App. State seeks new QB|Edwards’ shoes will be tough to fill

Published 6:51 am Wednesday, July 28, 2010

By By JEFFREY COLLINS, Associated Press Writer
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore has been through this before, trying to find a replacement for a top-flight, national championship winning quarterback.
The last time, it worked out well. Armanti Edwards took over for Richie Williams and won two national player of the year awards, two Football Championship Subdivision championships and four Southern Conference titles.
With Edwards learning to play wide receiver in the NFL, Moore is trying to decide between a junior and a redshirt freshman to lead a team that many expect to continue to dominate one of the toughest leagues in FCS. He said Tuesday he is confident either DeAndre Presley, who started a game last year when Edwards was injured, or Jamal Jackson can keep the Mountaineers on top.
‘‘It’ not like we don’t have something to work with,’’ Moore said. ‘‘It’s our job as coaches to get those guys in position to show their stuff.’’
But Elon, an FCS playoff team whose only SoCon loss came to Appalachian State last season, brings back its record-setting quarterback Scott Riddle, who in just about any other conference would already won player-of-the-year honors.
‘‘Going out my senior year with a conference championship, wouldn’t be any shame to it,’’ Riddle said. ‘‘I am looking forward to what this team can do.’’
On Monday, SoCon coaches picked Appalachian State to win the league, followed by Elon, Furman, Samford, Chattanooga, Wofford, Georgia Southern, The Citadel and Western Carolina. Media members picked the same top four.
While the Mountaineers have to replace Edwards’ 10,392 yards passing, 4,361 yards rushing and 139 touchdowns, they have a wealth of talent returning at other positions as they try to tie Georgia Southern’s record of six straight SoCon titles. Nine starters return on offense, including running back Devon Moore, who led the league with 1,374 last season, and seven on defense on a team that lost in the national semifinals to Montana.
Moore’s task will be blending in the newcomers and new assistants for defensive backs and offensive linemen into his efficient machine. The Mountaineers are 61-12 in the past five years, including one of the most famous upsets ever in college football, the 34-32 win over No. 5 Michigan in 2007.
‘‘We’ve got pretty good football players,’’ Moore said. ‘‘We’ve got to become a pretty good football team.’’
Elon has the opposite problem. The Phoenix bring back Riddle, but not a lot of other starters from a team that went 9-3 last season, making their first ever trip to the FCS playoffs.
Riddle should pass Edwards’ league record for career passing yards by the second game of the season. He already owns the SoCon records for most completions and touchdown passes.
But he will be missing the receiver who accounted for nearly half his yards last season. Terrell Hudgins, who caught 123 passes for 1,633 yards is trying to make the Dallas Cowboys’ roster.
‘‘It was kind of easy throwing to him. I think I could have complete some passes to him left-handed,’’ Riddle said.
The Phoenix will need their younger player to contribute quickly if they want to compete for the conference title, coach Pete Lembo said.
‘‘We need six or seven receivers to step up. We need the entire offensive line to step up,’’ Lembo said.
And the Southern Conference isn’t necessarily top heavy. Commissioner John Iamarino pointed out the league has sent five of its nine members to the FCS playoffs since 2005.
One of those teams is Furman. The Paladins are accustomed to success, making the FCS playoffs 15 times since 1982, but are in the middle of one of their longest postseason dry spells, after staying home the past three years.
Coach Bobby Lamb has no problem with his team being picked third, but said he won’t have a real idea of how much they can accomplish until players report to practice next month.
‘‘I think these guys are very hungry. They see the championships on the wall, They see the championship rings in my office. Certainly they want to get back to that level,’’ said Lamb, who played quarterback for the Paladins and was an assistant on their only national championship team in 1988.
The intriguing newcomer to the top half of the SoCon standings is Chattanooga. The Mocs finished 6-5 and 4-4 in the league in 2009, the first time in a decade they didn’t finish with a losing record.
Chattanooga’s push for a winning conference record for the first time since 1991 starts with a tough opener against Appalachian State.
‘‘We probably did get a few breaks our way,’’ said Mocs coach Russ Huesman about his rookie season last year. ‘‘We’ve got our work cut out for us this year.’’