The Mississippi native who might be the Panthers’ new punter went through a goat milk phase in Canada, spent the past week helping the homeless in New York City and was the first player signed by Carolina following the Super Bowl loss last month.
But any getting-to-know-you interview with Swayze Waters must first start with his name, which he shares with a certain late actor who famously (infamously) uttered the line “Nobody puts Baby in a corner” in the 1987 film “Dirty Dancing.”
“I figured that question was coming,” Waters said Friday during a telephone interview while taking a break from his ministry work in New York.
“I told my wife when you sign with a new team and go to a new town, you get it all over again with the questions about the name. People usually ask me if my mom’s a Patrick Swayze fan,” he added. “I tell them, ‘Yeah, she is.’ But it’s really a family name.”
Despite a successful four-year career in Canada, Waters has yet to make a name for himself in the NFL.
He has appeared in nine preseason games for three NFL teams, but has never made a regular-season roster.
With Brad Nortman leaving Carolina last week to take a four-year, $8.8 million deal with Jacksonville, Waters will have a chance to win the Panthers’ punting job. Carolina will bring in another punter – either through the draft or afterward – to compete with Waters.
Waters is just thrilled to have a shot with a team he watched play in Super Bowl 50 at a party he and his wife threw at their home in Jackson, Miss.
“It’s just kind of crazy watching it on Sunday night and then being there a few days later. It was a really cool experience,” Waters said. “Still a long way to go, but I’m just very thankful that they’re going to give me an opportunity. That’s all I was looking for.”
Betting on Nortman ... leaving
Waters wasn’t sure what Nortman’s future would be when Waters turned down a couple of offers in the CFL, including one from his former Toronto team, to “roll the dice” with the Panthers.
“We were just kind of gambling that he would get big money somewhere else. That’s what happened,” Waters said of Nortman. “I don’t know still what will play out.”
Waters played with Panthers special teams regular Joe Webb at UAB before signing with Detroit as an undrafted free agent in 2009. Waters was with Detroit, Oakland and Pittsburgh in three consecutive preseasons, but says he’s never established an identity because the teams weren’t sure whether he was best suited as a kicker or punter. When the Panthers signed him four days after the Super Bowl, they listed Waters as a punter.
“That was very appealing to me. They kind of gave me an identity,” Waters said. “I’m looking forward to just being able to focus on one thing. I’ve never had that chance in my career. Year in and year out as a punter I’ve been very consistent.”
Waters (6-foot, 185 pounds) averaged 47.7 yards per punt for the Argonauts in 2014 when he was named the CFL’s Special Teams Player of the Year. His average was 48.1 yards in five games in 2015, but he missed most of the season with a hip flexor injury.
Nortman had a 45.2-yard average in four seasons with the Panthers. But his tendency to occasionally outkick his coverage irked some in the organization, and the Panthers weren’t willing to pay Nortman what the Jaguars did.
Waters, 28, enjoyed his time in Toronto, which won the Grey Cup in 2012. His visit to a goat farm during the 2014 season became a thing after the media heard about it.
“It got so out of control I just kind of went with it. I’d bring a gallon of goat milk into the locker room, pass it around for the guys for good luck,” Waters said. “We just had a good time with it.”
Waters and his wife, Kendal, were in New York recently with 14 high school students from Mississippi as part of a Fellowship of Christian Athletes mission trip. The group spent time in homeless shelters, passed out blankets and took a food truck through Queens to give away hot dogs and hot chocolate to the city’s homeless.
Waters is eager to move to Charlotte and get started with his new team. Webb texted Waters after he signed with Carolina, and Waters is familiar with Panthers practice squad safety Marcus Ball from their time together in Toronto.
Waters is sure the introductory handshakes in Charlotte will be accompanied by the occasional Patrick Swayze question. He’ll respond with a brief family history.
“Growing up in Mississippi in the South, that’s kind of how we do it with the names,” he said. “I have to spell it a lot for people and sound it out.”
As long as he’s on a NFL roster, Waters figures that’s a good problem to have.