Tommy Edwards knew the first-quarter pass he threw during a Sept. 10 game against South Lakes was unwise; he knew that as soon as the ball left his hand. But the Potomac Falls High School senior did not suspect what would happen next.
The pass was intercepted and returned 27 yards for a touchdown. Edwards, the only starting quarterback in the three-year history of the Sterling school, was replaced by junior Jason Treon on the next offensive series. And Treon has started at quarterback ever since.
"I didn't feel like myself out there," Edwards said. "I kept telling myself, 'Don't throw the ball, don't throw the ball,' but for some reason I let it go.
"And that's the end of the story pretty much for me as a quarterback."
But it is also the beginning of a different story, one in which Edwards was faced with two choices: sit back and complain about how unfair life can be or step up and find another way to play. Edwards chose to play; he now starts at cornerback and fills in on offense as a wingback and flanker.
"The main thing this year is that I want to have fun, even if I'm not playing the position I want to play," Edwards said.
It hasn't always been easy. Edwards has searched for ways to respond to the adults who are upset on his behalf, and who have told him he deserves to play quarterback because of all the hard work he has done since his sophomore year.
"I tell them that I think I should be in there, but whatever happens, happens," Edwards said. "There's nothing I can do about it. I'm not going to cry or whine about it or not have fun and bring the whole team down. That's not the type of person I am."
Edwards's confidence, naturally, was shaken by the situation, but he was more worried about his status as a team leader.
"I wondered if people would still respect me the way they did before," said Edwards, one of the team captains. "I didn't know if I could step up and be a leader even if I wasn't quarterback. When you're a quarterback, it doesn't matter if you're good or not. People look up to you as the leader and the star of the team."
Said Treon: "Tommy is still one of the role models on the team. I still learn from him and ask him stuff because he has so much experience. Everyone has always had the most respect for him. Now I think people look up to him even more."
There have been other adjustments. It was difficult for Edwards to walk into the locker room and see reporters interviewing Treon after a game. He realized he missed the spotlight.
Throughout the preseason, Potomac Falls Coach Wes Driskill had said publicly that Treon, who quarterbacked the junior varsity team last year, was pushing Edwards for the starting varsity position.
"I kept it in the back of my head that Jason was there," said Edwards, who has been friends with Treon since middle school. "But I always thought that because I started for two years--every game for two years--and because I was honorable mention all-Concorde District--one of the toughest districts around--that there was no way I wouldn't be the quarterback this year. I always thought that I had the position."
Treon and Edwards split time in Potomac Falls's scrimmages and season opener, and Driskill intended to do the same in the South Lakes game. After Edwards threw the interception, Driskill decided to give Treon a chance. Treon responded by completing 10 of 20 passes for 155 yards and one touchdown against the Seahawks. Edwards completed 1 of 3 passes for nine yards and one interception in the first two games.
Driskill made Treon the starter the next week, saying it was one of the toughest decisions he has had to make as a coach.
"I was really upset at first," Edwards said. "I've been with this team ever since we were 0-10 [the 1997 team did not win a game, but was awarded a forfeit victory late in the season], and I helped bring the team to 6-4 last year. I thought I was doing a good job at quarterback. When I lost my job, I felt bad."
"We knew that we weren't going to take playing time away from Tommy, because we could play him in other areas," Driskill said. "We knew that we could play him on defense, and we knew that we could always put him back in at quarterback if we needed to. Both have certain strengths, but Jason's talents are better suited for what we're trying to do now."
Treon has completed 24 of 50 passes for 507 yards, with seven touchdowns and two interceptions. At 5 feet 11 and 165 pounds, he is bigger than Edwards (who is listed at 5-7 and 137 pounds but is closer to 5-8 1/2 and 145 pounds). Treon's strength is throwing the ball--he works well with junior split end Zack Veselick (Treon's first five touchdown passes were caught by Veselick)--while Edwards's strength is running the option.
"Tommy didn't do anything to lose the job," Potomac Falls assistant coach Elmer Fox said. "Jason won the job."
But Edwards always has played quarterback, from backyard football to little league football. His father, John Edwards, said he thought Tommy initially missed the prestige that goes with the position.
"I love being the quarterback," Tommy Edwards said. "That'd be the one position I'd choose if I could only choose one. I think I do pretty well in pressure situations, and I like having the weight of the team on my shoulders."
Edwards played quarterback on Broad Run's freshman team in 1996. He moved to Potomac Falls when the school opened in 1997 and won the starting varsity spot as a 5-7, 135-pound sophomore. He endured a physical beating that year, completing 64 of 159 passes for 752 yards, with four touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
As a junior, Edwards completed 56 of 121 passes for 931 yards. He threw more touchdowns (12) and fewer interceptions (eight) than he did as a sophomore and was named honorable mention all-Concorde District. The Panthers improved their record to 6-4.
"You can't deny what he did for us last year," Driskill said. "He's a big reason why we were successful last year. He made the clutch plays when he needed to."
Which is why Edwards had high expectations for this season. He wanted to throw for more than 1,000 yards, earn first-team all-district honors and "set records that no one would break."
Now, Edwards has had to set new goals: He would like to catch two passes per game, make a lot of tackles and have six interceptions by the end of the season.
Along the way, Edwards has discovered there are advantages to not playing quarterback. He doesn't have to deal with the pressures that come with running the offense. He is finally getting a chance to play other positions--something he was not allowed to do, even in practice, in previous years.
"I've wanted him on defense for quite a few years," said Fox, the team's defensive coordinator. "He's one of the better athletes on the team, and he tackles well. But until this year, when we had the competition at quarterback, we couldn't afford to put him on defense."
After throwing the interception, Edwards reentered the South Lakes game and played safety for the first time. At cornerback, he intercepted a pass in the Panthers' 41-0 victory over Broad Run Sept. 21. He caught an 80-yard touchdown pass in Potomac Falls's 31-12 loss to Loudoun County Oct. 1. He says he is having fun.
"We told Tommy that five years from now, he's going to remember certain aspects of this season," John Edwards said. "The majority of what he'll remember is going to be the good times he had. That's why he's got to make it fun. So what if he's not the quarterback? Down the line, no one is going to remember that or stop him in the street and ask him if he was a high school quarterback. It doesn't work that way."