Tom Sorensen

He’s not a lock to start, but you’ll see this Panthers player a lot … with less hair.

Carolina Panthers linebacker David Mayo’s blond hair once fell past the tops of the dual 55s on his jersey, as in this photo from October. Mayo has donated his hair each time he’s had it cut to a nonprofit that helps children suffering long-term hair loss.
Carolina Panthers linebacker David Mayo’s blond hair once fell past the tops of the dual 55s on his jersey, as in this photo from October. Mayo has donated his hair each time he’s had it cut to a nonprofit that helps children suffering long-term hair loss. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

If NFL players could collect overtime, David Mayo would be at the front of the line. Go to training camp and there he is at his natural position, middle linebacker, which he plays when Luke Kuechly is out.

Mayo also plays weak side linebacker and strong side linebacker. He’s the tall guy sprinting downfield on the kickoff team and every other special team. Mayo spends so much time on the field in training camp that when the Carolina Panthers’ offense does a drill, you expect to see him at tight end.

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When he’s not on the field, you see Mayo soliciting advice from veteran linebackers Kuechley and linebacker Thomas Davis. He makes a point of saying he also learns from Shaq Thompson, whom the Carolina Panthers drafted in the first round in 2015, the same year they drafted Mayo out of Texas State in the fifth.

“Absolutely, absolutely,” Mayo says about the conversations. “I mean, how can you not? They know the game and the nuances of the position.”

Thomas Davis will be suspended for the season’s first four games, and the linebacker hierarchy will be shaken.

Will you start?

“The coaches will figure that out,” Mayo says Monday after practice.

Despite being neither a star nor a starter, fans often recognize Mayo. Some are serious fans of the Panthers. The others watch a lot of commercials and think that he’s Clay Matthews.

Matthews, the Green Bay Packer linebacker, is 6-3 and 255 pounds. Mayo is 6-2, 245. Matthews has long blond hair to his shoulders. Mayo’s blond hair fell past the tops of the dual 55s on his jersey, reaching the bottom part of the numbers.

Mayo’s hair, however, is now so short and neat that he could work in a bank.

Do you ever look in the mirror, see the short hair and think: Who is this guy?

“No,” Mayo says. “I got tired of it. I look at the old pictures and say: ‘Who’s that?’”

Three times Mayo has had his long hair cut, and three times he’s given the hair to Locks of Love. Locks of Love is a nonprofit that uses hair to create prosthetics for children who, because of a medical condition, suffer long-term hair loss. (For more information, go to LocksOfLove.org).

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Mayo comes across as friendly and upbeat, a nice guy that loves football and life. His family is at practice Sunday. It includes his wife, Jordan, and their infant son Elijah.

“Elijah was born five days before we started camp,” Mayo says.

The practice is Elijah’s first. In time, he’ll recognize No. 55.

He’s the one that stays on the field.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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