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All about the smiling Benjamin for Panthers

Tom Sorensen
Tom Sorensen has been a columnist at The Observer for about three decades, writing about nearly every sport in the Carolinas.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/05/09/23/02/eD5ZB.Em.138.jpeg|316
    Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
    Carolina Panthers first-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin laughs as he responds to a question during his first press conference with the Charlotte media. Benjamin was the 28th pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Benjamin is a wide receiver from Florida State.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/05/09/23/02/eiZDr.Em.138.jpeg|230
    Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
    Carolina Panthers first-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin, center, carries a team helmet into his first press conference with local Charlotte media on Friday. Benjamin was the 28th pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/05/09/23/02/AlINt.Em.138.jpeg|239
    Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
    Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera, left, smiles as he listens to Kelvin Benjamin respond to a question Friday.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/05/09/23/03/7CnTz.Em.138.jpeg|210
    Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
    Carolina Panthers first-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin laughs as he responds to a question during Friday’s press conference.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/05/09/23/03/1hVzVV.Em.138.jpeg|222
    Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
    Carolina Panthers first-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin listens to a question during Friday’s press conference.

Kelvin Benjamin wears a light gray suit and dreadlocks. He’s 6-foot-5 and, up close, appears leaner than the 241 pounds the stat sheet says he is. Maybe this means his 40-yard dash is faster than the 4.6 seconds the stat sheet says he runs it in.

Benjamin walks into his first news conference as a Carolina Panther smiling. In the almost 20-minute question and answer session, he rarely stops.

“Hi, how you guys doing today?” he asks.

Benjamin watched the first round of the NFL draft at home in Belle Glade, Fla., about 40 miles west of West Palm Beach. He could have gone to New York with the other top draft candidates but he wanted to stay with his family.

There were about 40 of them watching the draft at the family home, eating shish kabobs and ribs and rice and potatoes and lots of other things. He wanted a shish kabob. Loves shish kabob. He didn’t get one.

“They were killing the meat,” Benjamin says.

When with the 28th pick the Panthers selected Benjamin, a wide receiver from Florida State, noise took precedence over food.

“It was so loud I had to walk outside just to talk,” says Benjamin.

He adds: “I almost forgot to answer my phone, I was celebrating. It was an experience that I’ll never forget.”

He grew up playing football and basketball in a region of Florida that has cranked out an extraordinary number of athletes. He dreamed, like all kids dream, of playing professionally. And then the commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell, walks to a lectern and calls his name.

“It’s unbelievable,” says Benjamin. “I can’t explain it. It’s like being on a roller-coaster where your stomach is in your throat.”

He received at least 240 calls or text messages Thursday night.

Friday he flew to Charlotte, was recognized by fans at the airport, and driven to Bank of America Stadium.

On Friday night he was scheduled to go to dinner with some of his new teammates, one of them kicker and fellow Seminole Graham Gano.

Who pays?

“I do,” says Ron Rivera, who stands next to the wall as Benjamin speaks.

He planned to give the players his credit card. There’s a reason Rivera is the NFL’s coach of the year. He can check the bill and see how much everybody drank.

Benjamin is not in Charlotte to smile or eat with teammates. What does he offer? What separates him from other rookie receivers?

“My size,” he says. “I can do the same things a smaller receiver can do. I just have to work harder, by being a bigger wide receiver with a bigger body frame (I’m) just going to have to put the work in.”

When he controlled the Panthers in the Madden video game, receivers never caught a pass. He had quarterback Cam Newton run.

In real life, he hopes Newton throws.

“I’d be honored to catch a pass from Cam,” Benjamin says.

He says he’s ready.

“I was hoping that I could start practicing with the guys when I got here (Friday) and just stay in Carolina,” says Benjamin. “Don’t even have to go back.”

Sorensen: 704-358-5129; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com
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