FLOWERY BRANCH — Having finished up a light workout, Roddy White decides it's time to have some fun. He breaks out a little remote-controlled helicopter — an early Christmas gift from one of his teammates — and begins flying it around the Atlanta Falcons' locker room.
Well, crashing it might be a better description. The red-and-black contraption — Falcons colors, appropriately enough — flies over two rows of stalls, bangs into the ceiling and plummets to the floor on the other side of the room.
"I love toys!" White bellows as he goes to retrieve it.
Which pretty much epitomizes the philosophy of the NFL's leading receiver, who views the world as his playground and figures everybody else is just along for the ride. Whether he's scooting around town in his Maserati ("my favorite toy"), playing Wii with his young son ("he gets to be the Falcons and No. 84, so I have to pick somebody else. I usually go with Tom Brady and the Patriots") or torching an opposing defensive back for another big play, Sharod Lamor White is sure to be having fun.
Don't mistake his carefree attitude for someone who doesn't care, however.
Far from it.
White is one catch away from the first 100-reception season of his career and surely headed to his third straight Pro Bowl. He's the offensive catalyst on a team that leads the NFC with an 11-2 record and is a top Super Bowl contender heading into Sunday's final road game of the regular season against the Seattle Seahawks.
"He has a lot of fun," quarterback Matt Ryan said. "But don't get the smiles and the jokes confused with the amount of hard work he puts in as well. Behind all the smiles and laughing and joking is somebody who's extremely competitive, somebody who's extremely dedicated to his craft."
If White loses that competitive edge, he can count on a a familiar voice barking in his ear, reminding them that he can always be better.
"My mom is probably the worst critic of my entire football career," he said, managing a nervous smile. "When I stink, she tells me I stink. When I'm doing good, she tells me I'm doing OK. She keeps me levelheaded and grounded."
Joenethia White was the one who got Roddy's career back on track after he struggled in his first couple of seasons with the Falcons, a first-round pick who took that first big check and spent more time enjoying life away from the field than he did preparing for what he had to do on it.
"He's focused a little better than he was at the beginning of his career. All he was doing back then was partying," White's mother told The Associated Press on Thursday in a telephone interview from her home in South Carolina. "He got a little money and that's all he wanted to do. I pulled him aside and said, 'We're not about all that.' It's not about the money. That could be gone in a second.
"You want to do something," she admonished, "so that people will remember you."
For White, the turning point came late in the 2006 season, when he dropped a potential touchdown pass from Michael Vick with no one around, helping send the Falcons to their fourth straight loss.
Ohhhh, you should've heard his mother after that one!
Ms. White always goes back to her son's house on game days to whip up a big dinner — complete with such Southern favorites as collard greens, macaroni and cheese, and corn cakes — but there was nothing pleasant about sitting through that meal as she went over how he broke the cardinal rule of receivers: If the pass touches your hand, you ought to catch it.
"She told me how bad that was and how bad I was making us look — like she was actually on the field," White recalled.
Joenethia believes that's a mother's role. Her son will have plenty of people telling him how great he is; what he needs is someone to point out what he did wrong.
"I focus on his mistakes so we can go over them when we get home," she said. "I need to let him know what he did wrong, what could have been better. I enjoy watching him play, but he has to have someone telling him, 'It's not all about you.'"
Momma's tactics have clearly paid off. Even after Vick was sent to prison for dogfighting and the Falcons used three different starters at quarterback, White had a breakout year in 2007 with 83 catches for 1,202 yards. The next year, he earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl with 88 receptions for 1,382 yards. Last year, he had 85 catches, 1,153 yards and a career-topping 11 touchdowns.
And now, his best season yet. If White keeps up this pace for the final three games of the season, he'll finish with 122 catches for a staggering 1,500 yards — one of the greatest performances in NFL history.
"He's a complete receiver," said Falcons cornerback Brent Grimes, who frequently goes against White in practice. "He can run. He can catch the ball. He can jump. He can make plays on the ball. He'll block. He can do everything."
Not bad, considering White didn't start playing high school football until his junior year. Back then, wrestling was his thing, and he wasn't too bad at that, either, winning a pair of South Carolina state championships. Those lessons would pay off later in life on the football field, such as this year's victory over the Baltimore Ravens when he clearly pushed down a defensive back before hauling in the winning pass.
No flag, no foul is White's motto.
"I learned about using my hands and being physical out there," White said. "You have to be like that in wrestling to win. That's kind of what I do. I just go out there and be strong."
Funny, since White considered himself too small for football in high school. His mother talked him into going out for the team, and White grew a half-foot between his junior and senior seasons.
Size was no longer an issue.
Once again, momma knew best.