CHARLOTTE – Three years ago today, cornerback Pat Lee was still basking in the glow of winning a Super Bowl, having helped Green Bay stave off Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers when injuries in the Packers secondary thrust Lee into the fray.
Three years ago today, Jared Singleton was coming off a successful spring at Wofford College, having shown coaches that he was ready to take over as the Terriers' starting center come fall.
Three years ago, Lee and Singleton were in decidedly different places on their football journey. But this weekend, they were in the same place, among a group of 35 players invited to try out for the Panthers.
Both are also thankful for the opportunity, something that can be difficult to come by in the ultra-competitive NFL.
"This is my first experience trying out. I'm in a different role," Lee said. "I went out there and tried to make plays – I dropped two picks – but I'm just working hard and trying to make plays so they can see that I've still got some legs."
While Lee has previously shown that he can contribute to an NFL team, players like Singleton and offensive tackle David Foucault are getting their first chance to show their stuff. Singleton won the Rimington Trophy as the top center in the Football Championship Subdivision last season but went undrafted and then wasn't signed as an undrafted free agent.
But at this camp, he's getting a chance to show he belongs, competing against drafted and undrafted players already on the Panthers roster.
"My agent said I could go late in the draft, and that's what I wanted. But that wasn't the Good Lord's will, and now I'm honored and blessed to be here," Singleton said. "This is a dream come true, and I'm just trying to make the best of my opportunity."
Foucault was drafted, but not on this side of the border. The 6-8, 320-pounder from the University of Montreal was the fifth overall pick by the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football League draft earlier this week.
"After the NFL Draft, three teams wanted to me to tryout – the Colts, Miami and the Panthers. I had to make a choice between the three minicamps, and this was my first choice," said Foucault, who participated in an NFL Regional Combine in Tampa, Fla., two months ago. "It's very different than in Canada. The players are very fast and very strong, but I think I did well.
"I just need to focus on the details because it's hard to go from college in Canada to the NFL. You have to learn fast."
Players like Foucault and Singleton who go undrafted understand it's an uphill battle to make an NFL roster, and a player like Lee puts a period on the point. A second-round draft pick by the Packers in 2008, Lee was slowed by a nagging knee injury his first two NFL seasons. Once healthy, he earned a reserve role in 2010 that expanded in the Super Bowl because of injuries to Charles Woodson and Sam Shields.
Lee was back to a limited role the next season. He signed with the Oakland Raiders in 2012 and started seven games before being waived. Claimed off waivers by the Detroit Lions, Lee saw action as a reserve but became a free agent after the season. He was out of football all of 2013.
"I wasn't involved with any teams last season. I had a couple of workouts, but I never got picked up," Lee said. "It's mentally tough, but you've got to stick with it if you love it, and I love it. It's tough, but I love it so much that I'm going to keep fighting.
"You can fall of the radar, but with an opportunity like this, I'm going to try to run with it."
The Panthers signed five tryout players after last year's rookie minicamp, four of whom are currently on the 90-man roster. Carolina could do something similar after this camp, but last year there were some empty roster spots that aren't open this year. With 90 players already on the roster, these guys will have to beat somebody out.
Perhaps they'll have to beat somebody out they know.
Singleton played at Wofford with wide receiver
Lee, an all-Southeastern Conference performer at Auburn, obviously isn't going to take a roster spot from quarterback
"I left before he came in. I'm old," Lee said. "But I met him at offseason workouts at Auburn. The strength and conditioning coach at the time introduced me to him and said he's a hard worker. Look where it got him."
Lee is hoping for the same.
"No one is going to outwork me," he said. "I want my kids to see me play."