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Football’s back! Carolina Panthers arrive in Spartanburg on a day to be optimistic

2013 Carolina Panthers Training Camp | Spartanburg, S.C.

By Tom Sorensen
Tom Sorensen
Tom Sorensen has been a columnist at The Observer for 20 years and has been at the paper for 25, writing about nearly every sport in the Carolinas.

SPARTANBURG The Carolina Panther players move into their Wofford dormitory, Shipp Hall, Thursday morning and the media stands across the street and watches. We are allowed onto the Shipp Hall side of the street only if we want one of the donuts the team provides.

        So, yes, most of us end up on the Shipp Hall side of the street.

        Those of us who avoid donuts because our bodies are temples and because we plan to gorge later at the Beacon Drive-In watch from the other side. Nothing happens the first hour the players report although fourth-team quarterback Colby Cameron appears confident.

        Yet if you do what we do, where else are you going to be?

        The NFL is back, and Thursday proves it. There will be NFL news, near news and alleged news breaking daily if not hourly through the Super Bowl Feb. 2.

         If you can’t be optimistic about your team in late July you either are a realist or fan of Jacksonville, and why be a realist in July? Why not enjoy the possibilities?

         Ninety players report to Wofford Thursday and head coach Ron Rivera, who acknowledges he is terrible with names, can’t remember all of them.

          He approaches the few players whose names he does not know and offers his hand.

          “Young Man, I’m Ron Rivera,” he says. “And if you don’t tell you your name, you’ll continue to be Young Man.”

            A player whose name everybody knows appears. Looking nine feet tall, Cam Newton rides a Segway out of the Campus Life building onto the sidewalk outside. I don't think linemen get to ride Segways inside buildings.

            The first conflict of camp occurs before noon. Two autograph seekers join the media, one in a Muhsin Muhammad jersey. Security shoos them away, so they walk across the grass, away from the dorm, and seek autographs from the few players who pass.

       Two security guards and a police officer, the latter with a uniform and a gun and handcuffs, meet the men. The men protest, and then leave. Alas, No. 87 apparently no longer carries the weight it did.

         Late Thursday morning the big names show up. Tight end Greg Olsen pulls up in his truck and receiver Steve Smith in his red convertible. Smith sees linebacker Jon Beason and they embrace warmly.

        A line forms and players approach Beason one by one to greet him. Beason, a linebacker, didn’t miss a game his first four seasons but because of injuries has played in only five the last two. He’s back, albeit coming off surgery. He gets so much attention Thursday it’s as if he has an appointment book

             “There are players other players want to be around,” says Rivera.

             Rivera talks about the qualities Beason offers – he leads, he lifts teammates and he desperately wants to win. Teammates and coaches want him in the locker room and, when his health finally permits it, on the field.

            Beason grabs a Panther Pulse microphone and interviews center Ryan Kalil.             

        Kalil, a California guy, wears an In-N-Out Burger T-shirt. There are no In-N-Outs east of Texas.

      “The best burger,” Kalil says.

       “It’s the fries I hear,” says Beason. "Steve Smith says it's the fries. Tell me about the fries."

       “No, it’s the burger,” says Kalil.

        “Regular fries or is it the animal style?” asks Beason.

        “It has nothing to do with the fries, Jon. It’s the burger,” Kalil says.

         “Is that like 1,000 Island they put on?” Beason asks.

         “No it’s not,” says Kalil. “It’s a special sauce that's a family secret that makes the burger.”

         ““I don’t know anything about that," says Beason. "You know I’m a Miami guy.”

         “Anytime you want to come out it’s on me, Jon,” says Kalil

          “Well, you heard it first right here,” says Beason. “Ryan Kalil, reporting live, Panther Pulse.”

            Beason stops asking questions and starts to answer them. As he does a large black truck sneaks up as on tiptoes, slips directly behind him and BLASTS its air horn. Eleven people, one of them Beason, levitate simultaneously.

        “That will never get old for him,” Beason says.

         Out of the truck steps linebacker Thomas Davis, who cannot contain his smile and doesn’t try. 

           Beason knows Davis will blast his horn but admits Davis got him anyway. Most times, however, Beason jumps David Thompson high. This time, he jumps no higher than the rest of us.

            You learn. You progress. You improve. That’s what training camp is for. 

            “I’m proud of myself,” Beason says.

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