PORTLAND, Maine — Marcus Cannon’s father would bring home a half-gallon of whole milk and intend for it to last the week.

But, as Cannon told a gymnasium full of Lincoln Middle School students in Portland on Thursday, he and his three siblings always made quick work of the jug.

“He was thinking we’d have a bowl of cereal each and maybe some Ovaltine,” said the 6-foot-5-inch, 340-pound New England Patriots offensive lineman. “But we’d come down and have three or four bowls of cereal each.”

Cannon told the students he and his siblings would put water in the milk jug to try to trick their father into thinking they hadn’t consumed the whole container in a single day.

“By the end of the day, [the label said] it was a half-gallon of whole milk, but it looked like watered-down skim milk,” he said with a laugh.

Cannon visited the Portland school Thursday to hammer home a message of healthy living by eating nutritious foods and engaging in 60 minutes of physically active play each day. The appearance was made possible by the Fuel Up to Play 60 program, organized by the National Football League and National Dairy Council, and took place partly in response to an initiative at the school to provide daily breakfasts for all students.

“Our nutrition has to be good [as professional football players],” Cannon told reporters before addressing the school assembly Thursday. “We get paid to stay in shape and take care of ourselves, and the kids see us and say, ‘Maybe if I take care of myself, I can be like them someday.’”

But the lineman noted that even youths who don’t grow up to be professional athletes will benefit from making healthy food choices and exercising. Cannon credited his nutritious eating with helping his body recover quickly from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which he was diagnosed with soon after being chosen by the Patriots in the 2011 NFL Draft.

Cannon was treated for the disease and was able to take the field for the team before the conclusion of his rookie season. His teammates gave him the Ed Block Courage Award for his response to the cancer.

Lincoln Middle School physical education teacher Denise Preisser said Cannon’s comments and story add weight to what she and other teachers at the school have been telling students about the importance of eating healthy and active playing.

“I tell the students the message. The students are hearing the message from staff, but now to hear it from Marcus, they know it’s something going on everywhere, not just in this building,” she said.

Preisser said about 80 students at the school have signed on to the NFL’s Fuel Up to Play 60 initiative, through which they can take fitness challenges and record food choices on a program website. With Cannon’s endorsement Thursday, Preisser said that number could rise.

“After today, I think we’ll have a lot more kids signing up,” she said.

Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.