Second-year cornerback Daryl Worley did not come to the Carolina Panthers’ annual training camp at Wofford College alone.
As he strode up the walkway to the team’s dorms, a small head poked out of the top of his backpack.
A stuffed, masked head, that is.
Worley, a grown man and starting NFL cornerback, brought a Batman “pillow pet” to camp with him this season.
While a little weird, it seemed fitting. Worley is known for appreciating the dark comic-book hero, even going by the nickname “Bruce Wayne” or “Batman” at times and donning caped, tongue-in-cheek cleats during warmups before Carolina’s game against the other “Dark Knight” (Washington’s Josh Norman) last season.
But once he was asked about his fluffy friend, his reasoning was less laughable than sweet.
“Actually, it was a gift from my older sister to my son,” he said Wednesday morning after reporting to camp. “I brought it with me because I wanted to take him with me, just to have memorabilia of my son coming in here.”
Worley’s girlfriend gave birth to a baby boy, Kaiden Fabian Worley, a little over a week ago. Worley has since spent his time in delighted wonder at what the couple created, and pining over the sleep he used to get.
“That’s the one thing I’m looking forward to (about camp), is a little bit of sleep,” he laughed. “I’ve been up, I feel like, for eight days straight. We try to take turns with everything that’s going on, try to keep it an equal balance. It’s turning into her doing more during the day and me doing more at night.”
Worley left for camp on Wednesday morning just an hour before Kaiden was supposed to wake up for the day.
And last season, Worley entered camp as a newborn of sorts himself: A rookie thrown into the ring immediately as Carolina was without Norman after then-general manager Dave Gettleman rescinded Norman’s franchise tag offer.
Since that time, Worley and his counterpart, corner James Bradberry, have done nothing but experience the trial-and-error-and-trial-again life of NFL rookies – with infintely more responsibility and pressure than that faced by the average first-year player.
They also publicly struggled, both with injury and against some of the league’s top receivers (including a 300-yard torching by Atlanta’s Julio Jones). But by the end of the season, the two were no longer fired upon at will by opposing quarterbacks.
Veteran nickel corner Captain Munnerlyn said this spring that what the two faced was a “trial by fire,” but that he believed they can now get through anything. Worley agreed.
“Nobody wants to be thrown into the fire and then get burned,” he said. “And then go, ‘Ouch, that hurts.’ But it happened that way. God had a plan for it to go that way. And hopefully it shows that we’re better.”
Of course, no longer being a rookie helps.
“I was talking about that last night,” said Worley. “I was so anxious (last year). Now I know what to expect and this year I’m more relaxed; just ready to go out there and compete.”
Relaxed? With a one-week-old?