CHARLOTTE – How important is a first impression? For 6-foot-9, 360-pound Zach Banner, it's huge.
The hulking offensive lineman, who was claimed off waivers from the Browns in mid-March, was fired up for the start of Carolina's offseason workout program. But the weather wasn't cooperating with Banner's travel plans from Los Angeles.
His direct flight bound for Charlotte on Sunday was canceled, so he booked a flight that would get him to Charlotte via a connection in Columbus, Ohio.
But moments before landing in Columbus early Sunday evening, the flight crew delivered a troubling message.
"They said, 'If you're connecting to Charlotte, check with the flight attendant,'" Banner recalled. "I was mad. I knew that might mean bad weather."
Sure enough, storms that ravaged the Charlotte area grounded that flight, too, leaving Banner with two options if he wanted to make it for the start of workouts Monday morning: take another flight headed to Charlotte at 4:30 a.m., or rent a car and hit the road.
"I decided I was going to just drive," Banner said. "I looked it up on my phone and saw it was like seven hours. I've never driven that far before."
So Banner rented a Kia Soul, which he calls a "hamster car" (you might remember these commercials). He had just enough leg room to squeeze his massive frame into the driver's seat.
"I was on the road from about 6 p.m. to 1 a.m.," Banner said. "It was raining pretty hard, but it wasn't a superhero thing. It was just an obstacle."
After getting a couple hours of sleep, Banner reported to Bank of America Stadium no worse for wear.
And perhaps earned a couple points along the way.
"It was a huge first impression deal for me," said Banner, who was originally drafted in the fourth round by the Colts in 2017. "Coach (Ron) Rivera looked at me and said, 'I heard you had some troubles last night; thanks for being here.' That showed that I earned a little bit of respect. Coach (John) Matsko was calling me throughout the night making sure it was going OK. To be a second-year guy who has already been on two different teams, you have to accept the opportunity. I'm really happy to be here. I've been ecstatic ever since (I was claimed). I love this place. I'm grateful to be in this situation. I don't want to let this go to waste. This was all in my control.
"I'm really tired," he added with a deep breath, "but I feel really good."
View photos of offense and defense as they start 2018 the strength and conditioning program.