“We didn’t really want to leave like that. To get
to the (Rose Bowl) and get manhandled like that — we wanted
to leave on a better note than that.”

Julie Pannuto
Marlin Jackson (left) and Braylon Edwards are back for their senior seasons.

-Marlin Jackson

Last winter, Braylon Edwards showed up to
his father’s house with a little surprise for him. He took
off his hat, and the majority of his hair was gone. No longer would
he wear the afro he showed up with at media day last season, or the
cornrows he sported later thereafter. He now would clad a short,
clean cut look that he would show how he has changed as a
person.

Braylon Edwards wants you to believe he’s a new man, and
is willing to do just about anything to prove it. If that means
cutting his hair, he’ll do it. If that means attempting to be
more humble, he’ll do it. If that means taking extra time
over the summer to talk over the phone to incoming receivers about
the playbook, he’ll do it. He no longer wants you to think
he’s the player with the No. 1 jersey who is just a
distraction, but, instead, he wants you to feel that he’s a
good ballplayer, a good student and, most importantly, a good
guy.

But if things had gone his way, Edwards might not have had the
opportunity to change at all.

 

Returning to Michigan

 

Before the start of his junior season, Edwards talked with his
father Stan, who was a running back at Michigan from 1977-81, about
the possibility of going pro after the season. Stan Edwards, who
had a brief NFL career mainly with the Houston Oilers, asked his
son what he thought his criteria should be for leaving early.
Braylon replied that his was pretty simple. He would strongly
consider leaving if he was going to be a top-10 pick.

“I asked him that only because I wanted him to be clear on
the criteria of wide receivers taken in the top 10. And he said he
did, and he does have that,” Stan Edwards said.

But things changed as Edwards entered the season wearing the
coveted No. 1 jersey worn by Michigan greats such as Anthony
Carter, David Terrell and Derrick Alexander. Edwards asked Lloyd
Carr for the number during the off-season because he wanted to be a
part of the tradition the number held.

Edwards entered Lloyd Carr’s doghouse after appearing late
to a team meeting last August and had a difficult time getting out
of it. Edwards didn’t start the season opener against Central
Michigan, where he appeared mainly in third-down and goal line
situations. Afterwards, Carr said that he and Edwards “were
not on the same page.” Michigan coaches refused to talk about
him after ensuing games, including a 13-reception, 144-yard
performance against Oregon. Edwards was then benched for the first
quarter of the following game against Indiana.

Much of the media and fan base turned on him, some even saying
that the program would be better off without the receiver who was
more than he was worth. After Michigan’s fourth-quarter
comeback against Minnesota in which Edwards caught a bomb from John
Navarre for a touchdown, Edwards told the media that he felt
misunderstood and he just wished that people would view him as a
good guy. He said that he would return for his senior season no
matter what because he loves Michigan and college football. Braylon
often talked with his mother, Malesa Plater, with whom he is
extremely close, about his frustration.

“He came to me quite a bit because people didn’t
understand who he really was,” Plater said. “But I just
told him that this is a phase, that this will all pass. (I told
him) to always talk team, never talk about yourself, because if you
talk about yourself, people will say ‘what about you,’
then focus on you. But Braylon’s a very sentimental person,
and he always wants people to understand him. Therefore, he was so
busy trying to explain who he was that everyone thought that he was
individualistic.”

A short time later, Michigan had clinched its first Rose Bowl
birth since 1997 after a victory over Ohio State that included two
touchdown receptions by Edwards. After the game, he had dinner with
his father and again discussed the possibility of him leaving
early. Stan Edwards asked him if his criteria had changed. He said
it had not. His father also asked him if he thought he was a top-10
pick.

“(Braylon) took a deep breath and said, ‘No,
I’m not,’ ” his father said.

Stan Edwards then said to hold on, that he wasn’t sure
that he wasn’t. He then made some phone calls to people he
knew around the league. Although some said that he would have been
a top-10 pick, the evidence was not beyond a reasonable doubt that
he would be a single-digit selection on draft day. (His father said
that one league executive, whom he did not name, told him Braylon
would have been drafted ninth by the Jacksonville Jaguars instead
of Reggie Williams of Washington.) So figuring that he loves
college, Edwards decided to return for his senior season.

“I came close. It came down to the end. It was about
55-45,” Braylon said. “I thought if I worked hard in
the combine, I could go high. A lot of people didn’t see
that, but I saw that. Six or seven receivers were drafted in the
first round, and I would have been one of those guys. But at the
same time, I wasn’t in a rush to get out of Michigan. There
was some leftover business that I had to take care of at Michigan.
With all the (wide receivers) that left (for the draft), there was
not going to be too many opportunities out there for me. Coming
back was the best decision I could have made.”

 

Need for change

 

A major reason that Edwards received so much negative attention
last season was that Carr almost never gives out any information
regarding the program’s internal issues, so when Carr spoke
out against Edwards, it left many to wonder how bad the rift
between No. 1 and the program really was.

“I look at it as Coach Carr challenging him to be the best
player that he can be,” said David Underwood, Edward’s
roommate over the past two years. “All Braylon did was just
take advantage of the situation and just made it to where he was
one of the best football players in the country. (Carr) challenges
all of us to be the best person that we can be and to excel in
whatever you want to do. If you want to be a garbage man, be the
best garbage man you can be.”

Stan Edwards believes that Carr holds his son to another
standard because he has been a part of the Michigan program through
his father since he was born, and, thus, should know better.

“He expects so much more out of Braylon,” Stan said.
“If it was another kid, he may not have come out publicly.
Some people think Carr is hard on him because Braylon is just that
bad, but he expects a lot from Braylon because Braylon grew up in
the program. There are video tapes around my house with Anthony
Carter that he has watched since he was a little boy.”

According to his mother, Braylon, while mature academically, has
always been one to mature socially a little later than other kids
his age. She said that he was into He-Man and other such toys
“late.” He actually still didn’t want his mother
to sell his big box of toys at a garage sale about five years
ago.

Edwards still had some maturing to do when he came to Ann Arbor.
He appeared naïve, and said things to the media that even his
father wishes he hadn’t. Even before this season’s
opener against Miami (Ohio), Carr said that he was really glad that
the team had selected cornerback Marlin Jackson and offensive
lineman David Bass as captains because “guys want to be led
by people who care more about the team then they do about the
individual,” possibly hinting at the reason why Edwards was a
glaring omission as team captain.

 

The new No. 1

 

When Edwards was a freshman, his father pushed him hard to make
sure that he was putting forth the effort necessary on and off the
field, as he’s always done. From the time he was 9 until he
was 18, Stan put forth so much effort as Braylon’s track
coach that their relationship suffered because of it. But
currently, much of their conversation stems from sharing their
experiences in the program, and their relationship has
improved.

“It’s pretty funny,” Stan said. “We talk
most of the time about other players on the team and their
development or lack thereof. We laugh about a lot of things now
because I don’t have to tell him. At the end of the day, if
Braylon decides that this is enough for him and he doesn’t
want to improve, I am not angry at him, because I know he knows
that he is willing to work hard to do the best that he can. I have
to be comfortable and satisfied with wherever his work ethic and
desire takes him. I’m saying that because I know he
understands now. I would not have said that three years ago when I
know he didn’t know what it took.”

Now, Braylon wants to be a leader in his senior season, despite
the fact that he does not have the title as captain. He earlier
hosted freshman receivers Doug Dutch and Adrian Arrington at his
house, and even helped Dutch learn the playbook over the phone
during the summer.

“I’m a natural born leader,” Edwards said.
“I love leading, whether it be intramural basketball or
football, I’m always trying to orchestrate things. I’m
always trying to coach and direct. I won’t have this title as
captain, but that’s alright. I’m still going to make it
happen.”

When living with him the past two years, Underwood said that
Edwards is “just a fun loving guy,” whom he shared tons
of moments having heart-to-heart talks, playing videogames (he says
that Edwards is best at Madden and James Bond games) and just
joking around.

“He’s the older brother that I really never
had,” Underwood said.

This fall, Braylon is going to attempt to become the first
receiver in Big Ten history (and ninth in NCAA history) to compile
three straight 1,000-yard seasons. His father says proudly that
Braylon will also graduate in less than four years this December
before he will attempt to become that top-10 draft pick. And, no
one will question his strength, speed and competitiveness on every
play.

“He’s probably the strongest receiver we’ve
ever had,” Carr said. “He’s a guy that will play
without the football. He can make a three-yard gain into an 80-yard
gain. He’s got everything you want in a receiver.”

Now Braylon just has to take to heart some advice that Terrell,
Tai Streets and Amani Toomer gave him this summer: to “wear
the number, not let the number wear you.” “He’s
always wanted people to like him, but that’s just not how the
real world is,” his mother said. “I tell him everybody
loves you, until it’s time for you to make another one and
you drop it, then they’re not going to like you. So
don’t be concerned about that.”

For Braylon, that’s priority No. 1.

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