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College football

Confidence catching on

Bulldogs WR Terrence Edwards no longer lets a big drop bother him.

By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 29, 2002

NEW ORLEANS -- Georgia senior receiver Terrence Edwards has caught more than his share of passes during a record-setting career, but he's caught more grief for one that got away.

With his team down 20-13 in the final minutes against Florida, Edwards burst into the clear over the middle only to have the pass bounce off his hands.

End of the threat.

End of an undefeated season.

Hardly the end for Edwards.

Although a crucial drop last year against South Carolina affected him for weeks, he showed more maturity and resiliency in the face of criticism that he was Athens' answer to Jackie Smith. He had 14 receptions for 230 yards and a touchdown in his next three games, helping the Bulldogs win their first SEC title in two decades and reach the Sugar Bowl against Florida State.

"Last year I was in the end zone against South Carolina and dropped it," he said. "That lingered with me, and my confidence was shaken. My confidence wasn't shaken after the Florida game."

Georgia coach Mark Richt, no stranger to talented but sometimes mercurial receivers in his 15-year tenure as an FSU assistant, used that kind of play as motivation.

"I told Terrence about Peter Warrick," Richt said. "It took Pete a while to gain confidence. He had drops. He'd made a great play and then he'd make a bad play. Pete finally got to where he treated every rep at practice like a game, like it mattered. ... That's where Edwards has elevated his game."

He has set school records for career catches (201), career yards (3,033), career touchdown receptions (29) and most games with 100 yards (10). With his seven catches for 92 yards in the SEC title game against Arkansas, he surpassed Josh Reed (3,001) atop the list of the league's career receiving-yardage leaders.

He needs eight catches and three touchdowns to set SEC records in those categories, and that kind of performance Wednesday likely would mean the first 13-win season in Georgia's history.

But then Edwards, 23, had incentive to improve beyond all those dizzying numbers. His oldest brother, Robert, made the Edwards name something special at the school, and little brother wanted to enhance the reputation.

Robert, 28, came to Georgia as a defensive back and played tailback his final two seasons. Despite the limited time in the backfield he finished with 2,033 yards, ninth on the school's all-time list, and was a first-round NFL draft pick of New England. He's now in his first season with Miami.

"I've dealt with being 'Robert's little brother' all my life," Terrence said. "I dealt with it in rec ball, in middle school, in high school and then coming to Georgia I got it again. The pressure was always on because of what he did."

Robert didn't try to steer Terrence either to or away from Athens, but assumed that since the two played different positions the comparisons wouldn't come too often if he chose Georgia.

"He went there and has done a way better job than I did," Robert said.

Not that Robert's surprised. He saw his brother's competitiveness and ability from the time they would play basketball in their back yard in Tennille, Ga. Robert and middle sibling, Anthony, 27, would play Terrence and their father, Robert Sr.

"My dad was on that team so we wanted to show them up, and Terrence wanted to show us up," Robert said. "Terrence got the better end of it, playing with older people and taking the bumps and bruises at a young age." The 6-foot, 171-pound Terrence was recognized as one of the best in the SEC when Richt arrived in 2001 but had to endure a few more bumps as he grappled with the demands of a new staff.

"We wanted routes run a certain way," Richt said. "We wanted them to block with a certain amount of intensity. ... Terrence ran into a couple bumps on the road, but he never had a terrible attitude. He changed his habits and he got better."

Physically and, as he's shown after losing to Florida, psychologically. Stinging letters, e-mails and phone messages awaited him. Richt, his teammates and Robert were there to help.

"He dropped a ball; I told him NFL players drop balls," Robert said.

If that perspective weren't enough, then the scare Edwards received after the game was. His his mother, Jeannette, fainted during the game and was taken to a Jacksonville hospital for tests. Winning or losing a football game didn't compare. She's fine, and so is her youngest son.

"Nobody's perfect," Terrence said. "I'd been through it and I knew what I had to do. I couldn't let it affect me."

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