Braylon Edwards and Marlin Jackson turned down the NFL to write the perfect ending to the
"We didn't really want to leave like that. To get to the (Rose Bowl) a
* final chapter of their Michigan
Lnd get manhan-
iy 6 K Me Dkeihtp k O
ast winter, Braylon Edwards showed up to his father's house
with a little surprise for him. He took off his hat, and the major-
ity 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 will-
ing 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 longerwants
you to think he's the player with the No. I jersey who is just a distrac-
tion, 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.
RimGa r m Mic i aANi
Before the start of his junior season, Edwards talkd with his f r
Stan, who was a running back at Michigan from 1977-1, about the
possibility of going pro after the season. Stan Edwards, wbo babrief
NFL career mainly with the Houston Oilers, asked his son wit he
thought his criteria should be for leaving early. Braylon rplied that his
was pretty simple. He would strongly consider leavn gf 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 weanng the cov-
eted No. I jersey worn by Michigan greats such as Anthony Carter,
David Terell 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." Michi-
gan 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 say-
ing that the program would be better off without the receiver who
was more than he was worth. After Michigan's fourth-quarter come-
back against Minnesota in which Edwards caught a bomb from John
Navarre for a touchdown, Edwards told the media that he felt misun-
derstood 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 selec-
tion 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 Jack-
sonville 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."
Ne Q WRaMGE
Amaor reastt 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 hew bad the rift between No. I and the program
"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 coun-
try. (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 naive, 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 cor-
nerback 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.
TMW No. 1
When Edwards was a freshman, his father pushed him hard to make
sure tat he was putting forth the effort necessary on and off the field,
as hesalways 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
"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 com-
fortable 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 fresh-
man receivers Doug Dutch and Adrian Arrington at his house, and even
helped Dutch leam 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 Ter-
rell, Tai Streets and Amani Toomer gave him this sum-
mer: 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.
Last season simply ate away at Marlin Jackson. You could see
it in his body language as he struggled through off-the-field
issues, injuries and a position change. You can hear it in his
voice now as he talks about what frustration he endured dur-
ing his junior year at Michigan.
Jackson entered 2003 fresh off of one of the best seasons ever put
together by a Michigan defensive back. He finished it miserably star-
ing at the Rose Bowl scoreboard - caught in the quandary between
pride at the Wolverines' first trip to Pasadena since 1997, and the
personal frustration over having less to do with that success than he
would have liked.
And so, despite the NFL calling his name, Jackson opted to return
to Ann Arbor for his senior season.
"The season didn't go well last year," Jackson said. "It didn't start
well. It didn't end well. I couldn't leave Michigan on that note.
"That was a low note, and I wanted to leave on a high note."
BITTERswEEr AT THE Top
People might listen to Jackson describe Michigan's magical Big
Ten title run and Rose Bowl berth as a disappointment and think to
themselves that it carries selfish connotations.
It's a thought that couldn't be further from the truth.
The real story is that Jackson - who was one of the nation's best at
cornerback in 2002, setting a Michigan single-season record for pass
breakups with 18 while recording three interceptions and 51 tackles
- took a personal hit in order to help the team.
Entering last season, the Wolverines were dangerously thin at the
So Jackson was asked to move from corner to help Michigan offset
that concern, a request that he agreed to in hopes of helping the Wol-
verines get their best defense on the field.
"(Moving Jackson to safety) gives us the advantage of putting our
11 best players on the field," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said when
the move was announced. "It gets Marlin in a position, as a free safety
or a safety who's in the middle of the field, where he's the kind of guy
who's capable of making a lot of plays."
But the Sharon, Pa., native never fully became accustomed to the
Faced with different defensive assignments and a more physically-
demanding position, Jackson struggled to embrace his new role.
"It was frustrating," Jackson said, his eyes looking like he's ready to
blindside someone just thinking about it. "I was frustrated the whole
season. But being that I accepted (the position change), it meant that I
had to bite my tongue. I accepted it, I took it with open arms, so I had
to play it out. I couldn't say anything to (Carr).
"I just had to bide my time."
Unfortunately, Jackson wound up with more time to kill than he
would have liked. Jackson was charged with misdemeanor assault for
a fight that ensued at a party in June of 2003 and, as a result, was sus-
pended from Michigan's season-opening win over Central Michigan.
Then, just when he was starting to feel more confident at safety,
Jackson hurt his hamstring in the Wolverines' thrilling come-from-
behind victory at Minnesota.
If Jackson was at the pinnacle following his first two seasons as a
Wolverine, then he reached rock bottom in his third.
And it left him needing to figure out if he wanted to be here for a
SEEKI HELP, DECDING ALONE
Jackson wanted to come back to Michigan. But he also wanted to
play cornerback again.
"I'm the best corner in the country," Jackson said after the Wolver-
ines' loss to Southern Cal. in the Rose Bowl "If I'm back here, I'll be
Now, Jackson will say that he didn't necessarily mean for what he
said to come across the way it did. Then, it was likely the culmination
of what had been a brutal season for the Michigan star.
Still, the request to move back to the cornerback spot didn't fall on
deaf ears. With young safeties like Ryan Mundy and Brandent Engle-
mon stepping up their play, the Wolverines no longer had a driving
need to fill that position.
So Jackson would have his corner spot back. It was just a matter of
whether he'd be playing it in college or the NFL.
To decide, Jackson would discuss the situation with two talented
He first tracked Roy Williams, formerly of Texas and currently
playing for the Detroit Lions.
"I called Roy Williams because I knew he had decided to come
back (for his senior season)," Jackson said. "He told me to make the
decision that was best for me."
Jackson also sought out his Wolverine teammate that was also fac-
ing the decision of whether or not go pro.
"I talked to (wide receiver) Braylon (Edwards). He came and asked
me what I was going to do, he talked about what he was going to do."
But in spite of those discussions, Jackson would have to make the
decision for himself
"The funny thing about it was that my family never said what they
thought until I decided," Jackson said. "They didn't say anything until
So Jackson was left to weigh his options.
On the one hand, he could take his Big Ten title and three solid
years of collegiate play and jump to the NFL.
On the other hand, he could come back to Michigan, complete
school and finish what he started in his first two years at cornerback,
while trying to lead the Wolverines back to the Rose Bowl. .
To the delight of the Michigan program, Jackson told the NFL to
"I wanted to graduate," Ja
"I needed one more year to
THE CORNER IS BACK
So we come now to the cu
shot at doing all the things
That means getting Micli
crack at the Rose Bowl or an
that he is, indeed, one of th
has to offer.
And so far, well ...
"He's back," safety Ernest
back, it didn't take him tha
If Jackson has indeed foun
that means bad news for the
"I hope he's better than
now," Michigan defensive cc
he's going to be a better overa
experienced and understands
"The great thing about I
Fellow senior Markus Cu
rekindled. Curry, the Wolve
player charged with the chal
the field as Jackson - therel
come his way as quarterback
"Marlin's a competitive ati
to continue to be an athlete,"
other side of the field. I have i
Still, while it's nice to hear
to excel at cornerback again,
"i'm comfortable back at
ing in the spring, but, after ti
called me into his office and
"That helped me get back
Saturday's 43-10 victory
return to cornerback. And it
Jackson looked as good as ev
the field and recording three
But, during a play in the
shoulder and didn't see the 6
Jackso claims the injury
against Notre Dame this wee
could have been a triumphan
"I was feeling good abot
win. "Everything was real c
but I ended up hurting my sI
"I played well when I was
Nor , SHORT OF GREAJr
There's no reason not to t
one of the best in a long time
forced against Miami. And th-
if he stays healthy, could turn
The senior is anxious to
being an All-American aga
country that would want to t
Last season is something
But this year could be sor
"I wouldn't have come t
be able to make an impact i
Marlin Jackson (left) and Braylon Edwards are back for their senior seasons.