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Published: Friday, 12/31/2004

Edwards caps A-plus career

PASADENA, Calif. - Michigan's Braylon Edwards is brash. He's confident. He's cocky.

But nobody seems to care.

Edwards can back up his talk. He is very good at it, in fact.

College football's best receiver gets an A-plus for style points in several categories - from the way he dresses, to the way he handles himself, to the way he plays football.

Edwards is so gifted athletically, he is expected to be the first receiver taken in April's NFL draft, as well as a top-10 pick overall.

Heck, he already plays like a pro, according to Texas defensive coordinator Greg Robinson.

"He'll walk into the NFL and help somebody right away," Robinson said.

Yeah, the record-setting senior who loves to talk now has them all talking. He is that good.

The eyes of Texas are on Edwards, who captured the Biletnikoff Award as the country's top receiver while earning first-team All-American honors, and he has not yet played his final college game.

That will come tomorrow when he slips on his No. 1 Maize and Blue jersey for the final time when Michigan tackles Texas in the Rose Bowl.

If Edwards can help deliver a victory over the Longhorns, it would go a long way toward cementing his reputation as the best receiver in Michigan history, although many would argue that Anthony Carter was better.

"I think my legacy is pretty much complete," Edwards said.

"I think I've done everything I wanted to do, and we've accomplished everything as a team. The one thing now is to win the Rose Bowl. That would be the finishing touch."

Edwards, a Detroit native who has started 35 of 43 games at Michigan, is a special talent. He is a 6-3, 205-pound high jumper who has been blessed with sprinter's speed and extraordinary strength.

He set single-season school records with 87 receptions for 1,221 yards receiving this season. Edwards caught a touchdown pass every 7.25 receptions, and finished with 12 overall. He has 36 career touchdown receptions and needs two more in his finale to shatter Carter's Big Ten mark of 37.

Edwards is the school's career leader in pass receptions (242) and receiving yards (3,433), breaking two records previously held by Carter.

Texas strong safety Michael Huff knows he must shut down Edwards, Michigan's acrobatic receiver and team MVP, in order for the Longhorns to have a chance to beat the Wolverines.

"That's the first thing we knew when we found out we were going to the Rose Bowl, we have to stop Braylon Edwards," Huff said. "He's the best receiver in the country. I'm very excited. It will be a great game, a great matchup."

Edwards could have turned pro after last season's Rose Bowl - he caught 10 passes for 107 yards in Michigan's 28-14 loss to No.1 Southern California - but he opted to return for his final year and to graduate.

Now he has just 60 minutes left in his college football career. He would like to make the most of that precious time.

"To be honest, I can't believe it's over," he said. "In terms of this being my last game, I've thought about it a little bit. After I leave the field on January first, I'll never be able to put this jersey and this helmet on again.

"I have great memories, but I've put it all on the back burner and have tried to just think about the game at hand."

Edwards has had a banner season in more ways than one. For the first time in his sometimes tumultuous career, he did not bump heads with coach Lloyd Carr. Perhaps it is a sign that Edwards has grown up.

Then again, unlike past years, Edwards was not tardy for any classes this fall. His cell phone didn't ring during a team meeting. He dropped very few easy passes and made the tough catches over the middle and in the end zone. And he was a legitimate candidate for the coveted Heisman Trophy.

That earned Edwards praise from his coach.

"Braylon certainly has had a great career," Carr said. "I'm extremely proud of what he's done this season and the leadership that he's given our team and the example that he's set on the field. He's certainly one of the great football players we've had at Michigan."

No one can argue that point. Edwards has the numbers to prove it.

Contact Ron Musselman at:

mussel@theblade.com

or 419-724-6474.



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