SPARTANBURG Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith rolled into training camp at Wofford College late Friday morning wearing aviator-style sunglasses, a beard and a cap that read I (Heart Symbol) My Life.
This is Smiths 12th training camp, his second with Cam Newton as his quarterback and his first in which a teammate in this case All-Pro center Ryan Kalil has published a full-page, pre-camp advertisement declaring the Panthers will win the Super Bowl this season.
Standing in the shade of oak trees in front of the dormitory he will call home for most of the next 19 days, Smith endorsed the message Kalil delivered on Wednesday.
I thought it was fantastic, Smith said of Kalils message. I wouldnt necessarily say he put any added pressure on any of us. Everybody wants to be champions. When you come to training camp, everybody believes their team has the right formula and the right guys to ultimately transfer over into the season and youll be that team.
Why is that wrong to have that high standard? I dont think theres anything wrong with that. Why should we lower our standards? I love it. Im right there next to him. I think its phenomenal and I think the right person thought about it. It was calculated and I love every bit of it.
A year ago, Smith arrived at training camp with a pronouncement that he had made mistakes earlier in his career, hadnt always been an ideal teammate and was intent on making amends. He had raised the possibility of being traded after the Panthers 2-14 season but, as much as any player, Smith excelled under the new Ron Rivera regime.
Smith is coming off one of the most productive seasons of his career, with 79 receptions for 1,394 yards and seven touchdowns. He was rewarded with a Pro Bowl appearance and a contract extension in the offseason.
After a series of meetings Friday and early Saturday, Smith and his teammates will have their first official practice Saturday at 6:30 p.m. Smith said its natural to be excited about the start of another season even if the extended stay in Spartanburg is mentally and physically challenging.
Training camp is meant to be a grind, when you work hard and youve got your teammates with you and you get to see how they deal with adversity, Smith said.
Here in South Carolina, 3 oclock in the afternoon, theres a lot of adversity called humidity. Thats really going to allow guys and coaches to see what theyre made of. I dont care what year youre in, training camp is meant to bend and break and put people in uncomfortable positions no matter what.
Before coming to Spartanburg, Smith and his family made a $100,000 donation to a fund for the victims of the Aurora, Colo., theater shooting. Though Smith has preferred to keep many of his charitable contributions private, he chose to announce this one in hopes of inspiring others to follow his lead.
The reason why I made it public and my agent sent out a press release is because I think its important for certain people at the right time to use their platform to challenge other people, said Smith, who said his son, Peyton, attended a Dark Knight Rises premiere in Charlotte the same night as the Colorado shooting.
Economic times right now are tough. We have the means so I think its an opportunity to kind of lead and, hopefully, other people will see that, say you know what and people get prideful and say if this guy did that, then why dont I do more? Imagine all the people that passed away or were injured, imagine all those people that experienced that hardship, imagine if another 100 people or so decided to give $50, $20, $10,000, $20,000, whatever the case may be.
Thats the end result of true capitalism. You get to make money and you get to spend it the way you want to. Thats how me and family decided to spend the money that Mr. Richardson has given us. I dont think its a publicity stunt. I think its a challenge for other people to think about what are you here for. Are you here to enjoy your treasures here and do whatever, or are you going to give it and serve people who are obviously in need right now?
Now 33, Smith owns the major receiving records in Panthers history. His 59 receiving touchdowns, 699 receptions and 10,278 receiving yards are all franchise bests and hell again be a primary weapon in an offense that excelled at times last season. The Panthers averaged 389.8 yards per game and 25.3 points, numbers Smith suggested might be a baseline for the second year under offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski.
The next step, Rivera said, is for Smith to sustain what he did last year.
What we did offensively suits him very, very well. I think it really uses his talents and abilities, Rivera said. Now for him its just a matter of sustaining that level of play he had. He set the bar very high. Hes always set it very high but last year really showed hes got a lot of football left. Im excited to watch him this year. I think he can really excel.
Smith isnt bashful about setting goals.
We know what we can do, Smith said. Its can we build on it? Can we double the numbers? I think itd be great to double the numbers. Thatd be good.
As for his new bearded look, Smith said he shaved once after a summer football camp and then decided to see how a beard might look. He joked that hes having trouble growing hair in spots on the top of his head but hes done a good job with a beard.
He was tempted to shave recently but a friend was so impressed by Smiths new look he decided to stick with it, at least for a while.
I was inspired to grow it, Smith said.
The message on Smiths hat suggests hes ready for another season.
I do love my life, Smith said. Just all the people going through the things theyre going through, sometimes you need to push back a little.