SPARTANBURG Theres only one player on the Carolina Panthers roster who was at the franchises inaugural game in 1995.
Flanked by his father, mother and brother, 5-year-old Brenton Bersin sat in the stands at Clemsons Memorial Stadium and cheered on his hometowns newest professional sports team.
Now 22, Bersin is a wide receiver for the Panthers, learning from Steve Smith at training camp and showing teammates around Woffords campus as a newly minted graduate.
Born and raised in Charlotte and playing for the Panthers, its awesome, said Bersin, who described the entire experience as surreal.
Also graduating from Wofford in the spring and coming back here for camp, its another home just like Charlotte and its been really comfortable.
The Terriers leading receiver three straight seasons, Bersin admitted he wasnt looking to get drafted when he began his college career. Wofford runs a triple option that saw three runners gain at least 700 rushing yards, whereas Bersin had 23 receptions for 424 yards.
Wofford coaches told Bersin, a business and finance double major, to work hard in 2011 and pointed to recent alumni like safety Tommy Irvin and wide receiver Andy Strickland as players who made it out of the small school and got a chance with NFL teams.
As Day 3 of the NFL draft came and went without Bersin hearing his name called, he and his agent fielded calls from multiple teams. Ultimately, the decision came down to the Pittsburgh Steelers and his hometown Panthers.
My agent said the Panthers were interested, and of course I was like, Yeah, lets do that, Bersin said. Initially we chose the Steelers because we thought it was a better fit, but we ended up choosing the Panthers, and that was a dream come true.
Not only had Bersin watched the Panthers since their first game, but his dad also had a house two doors down from team owner Jerry Richardson. Bersin met Richardson on a couple of occasions during his time at Wofford, and the two share a school record with nine receiving touchdowns in one season a feat Bersin accomplished his junior year.
Hes been a pleasant surprise in terms of his ability to find the open spot and sit down and make catches, coach Ron Rivera said. Hes a very sure-handed guy and especially coming from a school here thats known for running the football.
Like most teams in training camp, the Panthers are loaded with depth at wide receiver. No fewer than 15 players are listed at the position. He can be spotted hauling in passes from Jimmy Clausen on the third-string team.
But as a local, hes been around the team longer than some new players, and that may work in his favor.
The nice thing that helped him is he was able to be around from the end of the mini-camps in Charlotte. That bodes well for him, Rivera said. He had an opportunity to be around other players. When we did the rookie camps, he was there, too. He has flashed some. Its a long road, especially when youre a free-agent rookie.
The adjustment from college to the pros is a work in progress for Bersin, but the first week has been fairly comfortable. Meetings, practices and walk-throughs are nothing out of the ordinary, and the scenery is still the same.