Maryland's Adrian Cannon Began Career Turnaround in Boise

Adrian Cannon had a 59-yard touchdown reception in last season's Humanitarian Bowl.
Adrian Cannon had a 59-yard touchdown reception in last season's Humanitarian Bowl. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
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By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 1, 2009

It was one of 148 plays in an obscure bowl game on blue turf, 10 seconds that proved enough time to change the trajectory of one person's college career.

Before that third play in last season's Humanitarian Bowl, Maryland wide receiver Adrian Cannon was an apathetic student and frustrated player who had tuned out coaches and mentors. Since that play -- a 59-yard touchdown reception -- Cannon has become a born-again student and go-to playmaker who has established himself as Maryland's most impressive offensive performer.

The eight-month transformation of Cannon, a junior who coaches believe is poised for a breakout season, has been among the most prominent story lines of summer camp and illustrates how quickly a 21-year-old college athlete can move from potential cautionary tale to emerging star.

"He is a new person, completely," said Rodney Marshall, Cannon's cousin and mentor. "Sometimes they don't get it until they get a little success. You are really only one play away."

The No. 7 who walks around the Gossett Team House these days holds his head high, talks about 10-win seasons and believes he can become the ACC's best wide receiver. He spent many summer mornings running routes alone, and more late nights studying formations. As Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen said, "He is on a mission."

That player resembles the Adrian Cannon of last fall in name and number only. Maryland was known for three wide receivers last season -- Darrius Heyward-Bey, Danny Oquendo and Isaiah Williams -- and Cannon, for the most part, was drifting away more than distinguishing himself.

Plagued by missed assignments and a sour attitude, Cannon caught just two passes during the regular season. Frustration built. This was not the college career Cannon expected. The 6-foot-2, 204-pound wide receiver from Pontiac, Mich., had been rated the fourth-best prospect in the state in the Class of 2006, but he couldn't make an impact by his third year at Maryland.

"All these guys have been the man in high school, and you come here and you're not the man for a couple years," Maryland wide receivers coach Lee Hull said. "It's a big adjustment. 'I have to wait my turn.' Some people handle it the right way; some people don't. Adrian struggled a little bit."

Cannon's mother, Shirla, whom he regularly turns to for advice, told him that his time would come. But Cannon remained impatient. Friedgen recently offered a blunt assessment, saying, "In the fall, he went into the tank."

Cannon tuned out most coaches, choosing to stew rather than share feelings. He stopped returning calls and text messages from his mentor, Marshall, who had helped train Cannon and guide him through the recruiting process.

Football frustration spawned academic struggles. In class -- if he went -- Cannon barely took notes and instead pondered football. The biggest problem? History 156: History of the U.S. to 1865. The class met three times per week, but Cannon went once or twice a week. He failed, which brought his fall GPA below 2.0.

"Academics were not even in the forefront of my priorities," Cannon said. "I was basically thinking all about football. I was turning my assignments in but just wasn't putting forth all my effort. I was basically just doing them to get done and not for quality."

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