By Jeff Barker, The Baltimore Sun
9:53 PM EDT, June 12, 2011
There is no more Terps football for Adrian Cannon, Emani Lee-Odai and other undrafted former Maryland players wondering if their NFL hopes can outlast the league-wide lockout. There are no fight songs, no playbooks, no coaches on the sidelines with ball caps and whistles.
As a group of the pro prospects worked out recently in a vast indoor soccer complex, there was only … each other. And sweat and ambition and the sobering knowledge that their identities as football players are far from guaranteed.
Cannon and Lee-Odai are among nearly a dozen former Terps in transition. It's a time to indulge their NFL dreams even as the real world begins to seep in like water through a leaking dam.
"I have to have a solid Plan B," said Cannon, a productive receiver who graduated in January and is living with his sister, a Washington schoolteacher, while waiting out the lockout that prevents him from the contact he craves with NFL teams. "It's stressful, to be honest."
Lee-Odai, a receiver who earned most of his playing time on special teams, recently took a job detailing and maintaining tour buses while continuing to work out with former teammates on the side. "Got to make ends meet," said Lee-Odai, who had a tryout with the United Football League's Virginia Destroyers — coached by former NFL coach Marty Schottenheimer — and is waiting to hear back.
Other undrafted Terps hopefuls who worked out for scouts in mid-March include linebackers Alex Wujciak and Adrian Moten, defensive back Antwine Perez, punter-kicker Travis Baltz, defensive lineman Drew Gloster, offensive lineman Paul Pinegar, receiver LaQuan Williams and tight end Will Yeatman.
Receiver-returner Torrey Smith — who has been working out with Cannon and Lee-Odai — was picked by the Ravens in the second round. "It's tough for all free agents who didn't get drafted," said Smith, who wore a red Maryland shirt and dark shorts as he ran sprints with his former teammates. "The lockout keeps you from taking advantage and giving you a better shot. But I know they have the talent."
Running back Da'Rel Scott was selected by the New York Giants in the seventh round. Defensive back Michael Carter was picked by the Canadian Football League's BC Lions in the third round.
Life is uncertain enough in a normal year for players from Maryland and elsewhere hoping to get invited to NFL camps. The labor situation, in which teams can't sign undrafted free agents, has complicated their efforts to latch on with professional clubs.
The lockout is a nagging reality, another barrier between players and their childhood dreams. It means that prospects such as the 6-foot-2, 204-pound Cannon, who caught 86 passes at Maryland and hoped to hear his name called on draft day, must work out on faith.
Cannon — who majored in American studies and said his "Plan B" could be working for the Defense Department in some capacity — is not alone.
On a recent weekday, Cannon, Lee-Odai and 15 other players — not all former Terps — caught passes and quick-stepped their way around orange cones on an indoor soccer field where the 80-degree temperature was preferable to the oppressive heat and humidity outside.
The players were like actors preparing for an audition they hope will come. Their trainer, Tobe Stephens, gathered the athletes in the middle of the synthetic-turf field and told them they needed to stay ready for "when the lights come on."
After playing in college, high school and Pee Wee leagues, Lee-Odai said he knows the game well enough that he doesn't require coaches to help him stay in football shape. Like other players, he has internalized the sound of the whistle. "I have great support here, a great trainer," he said.
Lee-Odai said he is strong enough to deal with whatever the future holds. In 1994, his older brother, Jonathan Jarvis Jr., was shot in the head and died near the family's home in Southeast Washington. Lee-Odai — in a scene captured on the "Terrapins Rising" reality show — said he never again walked through the alley where the 16-year-old was killed.
"That was the saddest I've seen my mom when my brother's life was taken. And I just made it a promise to her that I wasn't going to do nothing that would upset her," Lee-Odai said after the workout.
He said he has kept that bargain — whether the rest of his life includes football or not.
"If it's meant for me to be in the NFL, I'll be there," he said.
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