Avius Capers grew up in Charlotte and played football for the Charlotte Youth Football League’s Steelers, Independence High and Johnson C. Smith.
Although Capers has attended only two Carolina Panthers games, they’re his team. He watches Carolina on TV and is a Fan Fest regular. He was at Fan Fest again Friday. But instead of watching, he played.
“I’ve never seen so many people at Fan Fest,” says Capers, a 5-9 rookie receiver for Carolina. “It was surreal. I was on the same field as the players I watched. I was just walking around amazed. I really can’t describe it, just looking at the big screen, looking at the fans, looking for my family and hearing people call my name.”
I talked to Capers after practice at training camp. Based on one interview, it would be ludicrous to claim to know him. But the first four words he spoke, in response to two separate questions, might be telling. They were: “Yes sir.” “Yes sir.”
After leaving Independence, Capers hoped to attend an NCAA Division I school.
“But my SAT score wasn’t high enough,” he says. “And then I wanted to stay home because of family issues with my grandfather. I wasn’t really ready to leave.”
Capers played 38 games for the Golden Bulls and caught 136 passes for 1,554 yards and 13 touchdowns.
In early May, the Panthers held a tryout for players from local schools, and invited Capers (who had not been drafted). But when the tryout ended, it appeared his time as a Panther also did. He was not invited to training camp.
Capers began life after football. Michael Rhynes, who is the father of a friend, runs a family restaurant on Statesville Avenue called Mr. Charles Chicken & Fish. Rhynes offered Capers a job as a cook.
Capers accepted. His life was simple – work and work out.
“I tried to keep my mind off everything,” he says.
Can you cook?
“Yeah, I’m a good cook,” says Capers. “And that was actually my first time cooking.”
Michael Rhynes liked having him there.
“Listen, listen, with him what you see is what you get,” says Rhynes. “He’s a good kid from a good family, he works hard and, yes, he’s a good cook. But he’s a better football player than a cook.”
The Panthers offered Capers a chance to show how good he was. On July 30 they declared receiver De’Andre Pressley physically unable to perform and, in need of a replacement, invited nine receivers to work out. Capers was the only candidate who arrived by bicycle.
The Panthers offered Capers a contract that day.
“Cape’s done a nice job,” Rivera says Wednesday. “He’s got our attention and it’s going to be interesting to watch when he gets an opportunity on special teams. We’re happy to see him take advantage of it.”
What can the small player from the small school offer? Capers, who runs a 4.5 40, says he’s more quick than fast. His change of direction is impressive. He’s going one way, and then he’s not.
Capers says he’s learning how to better read and exploit defenses. To adjust to the power with which quarterback Cam Newton throws, Capers cranks up the JUGS passing machine and catches the fastballs it flings at him.
He asks questions. On Wednesday Capers spent time at practice with Jarrett Boykin, another first-year Panthers receiver and another Charlottean.
Boykin, who is 2 1/2 years older than Capers, played the past three seasons for the Green Bay Packers. Boykin played for Butler High, Independence’s longtime rival. He also was a Steeler, playing for the same Charlotte youth football league team Capers did.
Asked about the opportunity to play for his hometown team, Boykin says: “Growing up, you’d drive by Bank of America Stadium and think, ‘What would it be like to play there?’”
When Capers sees his third Panthers’ game, he hopes it’s from the field.