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The Real Thing
KARL TARO GREENFELD
October 25, 2004
Braylon Edwards is the best wideout in the nation and the unquestioned leader of resurgent Michigan. But it took four years for his head to catch up to his talent
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October 25, 2004

The Real Thing

Braylon Edwards is the best wideout in the nation and the unquestioned leader of resurgent Michigan. But it took four years for his head to catch up to his talent

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Herrmann called Braylon at home, and Malesa hung up on him. "I was just so mad that Michigan hadn't recruited him sooner," she says. "No one insults my boy."

Still, when Carr offered Edwards a scholarship, he took it on the spot. "This is Michigan," Braylon says, gesturing at the suburban expanse but really trying to take in the whole tradition, the 111,000 fans packed into the Big House on a fall Saturday, even his own genealogy. "How could I not come?"

Turning his car into the mall parking lot, he slides in a CD of his favorite pregame track, Jay-Z's Real Niggaz, and starts rapping along: On the road to riches and diamond rings, real niggaz do real things.

"The biggest thing after Coach called me out was, how was I going to react? After Coach's comments, after we lost to Oregon [in 2003]--I'd had 13 catches, 144 yards--in postgame interviews I was saying I'd torn some ligaments. Then the media was writing how I was making excuses [for dropped passes in the game]. I didn't start the next week against Indiana. I felt terrible. I called my mom." Malesa asked her son what he liked most in the world.

"Football," he said.

"Then you have to show that love," she told him. "Don't talk about it, just do it. If you just keep balling, you're gonna have fun. If you have fun, nobody can stop you."

Edwards shuts down the engine. "Real niggaz do real things," he says. "What I do matters, not what I say. I began coming to every meeting early, every workout early, every practice. Nobody practiced harder. Real things."

Carr agrees. "Braylon became a leader," he says. "I have never questioned his character, only his maturity. He did some growing up. I've said he's become the best player in the country. Now all he has to do is prove me right."

Becoming the leader of the Michigan offense has only increased the burden on Edwards. "I knew that if I came back, I would have to step up again," he says. Running back Chris Perry and quarterback John Navarre, the nucleus of the offense for the 2004 Rose Bowl team, are gone. Besides number 1, the offense now features a freshman running back, Michael Hart, and a freshman quarterback, Chad Henne, who has thrived thanks to his favorite target. "You just put the ball in Braylon's general area," says Henne, "and he will go get it."

As Michigan's playmaker Edwards absorbs a secondary's attention, loosening it up for the Wolverines' ground game--Hart rushed for 234 yards against Illinois--and freeing the other wideouts and the tight ends for big plays. "This is such a great opportunity for me," says Edwards. "It's the seniors who have to step up, to provide leadership. That's the Michigan way. Real things."

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