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Receiver Armanti Edwards hauls in a pass against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Edwards will play in Edmonton when the CFL resumes play.The Canadian Press

Armanti Edwards is a receiver by trade but a quarterback at heart.

The 32-year-old American continues to prepare for his first CFL season with the Edmonton Football Club after the league cancelled the 2020 campaign due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But before coming to Canada, the 5-foot-11, 183-pound Edwards was a standout college quarterback – including being at the helm for one of the most famous upsets in NCAA history.

Edwards remains convinced he could’ve played the position professionally.

“If it was up to me I’d be playing quarterback but I’m the employee, not the employer.,” Edwards said during a telephone interview Tuesday. “There’s no doubt in my mind I could, otherwise I wouldn’t have been playing the position to begin with.

“My quarterback days are long gone now … I’ve moved on. Obviously at the beginning of my professional career it was very disappointing because that’s the position I played since I was six years old and was one of the reasons why I was in love with the game.”

Edwards enjoyed a successful tenure at Appalachian State, leading the North Carolina school to its second and third straight Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division 1-AA) titles in 2006 and 2007. In the latter year, Edwards led the Mountaineers to a stunning 34-32 upset of Michigan, passing for 227 yards and three TDs while rushing for 62 yards and a touchdown before more than 109,000 fans at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.

Edwards became the first player to win the Walter Payton Award – given annually to the FCS’s top offensive performer – in consecutive years (2008-09) and twice overall. He started 49-of-51 college games, passing for 10,392 yards with 74 touchdowns and 33 interceptions while rushing for 4,361 yards (5.8-yard average) and 65 TDs.

Edwards was taken in the third round, No. 89 overall, of the 2010 NFL draft by Carolina. But he had twice as many catches (six for 131 yards) as pass attempts (three, completing two for 11 yards) ) over four seasons with the Panthers and Cleveland Browns before being among the Chicago Bears’ final 2014 cuts.

Edwards was out of football until 2016 when he joined the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders as a receiver. He was dealt to Toronto the following year and spent three seasons with the Argonauts – winning a Grey Cup in 2017 and registering career highs in catches (69), yards (1,014) and touchdowns (seven) in 2019 – before signing with Edmonton as a free agent.

Based upon his background and experience at quarterback, Edwards wasn’t the least bit surprised Sunday when receiver Kendall Hinton struggled mightily in his first NFL start at QB for the Denver Broncos.

Denver activated Hinton, a rookie, from the practice roster hours before its 31-3 loss to the New Orleans Saints. Hinton, who played quarterback at Wake Forest before switching to receiver in his senior season, was pressed into action after all four of Denver’s quarterbacks went on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Predictably, Hinton had trouble, finishing 1-of-9 passing for 13 yards with two interceptions.

“There’s a lot of hard work and preparation that goes into it,” Edwards said. “It takes all of training camp and sometimes even a few games into the season for a starting quarterback to get into sync with everything and everyone.

“All season you have a quarterback working with his receivers, the running backs and offensive line and now you’ve got a guy back there who hasn’t played the position all season? That’s pretty hard.”

In his younger days, Edwards looked up to former NFL star Michael Vick, a fellow left-hander who routinely made big plays with his arm and legs. At six feet and 215 pounds, Vick was bigger than Edwards. Often in pro football, players are judged more for their physical traits than playing ability.

“It’s all an eye test, that’s what today’s game is all about,” Edwards said. “It’s not about what you’ve done on film, to me personally.”

And although Edwards said making the transition to receiver wasn’t easy, he credits the CFL for reigniting his love for the game.

“Before I decided to go across the border, I’d pretty much hung up my cleats,” Edwards said. “But I didn’t want to end my career like that so coming to Canada rekindled that love.

“I was given the opportunity to actually play the position of receiver in games and that’s what helped me to continue to grow.”

While the cancellation of the ‘20 CFL season wasn’t ideal, it has provided Edwards some benefits. He’s had the chance to heal physically and spend time with his wife and their two children (a 15-year-old daughter and nine-year-old son).

“At this point and time in my career, I’m in my 30s so I pretty much know how my body responds and I listen to my body,” he said. “It’s been a blessing to be able to sit down and let my body heal and enjoy my family.

“But I’m looking forward to getting to Edmonton and playing with a guy like (quarterback) Trevor Harris who’s been on playoff and Grey Cup-contending teams before. I know what’s at stake and the opportunity we have and that’s what I’m looking forward to, (winning) a Grey Cup ring.”

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