CHARLOTTE - The boxes were stacked in every corner, waist-high. In the work room. Living room. Kitchen.
Boxes of shoes and cleats. White ones…ready to tell a story.
They resided in the basement of Ryan Bare, a young entrepreneur who has become the unofficial cleat designer of the Carolina Panthers. Bare likens creating a custom cleat to that of a custom car. It takes a lot prep work, creative designing and pinpoint detailing.
Making custom cleats each week is nothing new for Bare, whose first pair went to Tre Boston in 2015. But this month, his work took on a little more volume. And a little more meaning.
This Sunday in New Orleans, the Panthers and Saints will sport more than just the usual blue and white and black and gold. Running along the green turf will be colors and designs of all types as the teams celebrate the My Cause, My Cleats initiative.
A NFL program that debuted last winter, My Cause, My Cleats helps players bring attention to causes and foundations that are personally meaningful by allowing them to wear customized cleats during a game.
For Bare, who lives about 30 minutes outside of Charlotte, this game has become one of his most anticipated of every season. But also the most stressful.
"Usually I'll average four to five shoes a week, but with most of the team participating in My Cause, My Cleats, along with the normal weekly demand, it's more like 15 cleats a week, which are definitely a lot," Bare said.
For Bare, it all started with designing custom shoes for his son, who is now 17 years old. They encompassed all sorts of sneakers and basketball shoes, essentially creating shoes that the manufacturer wouldn't make.
But then Bare reached out to Boston on Instagram in 2015, and everything changed.
"He contacted me back, and we figured out some designs for him," Bare said. "And then word spread pretty quickly around the locker room. Custom cleats have grown a ton over the last couple of years, and the guys all wanted them. It just started growing as they started putting guys in contact with me."
Bare's process can be more complicated than it appears.
"You don't just pick up a pair of shoes and throw paint on it," Bare said. "There is no durability with that. Like I said, it's like painting a car. You sand the car down, you mask it off, and you clean it off. You take certain removers and take parts off. It's definitely a lengthy process. Then you can put the idea on it, and that's where it gets fun. Then the joy is the completion of it. Just seeing them wear it is joy."
While Bare makes cleats for players each week, the designs and final products for the My Cause, My Cleats game takes on more meaning.
"Oftentimes, guys will just text me and say that they are wearing a certain uniform and want something that looks cool. And I will kind of have to take it from there," he said. "But for this set of shoes, I came into the stadium and we met with all of the different players and really went over their ideas and inspirations in more detail.
"These pairs have a little more meaning, not only because they are a bit more intricate in their design, but because they obviously mean a lot to the players wearing them. And they mean even more to the charities and foundations and people represented on the shoes. That is really cool for me to have a hand in."
One of the notable pairs from this year belongs to Kurt Coleman. He honored the Levine Children's Hospital by having the young patients make their own drawings of themselves as super heroes. Those drawings were then painted onto the shoes.
"My father is a cancer survivor, and helping not only patients but also their families became very important to me after experiencing firsthand the hardships that everyone goes through," Coleman said. "This cause empowers me to be a joy and love to children and families walking through dark times. They have to know that their strength is in you; the strength of others pulling for you."
For many of the drawings on Coleman's shoes, the super heroes have the super strength to specifically defeat the illnesses that each child is battling.
While Coleman shone a light locally on children in Charlotte, Christian McCaffrey went global. His cleats grab the attention with bright green and yellow colors, as he honors Hope Haven Rwanda, a nonprofit organization in Rwanda that provides educational opportunities and life-on-life discipleship.
Head coach Ron Rivera will wear two differently designed shoes of purple and camouflage. The purple represents the fight against pancreatic cancer, while the camo honors the USO. Rivera's brother Mickey passed away from pancreatic cancer, while his family, including his father, has long ties to the U.S. military as Rivera grew up on military bases around the world.
Some players will represent their own foundations and causes, while others will honor the foundations of their friends and teammates.
"These guys feel pretty strong about what they are doing," Bare said. "They want to make a difference for their causes and for each other's causes. I'm just happy that I get to have a small part in that."
View photos of players and coaches' cleats that will be worn during the My Cause, My Cleats game on Sunday, December 3rd.