By David M. Jackson
Armanti Edwards may be the best player to suit up for the Black and Gold. The Mountaineer football icon won two national titles, four Southern Conference championships, two Walter Payton awards and put his stamp on the greatest upset in college football history — all while graduating from Appalachian in three and a half years with a degree in graphic arts and imaging technology.
It was too perfect when the Carolina Panthers traded up to take Edwards in the third round of the 2010 NFL draft. A homegrown hero getting to play at the game’s highest level in his own backyard is the type of tale only seen in movie scripts.
The last seven years have added to the plot. Edwards’ college career was met with the harsh reality of the NFL. Drafted into a coaching change, Edwards was never on stable ground in Charlotte and was cut during his fourth season with the Panthers. He played for two teams in a total of 41 games over five years, and caught just six passes for 131 yards after transitioning to wide receiver, never once sniffing the end zone.
Many in the sport wrote him off. His physical health slowed him a time or two, but like the stubborn warrior who delivered so many times when the odds were stacked against him, Edwards’ perseverance was met with reward.
Edwards played the 2017 season for the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League (CFL) and helped the franchise win their 17th Grey Cup, which is the equivalent of the NFL’s Super Bowl title. Playing his first healthy season in several years, the Appalachian State Hall of Famer ranked ninth in the CFL, with 83 receptions, and 15th in yardage (962 yards) while scoring four touchdowns in the year.
“I can’t really explain it. This season was very relieving and gratifying,” said Edwards. “For one, I finally got to prove to all the naysayers and to myself that I can play the wide receiver position and be effective at it. This was my first season as a professional that I got a chance to play for the entire season. Not practice, but actually play entire games. And not for just five to 10 plays a game.”
Edwards played an injury-shortened 2016 season in Saskatchewan and was traded to Toronto just before the start of the 2017 campaign. He brought experience as a winner to a franchise that would complete a worst-to-first run at a CFL title with a lanky kid from Greenwood, South Carolina, serving as a top offensive weapon.