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Bill Edwards a big part of Tech history on the field and off of it

October 17, 2014

Bill Edwards

Blacksburg, VA

Virginia Tech College of Engineering

During his senior year of high school, Bill Edwards faced what might be deemed as a
difficult decision, one nearly impossible to make as a native Virginian.

An older brother went to school and played football at the University of Virginia. Another
older brother went to school and played football at Virginia Tech. So which school should Edwards choose?

As it turned out, his academic goals were the tiebreaker.

“My middle brother came to Virginia Tech and played at Virginia Tech until he broke his neck during the 1962 season,” Edwards said. “He’s an engineer also, and I wanted to be an engineer. The University of Virginia didn’t encourage players to major in engineering, so I decided early on to come to Virginia Tech. And really, I never even visited other schools.

“I wanted to play at Virginia Tech because my brother had played there and had broken his neck and was partially paralyzed, and I wanted to fulfill his dream and mine as well.”

Charlottesville was only 30 minutes from his Orange, Virginia, home, but Edwards made
history at Virginia Tech, becoming Tech’s first academic All-American in football. He also earned honorable mention All-America honors on the field following the 1965 season. He was one of three tri-captains on the 1965 squad, along with Mike Saunders and Bobby Owens, and like his teammates, played in the first varsity game at Lane Stadium, as Inside Hokie Sports celebrates the 50th season of the venue by spotlighting various players who played in that game.

Before talking about that first game and about Lane Stadium, Edwards made a point to say that expectations were low for the 1965 team entering that season. Tech won the Southern Conference in 1963 behind quarterback Bob Schweikert, running back Sonny Utz and a host of good players. But most of those players left after the 1964 season, leaving fans to wonder if 1965 would be a rebuilding year.

“In 1965, we started the season with two players who had lettered for two years and a total of 18 lettermen on the ball team,” Edwards said. “The preseason predictions said we’d be lucky to win five games. They didn’t give us a chance. We were an independent at that stage. So all the preseason magazines didn’t give us a whisper or a prayer of a chance to have a good season. We ended up winning seven ball games.”

Tech won its first two games that season, beating Wake Forest in Roanoke and claiming
victory at Richmond. That set up the inaugural varsity game at Lane Stadium, one against
William & Mary on Oct. 2.

Edwards noted that the stadium wasn’t quite finished. That came as no surprise. The timetable was tight, with construction beginning in April of 1964, and university officials ambitiously expecting it to be completed for the 1965 season. They even oversaw the tearing down of Miles Stadium right after the completion of the 1964 season.

Most of Lane Stadium got completed – but not all of it.

“They had the concrete finished on one side, but no seats,” Edwards said. “People sat on the concrete. On the other side of the field, people sat on wooden bleachers.

“But we were just glad to have a place to play football. We had played the last game in the old stadium. We saw the construction of the new stadium every day on the way to the practice fields, which were directly across the street from the stadium in those days. It was always a wonder to walk by and not know what was on the other side.”

Tech won the game 9-7, getting a late touchdown from Owens to seal the victory. The
Gobblers went on to win all three games at Lane Stadium that season, including a victory over Virginia on the inaugural Governor’s Day when Governor Albertis Harrison and Tech president T. Marshall Hahn dedicated the stadium.

Like many others, Edwards remembers the Virginia game more fondly than the William &
Mary game. It marked Virginia’s first visit to Blacksburg in 27 years. The two teams played
mostly in Roanoke during that span.

“Virginia was the big in-state rival and was an ACC team,” he said. “We were the stepchildren on the street with no conference affiliation at that stage.”

After beating VMI in the season finale, Tech concluded the 1965 season with a 7-3 record. It marked the end of Edwards’ career, and his list of accomplishments at Tech is lengthy. In addition to being both an academic All-American and a football honorable mention All-American, he was a member of Omicron Delta Kapp (national honorary leadership fraternity), Chi Epsilon (honorary Civil Engineering Society), the Monogram Club and the German Club while at Tech.

In the spring of 1966, with his playing career over, Edwards signed a free-agent contract with the Dallas Cowboys. After a brief stint with the Cowboys, he returned to Blacksburg to finish up coursework on his degree. He and Saunders served as graduate assistants for coach Jerry Claiborne, while finishing their undergraduate work and working on their masters. Edwards graduated from Tech with a degree in civil engineering in 1966 and he got a master’s degree in civil/sanitary engineering in 1967. In 1968, he married his wife Suzanne.

He started working for the Virginia Department of Health in 1967, serving as a regional director in Abingdon, Virginia, and keeping tabs on the management and administration for public water supplies and wastewater facilities in a 20-county area. He also taught classes at Wytheville Community College, not far from Abingdon.

In 1975, he went to work for Dewberry and Davis, a engineering firm in Fairfax, Virginia.
He oversaw an array of initiatives related to water and wastewater design and construction
management, and he worked his way up the ladder to managing principal.

After 17 years in Northern Virginia, he moved his family to Atlanta, where he took a job as
the president and CEO of Lockwood Greene Technologies. He managed eight full-service
offices with more than 300 engineers working on a broad range of projects.

“We did a lot of special nuclear work for the U.S. Department of Energy – and if I tell you
about it, I have to kill you,” he joked. “No, it was classified work.”

Edwards worked for Lockwood Greene for nine years.

In 2001, he took a job as a vice president and program manager for AMEC Earth & Environment, remaining in Atlanta. In 2006, he moved again, taking a job as a vice president and regional leader for Stantec Consulting and again still staying in Atlanta. He oversaw the company’s U.S. East operation, with most responsibilities centered on marketing and growth strategies.

In 2011, after more than 44 years working in the engineering field – he was a registered
engineer in 17 states and the District of Columbia at one time – Edwards retired, and he and his wife live in Woodstock, Georgia. Their oldest daughter graduated from Tech and the youngest graduated from Auburn, and they have three grandchildren.

Edwards gets back to Blacksburg on average about once a year. The trip always brings back a flood of memories. As it should, especially when you represent such a big part of Tech history and when you’ve helped set the foundation for future greatness.

“If you look at the humble beginnings of Miles Stadium and the beginnings of Lane Stadium and the expansions that have occurred and the number of fans there and the excitement surrounding Virginia Tech football, to have been a part of that is really unbelievable,” Edwards said. “To look at where we are today and where we’ve come from as a university and as a college football team is unbelievable.”

Written by Jimmy Robertson.