CHARLOTTE – David Mayo has come a long way for a guy who used to live in a shed.
But his path from slumming it in Santa Monica to playing in the NFL is never too far in the linebacker's rearview mirror.
"Last year when we played the Rams I went around the old stomping grounds and checked it out," Mayo said this week when asked about the 10-foot-by-15-foot dwelling he once called home.
"We just kind of drove around. I didn't want to bother anyone or knock. I don't know who's living there now."
Shunned by big-school programs, Mayo paid $450 a month to live in the shed behind a Santa Monica home while he played junior college football in the fall of 2011. He parlayed that into a scholarship at Texas State, where he was the nation's second-leading tackler in 2014.
The following spring, the Panthers used a fifth-round draft pick on Mayo, who's made 40 tackles in his three seasons since. Fewer than half of those have come at linebacker.
"My role is I play special teams, so I try to do that to the best of my ability and play at a high level there," said Mayo, who leads the Panthers with 25 special teams tackles since 2015. "Obviously, I prepare every week to play linebacker, and if I get a chance to play linebacker, hopefully I play at a high level as well."
Mayo may get his biggest chance yet Sunday in Chicago. With Luke Kuechly still in the concussion protocol, Mayo is in line to make his first career start.
"I think David's a good football player, a guy who's doing a great job for us," head coach Ron Rivera said. "Smart football player, physical guy who plays downhill, handles things very well. I think we're fortunate to have a guy like him."
Just like the Panthers were fortunate to have a guy like A.J. Klein backing up Kuechly the past four seasons. Mayo, like Klein, could be a more than serviceable fill-in. That doesn't mean there won't be a dropoff.
"Luke is a special player. Luke has built so much trust with his teammates that some guys may feel that if they don't make the play, Luke's going to make the play. They expect Luke to do so much for them," Rivera said. "Dave is one of those guys that just hasn't had the opportunities Luke's had, so you don't have that yet. But I think Dave has got that kind of ability."
And, sure, he's not a perennial Pro Bowler like Kuechly, but Mayo's certainly making the most of his story.
"I'm just happy I got the opportunity because a lot of people don't," Mayo said. "A lot of people work extremely hard and sacrifice a whole lot and even still don't get the opportunity. So I'm just fortunate and feel really blessed."