GREENVILLE, S.C. - For Appalachian State quarterback Armanti Edwards, the toughest part of beating Michigan last season wasn't maneuvering through the Wolverines' mammoth defensive line or overcoming more than 100,000 maize and blue-clad fans.
It was the plane ride - the first of his life.
"I didn't want to go. I wanted to ride [the bus] with the band," Edwards said yesterday, after he was voted the preseason
offensive player of the year in the Southern Conference. "After we celebrated [after the game], I forgot we had to fly again. At the airport I was like, 'Man, I should stay or something.'•"
Edwards and the Mountaineers made it back to their Boone, N.C., campus safely after the stunning 34-32 victory, then went on to win a record third consecutive Football Championship Subdivision title.
Returning 14 starters, they'll be the favorites to win the national title of what used to be called Division I-AA again this season.
While the Michigan talk still hasn't subsided - coach Jerry Moore estimates he's been on the road 25 days each month of the offseason for various speaking engagements - there is a chance for Appalachian to pull off an even bigger stunner in its opener this season.
On Aug. 30, the Mountaineers visit LSU - the defending Football Bowl Subdivision champs.
Edwards can't wait.
Trouble is, he'll have to board a plane again.
"I'm not too good with heights," Edwards said.
He's been pretty good at helping the Mountaineers reach a lofty spot as one of the nation's darlings. After accounting for a stunning 3,536 yards of total offense and 38 touchdowns in 11 games last season, the slight kid no major school wanted as a quarterback is getting preseason attention as a possible Heisman Trophy candidate.
After much debate, Appalachian State officials decided against starting a costly Heisman promotional campaign for the junior.
Yet Edwards drew most of the attention at the Southern Conference's media day, when the Mountaineers were picked by the league's coaches and media members to win the title again.
And perhaps the guy who most wanted to see Edwards was the only Heisman Trophy winner in the room, Pat Sullivan, the former Auburn quarterback and coach of league newcomer Samford.
"It's the first time I got to see him in person," Sullivan said.
He saw a slightly bulked up Edwards. While he's still barely 6-feet, he claims he now weighs 185 pounds.
"Yeah, I told him he's wearing medium T-shirts now," Moore said.
Edwards' size is why Clemson, Vanderbilt and Memphis offered him scholarships, but wanted him to move to receiver or defensive back. The Greenwood, S.C., native wanted to be a quarterback, and chose Appalachian State over league rival Georgia Southern because Moore had recently installed the spread
The shifty Edwards helped the Mountaineers win the national title as a freshman, then threw for 1,948 yards and 17 touchdowns and ran for 1,588 yards and 21 scores last season. Folks still marvel at his performance in the national semifinal against Richmond, when he rushed for 313 yards and four touchdowns and threw for 182 yards and three scores.
"Our players have great respect for him," Moore said. "You do some of the things he's done, take the licks, and you watch the tape on Sunday and Monday, you run that thing back and forth and you say, 'He's our guy. He plays for us.'•"
Don't expect that to change. Edwards was quick to squash rumors he was considering transferring to Florida State or South Carolina.
"They didn't want me out of high school. I wouldn't want to go there now," Edwards said.
That lack-of-respect attitude is prevalent in almost everything Edwards says and does. While he doesn't wear his championship rings because he doesn't like
jewelry, Edwards made sure a picture of an LSU T-shirt that says "Not in our House," in reference to Appalachian State's win at Michigan's Big House, was prominently displayed in the team's locker room.
Edwards promised he won't be intimidated by the Tigers - once he gets off the plane in Baton Rouge.
"They said we had to fly," Edwards said. "Just like Michigan."34.84802 -82.40022