COLLEGE PARK—- Maryland wide receiver Adrian Cannon is trying to get to that tranquil state where the game slows down, the crowd noise fades away, and the football seems to approach so gently that he can study its white lines before it settles into his hands.
That zone - that Zen-like focus - can be elusive to perfectionists like Cannon, who has a meticulous pre-game routine and wants to succeed so badly that he sometimes needs to silence the inner voices and just play.
"I know he's a little frustrated right now," said Rodney Marshall, a mentor of Cannon's who is a strength and conditioning specialist for the United States Tennis Association. "He is a perfectionist for sure. I think he needs to get into a rhythm, tell himself that 'now you're the starter, you just need to relax.' "
But calming down can be hard work, particularly when the game-day fires burn as hotly as they do for Cannon, who occasionally jaws at opposing players after making big plays.
Like many athletes, Cannon spends his pre-game hours in a series of exacting tasks. He allows little deviation from his Saturday routine, which he says provides him comfort.
"I remember a situation in high school where his cleats had to be a certain way," Marshall said. "I have tennis players I train where everything has to be meticulous."
Marshall said he doesn't counsel athletes against such obsessive routines as long as they are not counterproductive, "like having a cheeseburger" before a big game or match.
Cannon, a big receiver (6 feet 2, 204 pounds) who is not the team's fastest player but possesses excellent hands, outlined his pre-game activities with a shy smile, saying almost apologetically: "Oh, I'm superstitious."
• He wakes up and calls his mother, Shirla, who lives in Michigan and attends as many games as she can. "I pray on the phone, mostly with my mom. That's just something I do," says Cannon, a Baptist.
• He takes a hot shower to loosen up.
• He reviews the call sheet. "It's pretty much every play that could possibly [be] called. They print it out for us, and we put it in our binders," he says.
• He munches on Skittles and Sour Patch Kids, his favorite candies. "My mom used to always give them to me before games, but not too much. You might see me walking with them on Terp Alley" during the team's traditional walk to the stadium, Cannon says.
• He puts on his uniform just so. "I always get my wrists taped," says Cannon, whose wrists are hairless and discolored from the habit. "I get my ankles taped, but I always pull down my socks a little bit so you can see the top layer of tape - a little line of white. In high school, I had a trainer who used to always go up high [with the tape], so I got accustomed to it."
• He listens to gospel or hip-hop on his headset and tries to compose himself.
"Don't get too up but don't get too down," Cannon says. "Coaches say Monday to Friday is the time to prepare and Saturday is the time to let loose, just have fun and play your game."
The pressure Cannon battles is partly the result of Maryland's record - the worst four-game start in Ralph Friedgen's nine seasons as Maryland's coach. It's also a product of Cannon's wanting to make the most of beginning a season as a starter for the first time.
The history major had primarily been a reserve before this year and entered the season with six career catches.
Friedgen said Cannon has been "on a mission" since preseason drills began. But that is not all good. Friedgen said Cannon, whose penalty cost the Terps a touchdown when he lined up incorrectly against California, occasionally stumbles over his need to be perfect rather than merely human. Coaches have told Cannon that he needs to move on from mistakes.
Cannon said he strives each game to achieve a level of concentration in which lingering worries or anxiety are reduced to meaningless static.
In those moments, he said he sees the ball slowly spiraling toward him and "everything just gets quiet."
Note: Running back Da'Rel Scott, who has fumbled three times in the past two games, has been seen walking around campus carrying a football. Friedgen - who got the idea from a movie - said he suggested Scott keep the ball with him to focus on guarding against turnovers. The movie was "The Program," starring Omar Epps as a fumble-prone running back.