for Oklahoma State, she had already committed two previous times. That includes Missouri as a sixth-grader and Ole Miss in the seventh grade.
However, the coaching staff at both programs were fired, which reopened her recruiting each time. It also made her look below the surface at potential schools and become pickier.
“I went on a couple of visits, had a couple of offers thrown at me. Then I went to OSU,” Edwards said. “It wasn’t even a visit. It was a meeting with the coaching staff to talk to them, get to know them a little bit more. I don’t think I could put my trust in anybody else. That whole coaching staff has 110 percent of my trust. I know they have had faith in me for a really long time.”
Edwards committed Nov. 16 and has not looked back. But she also said she doesn’t regret her previous commitments either. Each time she said she was in a mature state of mind to make those decisions.
“The recruiting process wasn’t too difficult for Tallen to navigate,” Southmoore coach Jason Lingo said. “Her family was very familiar with the process from her two older siblings (Tre & Trenity Edwards).”
Edwards admitted that as she has grown and watched the collegiate journey her older siblings took, it has allowed her to see a different side of college athletics that she didn’t know about when in grade school.
“I was able to learn so much and see all the things that are behind closed doors,” Edwards said. “Seeing my sister go through a lot with her two schools, it just opened my eyes. Honestly, that was why I got a lot pickier. It defiantly matured me a lot. Made me know what to look for and what to uncover from a program and a university.”
While still basking in the glow from her on-field successes, Edwards was laid low by a personal tragedy. On Dec. 15, 2021, her father, Larry Edwards, passed away after a long illness.
Losing the patriarch of Edwards’ family struck each of them hard. While they had each other during those painful days, Tallen said she had to find a way to cope with the loss herself.
In the past, Edwards’ escape would have just been to bury her head into softball and focus on the game. But she wasn’t able to do that this time.
“It was the offseason so there wasn’t a lot of softball there for me at that time. So I would say I kind of had to fight on my own for a little bit,” Edwards said. “I take everything out on softball. Frustration, anything like that, I just go play the sport and I’m happy again. I still had the verbal support from my teammates. But I would say by the time we stepped on the field and started playing again, I had figured it out on my own.”
What helped Edwards was knowing that her dad was pain-free and no longer had to endure the hardships he had been battling.
“If God was going to take anybody, that was the perfect man. In my books, he did everything right. For me, I had to flip that around in my head,” Edwards said with a tear in her eye. “Instead of being selfish and saying why did this happen to me. Instead, I just saw that he was the perfect person and he didn’t deserve to be on earth where he had worries and he was in pain and he was in a hospital bed for 40 days. So, it was OK that it was my dad. I took a step back and had my week where I was down and then I started seeing things in a brighter way. I had to not be selfish and just want my dad here.”
Edwards got back onto the field for the slow pitch season and Southmoore won another state title in May. It was Edwards’ third championship, which put her one behind her older sister Trenity.
“Stepping on the field wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be,” Edwards said. “I had already made up my mind that this is what my dad wanted me to do. I wasn’t in so much of that dark space anymore. Stepping on the field was hard for the first time and it was hard to play this last season, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.”
Edwards is preparing herself for the next challenge. It was one she didn’t see coming but gladly accepted when Oklahoma State Coach Kenny Gajewski called her out of the blue with a proposal.
“In March coach G had called me and he was like, ‘Hey, I don’t want to pressure this on you, but it’s just a thought. How do you feel about graduating early?’” Edwards remembered. “My first initial thought was only football players do that. That is like really weird. I said give me a couple of weeks to figure this out and think about it to see if it’s even possible for me to do.”
After doing some investigating of her own and talking with her mother Pam and Southmoore coaches, Edwards headed to Stillwater to discuss it with Gajewski, who has led the Cowgirls to three straight Women’s College World Series Appearances.
“We talked about me graduating in the fall. That was the first initial plan and come up there in the spring,” Edwards said. “But he made some good points about team chemistry and how it would just be really weird for me to just come up there in the spring. So, he was like either you wait until your regular graduating class or you come a full year early.”
According to Edwards, Gajewski told her another year of high school might degrade her rather than lift her up.
“When he said that to me, and I started to pick out all the options, I was like ‘he might be right,’” Edwards said. “I haven’t been happy here unless I’m on the field.”
Edwards said she was down for the challenge’ and agreed to join the Cowgirls program in the 2022-23 school year.
“This is definitely what I need to do with everything that happened with my dad passing and my best friend passing 19 days later, I was ready,” Edwards said. “I’m ready to go do this and get out of this environment.”
Lingo also saw that Edwards was ready for a new challenge.
“I was happy for her. Obviously, the Southmoore Sabercats are better when Tallen Edwards is on the field, but this is about her and a chance for her to continue to the next chapter of her career and I would never be disappointed in her to make that decision,” Lingo said.
Edwards, who won’t turn 18 until November, will be reclassified as part of the 2022 class and will be eligible to play in her first year.
“I love being the first to do things,” Edwards said. “I was the first kid to commit in the sixth grade. I was the first kid to play 18U for six years. Being able to have this as a first, it can open up a lot of options for other kids who might be in my position. I just love being the first to do things and try out new things and take on a challenge.”
Edwards will be honored with the Michele Smith Award, which will be handed out June 8 at the Annual Warren Spahn Awards Gala, which is being held at the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame.
“This award means everything to me for a couple of reasons. My sister got it when she was in high school and I’m going to OSU, which is where Michele played,” Edwards said. “I’m beyond excited to be recognized with this award and know that my hard work paid off.”
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