SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Before heading to Wofford College for training camp, wide receiver Brenton Bersin last spent time at his alma mater during the Terriers' homecoming weekend in October. Bersin hopes to again enjoy a football weekend come homecoming this October, but he hopes to be in uniform rather than school colors.
The Panthers' practice squad doesn't make most road trips, a fact that freed up Bersin for homecoming festivities in 2013. But Wofford's homecoming game this year coincides with Carolina's home game against the reigning Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, and Bersin hopes to be on the Panthers' active roster come game time.
"He's given himself a legitimate opportunity to make this football team," head coach Ron Rivera said. "He's gotten our attention."
When the Charlotte native attended his first training camp with the Panthers in 2012, Bersin was the guy who could show first-year Panthers around campus and share a few hidden gems with camp veterans. His initial stint with the Panthers ended shortly after camp, a victim of the first round of cuts that trimmed the roster from 90 to 75.
One of the most productive receivers in Wofford history, Bersin returned to training camp in 2013 after re-signing with the Panthers that May following a brief stay in the Arena Football League. He took the next step at his second training camp, surviving until the cutdown from 75 to 53 and then signing with the practice squad the next day, where he remained all of last season.
Could this be the season, both because of his growth and the turnover in the position group, that Bersin takes the ultimate step?
"I did well on the practice squad, and I think this is the year," Bersin said. "Me and Kealoha Pilares are the most tenured receivers on the roster, and this is only my third year. It is kind of weird, but it is good to be out there getting an opportunity.
"(Wide receivers) Coach (Ricky) Proehl does a really good job giving every player, whether he be undrafted, a first-round pick or veteran, a fair amount of reps in practice and a good chance to make the team. Just like last year and the year before, you go out there and make the most of what you have. This year, I will probably have more of a chance to play with the first team and get a little more playing time during the preseason."
In addition to being a proving ground for Bersin's roster hopes, the preseason will give fans more of an opportunity to see what the 6-3, 210-pounder can do.
His teammates - both those who have seen Bersin perform at training camp for years and those who have only seen him for days – already know his capabilities.
"Y'all are taking note of Bersin right now, but we've known what he's been able to do for the last couple of years," linebacker Thomas Davis said. "He competes hard, and he's made plays for a long time. Hopefully, if he continues the way that he's going, he's going to get an opportunity."
Safety Thomas DeCoud, a former Pro Bowler with the Atlanta Falcons who signed with the Panthers in April, also likes what he sees.
"I see a really good diamond in the rough, a guy who can really make a name for himself this year with the opportunity that he has," DeCoud said. "He's another guy with great ball skills who runs good routes and loves to compete."
Bersin, of course, understands that there are no guarantees. He's had a good camp so far, but so have many of the 11 receivers battling for likely no more than six roster spots.
But with Bersin's alma mater as the backdrop, he's giving it the old college try.
"The NFL is a tough business," Bersin said. "You've got 90 guys now and only 53 make the roster. You can't go out there and make mental mistakes, and you only have a limited number of reps. You've got to go out there and perform every day."