As receivers, Adrian Cannon and Darrius Heyward-Bey are not much alike.
Heyward-Bey is the jet-quick workout warrior who surged to the No. 7 pick in April’s NFL Draft. Cannon is a bulky outside option who enters his junior year with six career receptions.
Nevertheless, the two forged a bond at Maryland. Some of it stemmed from their similar backgrounds - both were raised by strong single mothers determined to see their children succeed. And then there was a shrewd work ethic; Heyward-Bey and Cannon were constant companions during extra film work after practice.
And when Heyward-Bey opted to depart for the NFL last year, he offered Cannon a message for the future.
“There’s one thing I want you to do: I want you to take over and be a leader,” Cannon recalled Heyward-Bey telling him. “I know you’re not the most vocal guy, but that’s what I want you to do. I’m going to tell a couple other guys this, but I want you to follow in my footsteps and be better than me.”
If this month’s preseason camp is any indication, Cannon is unlikely to disappoint his mentor.
At 6-foot-2 and 204 pounds, Cannon is arguably the Terrapins’ strongest option at receiver and is expected to be a starter.
Cannon provides hints of his capabilities each day at practice. Last week, cornerback Anthony Wiseman appeared to have provided optimal coverage in a goal-line drill. Cannon simply leapt higher and wrested control of the pass for a touchdown, leaving Wiseman to perform push-ups in the end zone despite doing everything possible to contain his teammate.
“Adrian’s been on a mission,” quarterback Chris Turner said. “He’s always had that about him, where he can be the man.”
All of which prompts the question, where was this guy the past few years?
It required a mix of skill and certainty from the soft-spoken Cannon, who received some minor Division I looks for basketball before becoming Maryland’s first recruit from Michigan since defensive tackle Kris Jenkins and tight end Matt Murphy played for the Terps earlier this decade.
Cannon is the youngest of three children. Both of his older sisters graduated from college, a product of their own efforts as well as the hard work of Shirla Cannon, a single mother now retired from General Motors Corp.
“We had hard times. Sometimes we had good times and bad times,” she said. “We knew if we kept God in our prayers, everything will work out. There were times I had to give things up to make things right for [Adrian]. I just stayed on him all the time for his work as far as school [was concerned].”
Adrian Cannon calls her “my backbone” and was set on making things easier. And he knew his athletic gifts could make that possible.
“Before high school, we sat down and one thing I told her is I promised, ‘You’re not going to have to pay for my college - not one dollar,’ ” Adrian Cannon said.