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Sorensen: Carolina Panthers training camp’s final acts play out in a variety of ways

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

SPARTANBURG Training camp ends Tuesday at 11:17 a.m., and after 14 practices Carolina Panthers players are ready to flee their dormitory beds, flee Wofford and flee Spartanburg.

Quarterbacks end camp the way they end every practice, running sprints in a group.

Quarterbacks run and running backs ride. Veteran backs hop onto a cart and are chauffeured across fields, up the hill and into their locker room.

Darrin Reaves, a running back out of Alabama-Birmingham, carries the helmets and pads of veteran backs DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert. Reaves has had a fine camp, but he’s still a rookie.

Carrying equipment is all that appears to remain of hazing. In 2009, Carolina rookie cornerback Captain Munnerlyn was taped to a goalpost after the final practice and had a variety of nasty liquids poured on him.

Hazing was an NFL tradition, and it was moronic. Anybody who derives pleasure or joy from hazing newcomers has problems too deep to explore here.

Players walk up the hill to the locker room in groups small and large. Center Ryan Kalil walks with linebacker Luke Kuechly. Receiver Tavarres King walks with receiver Marvin McNutt. Receiver Brenton Bersin walks with receiver Kealoha Pilares.

They might walk, but there is urgency. Cars – more likely sport utility vehicles – are parked along the curb outside the Student Life Building. Players can pick up a Styrofoam box, cruise through the cafeteria and drive to Interstate 85.

The team’s equipment is loaded into a large, white Enterprise truck. One by one the blue Mod Sled blocking dummies are packed away. The clock with the large numbers, a presence throughout camp, is packed onto a cart and slowly rolled across the grass.

But some players continue to work as if they’re on the clock. Veteran safety Roman Harper backpedals; he has a toe injury and has not been able to practice.

On the main field, a civilian, a man who works for the team but doesn’t play football, throws passes to receiver Tiquan Underwood.

Receiver Jason Avant lines up against cornerback Josh Thomas.

Tight end Brandon Williams catches passes from fourth-team quarterback Matt Blanchard.

They do this even though the heat and humidity, at least by the standards of this camp, are stifling. Spartanburg weather has been cooler the past three weeks than at any camp in Carolina’s 20-year history.

Finally, the stragglers head up the hill and home – the wide receivers, the cornerback and the safety. Only Williams the tight end and Blanchard the quarterback remain. Blanchard has people waiting for him, family or friends, and he jogs to them.

Williams, the tight end, is alone. Although he’s drenched in sweat, he acts as if he’s not ready to stop.

Nobody who can enhance Williams’ career can see him. Coach Ron Rivera and general manager Dave Gettleman are gone, and so are the assistant coaches and scouts.

The all-seeing cameras have stopped whirring and the platforms on which the cameras were mounted have been lowered.

“I could care less if the coaches see me or not,” says Williams, 26. “It’s for me to get better. So that when I’m out there I feel like I know what I’m doing and feel comfortable catching the ball.”

Finally, the fans leave. Other than Williams, there’s nobody left to approach for an autograph.

Young Panthers employees hustle across the fields, picking up anything that belongs to the team. They help load equipment onto a blue or green Sunbelt Rentals vehicle.

Of all the blocking dummies only one, blue with the No. 79, remains.

Williams sees it, approaches it, drops into a three-point stance, takes off hard and blasts into it, driving it backward, the final act of camp.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen
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