Wide receiver Brenton Bersin was a feel-good story during his first two years at the Carolina Panthers’ training camp.
This summer Bersin wants to script a play-good story – one about a Charlotte native who makes the team after a successful camp at his Wofford alma mater.
That was Bersin’s hope the past two years, as well. But after the Panthers overhauled their entire receiving corps during the offseason, Bersin’s goal became a lot more achievable.
“I wasn’t just playing for the media and to make Wofford look good,” Bersin said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I’ve always had a dream to play in the NFL.”
Bersin, 24, has lived the dream for parts of the last two-plus years.
The former Charlotte Latin and Wofford standout was on the Panthers’ practice squad all of last season, but he has never made the active roster.
After the Panthers cut all-time receiving leader Steve Smith and lost three other wideouts in free agency, Bersin and 2011 draft pick Kealoha Pilares were the longest-tenured receivers remaining.
“With all the people that departed in the offseason, me and Pilares have been here the longest, which is kind of weird because it’s only my third year,” Bersin said.
The Panthers restocked at receiver by signing free agents Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and Tiquan Underwood, and drafting former Florida State wideout Kelvin Benjamin in the first round.
“I was hoping we wouldn’t draft five receivers. Those were the rumors leading up to the draft,” Bersin said. “But we took one, and Kelvin’s been great. He’s a nice guy. We’ve become good friends. I’ve got a locker right next to him, so I spend a lot of time talking to him before meetings and stuff.”
When Bersin was growing up, his father lived in the same cul-de-sac as Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, an All-American receiver at Wofford who played two seasons with the Baltimore Colts.
Bersin concedes the Panthers’ Wofford ties – in addition to Richardson, team president Danny Morrison played basketball at Wofford and was the school’s athletics director for 13 years – helped him get a chance with the Panthers.
But Bersin isn’t some slouch the Panthers pulled off a couch.
Despite playing in the Terriers’ run-dominated, triple option offense, Bersin finished with 77 receptions for 1,567 yards and 15 touchdowns. He caught nine of those touchdowns as a junior in 2010 to tie Richardson’s single-season record from 1958.
As a senior, Bersin pulled down a 66-yard touchdown catch on a play-action pass against Clemson to give the Terriers an early 14-6 lead in a game the Tigers won 35-27.
“The whole secondary was at the line of scrimmage. They were all looking around like, ‘Uh oh.’
I walked in (to the end zone) to take the lead. We should have beat them,” Bersin said.
“We didn’t really pass the ball much at Wofford,” he added. “So I didn’t have many big plays.”
Bersin had plenty at Latin, where he caught the game-winning touchdown in the state title game against Country Day in 2006. He tallied 264 yards of total offense in a state championship victory against Charlotte Christian as a senior the following year.
Bersin said he didn’t get many reps during his first Panthers’ camp in 2012 under former receivers coach Fred Graves.
Bersin traveled to Phoenix last spring to play in the Arena League with former Clemson quarterback Willy Korn, who shared the same agents as Bersin.
While Korn left after two weeks to take a coaching position at Charleston Southern, Bersin stayed for two months before Ricky Proehl, who replaced Graves last year, called and invited Bersin to come to rookie camp as a tryout player.
Bersin was offered a contract and kept his spot on the practice squad last season while Tavarres King and Marvin McNutt, a couple of other young receivers, were signed and added to the active roster.
“It was a lot of work, doing the scout team every practice during the season, running every rep,” Bersin said. “It was tiring, especially coming straight from two months of Arena ball.”
But that work could pay off this summer at Wofford, where Bersin says he’s stayed in just about every dorm on campus.
While Cotchery, Benjamin and Avant look to be the top three wideouts, the last two or three receiving spots are up for grabs.
Bersin has good size (6-3, 210) and speed (he ran the 40 in 4.56 seconds at Wofford), but it’s his precise route-running that has earned him the trust of Proehl and quarterback Cam Newton.
“He doesn’t have to worry about where he’s throwing it. He can throw to a spot and know I’ll be there,” Bersin said.
Bersin is one of three former Wofford players in NFL camps, along with kicker Kasey Redfern in Jacksonville and linebacker Alvin Scioneaux in San Diego.
But Richardson is the only Wofford player to play in an NFL game.
Bersin hopes to be the second.
“I’m obviously more confident going in this year,” he said. “Going in as a rookie I didn’t know what to expect.”
About his chances to make the team, Bersin said: “It’s so hard to tell right now before even starting. It’s all based on how you do in camp and how you do in the preseason games.”
Boyko, who played at Lehigh, signed with Oakland as an undrafted free agent before being waived during the final roster cuts last August.