Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith turned toward Lake Norman High receiver Jaquez Vanderburg and smiled.
“They say you're pretty good, so I am going to give you a high one,” Smith said.
A Lake Norman player had won a local contest to have Smith coach for a day, so the Panthers wide receiver had been helping Vanderburg and other Wildcat players catch simulated punts Tuesday. Smith simulated punts by throwing the ball in the air. But this time, he cocked back and flung the ball more than 100 feet skyward.
The spiraling ball soared higher than the Lake Norman Stadium stands. Vanderburg, a junior wide receiver and punt returner, arched his head up to try to follow it.
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Vanderburg owns a blue No. 89 Smith jersey at home, and Smith had already given him other tips on how to be a better wide receiver and punt returner. Smith had told him to look at a defender's eyes while running pass routes as a wide receiver, and to remember to cradle the ball as a punt returner. But as Smith's high throw slowly started its descent to the green stadium grass, Vanderburg had another thought.
“Oh (man),” Vanderburg recalled. “I was pretty nervous. I mean, I had to do it in front of him. I'm only human.”
The ball drifted toward the sideline, and a few media members scurried away. Vanderburg followed the ball's path and watched it nestle into his two hands.
That earned a big grin from Smith, who patted Vanderburg on the helmet.
“I didn't want to overwhelm him, but he did really well,” Smith said. “If he can catch one from me, he can get one from anyone.”
Vanderburg jogged back to the end of the line, and said he'll always remember Tuesday.
“Steve Smith shook my hand and taught me stuff,” he said. “You can't beat that.”