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Former Panthers saw the signs for DeShaun Foster to become a head coach

DeShaun Foster Touchdown

CHARLOTTE — The basis of John Wooden's "Pyramid of Success" is simple: be loyal, enthusiastic, and industrious, among others. Each level requires more from those willing to climb to the top. Having self-control, being conditioned, poised, and confident. If someone can hit each of the 15 steps, Wooden taught, they could reach the top: competitive greatness.

This pyramid has defined DeShaun Foster's entire athletic life. A Charlotte native who moved to Southern California as a baby, he grew up to become one of the more decorated running backs the UCLA Bruins have ever seen. Foster posted two seasons of over 1,000 yards, set records as a freshman and upperclassman, and was named a second-team All-American.

When he returned to Charlotte in 2002, it was as a second-round draft pick for the Panthers. Carolina had just hired John Fox and was entering into a rebuild. At the center of Fox's approach sat a pyramid. It was one Foster knew well.

"The pyramid of success. That's what Fox used for us to develop our culture," former safety and Foster teammate Mike Minter said.

Minter was a safety with the Panthers from 1997-2006 before joining the coaching ranks. He spent the past 11 seasons as Campbell's head coach at the FCS level. While there, he used Fox's approach, implementing the Wooden pyramid and all it encompassed.

"I remember it like it was yesterday. I'm talking about every block (Fox used), right? The cornerstones are really being tough and smart. And that was the thing Coach Fox brought us."

It's why Minter, one of several Panthers who have remained close with Foster, trusts his former teammate can slide seamlessly into the job at UCLA. There's another reason as well.

Minter was already in his sixth year when Foster joined the NFL and Panthers. When he arrived in Charlotte, Minter looked for what he had always tried to find in the young guys to determine whether they would be successful: competitiveness. With Minter coming downhill to tackle the rookie back, it only took a couple of padded practices to know Foster would be just fine.

"We had some nice collisions over the years," Minter laughs now.

DeShaun Foster ranks fourth all-time with 3,336 rushing yards.

Once Foster took the field, he quickly proved his combination of size and speed could translate to the NFL. During a 2002 preseason game versus Washington, the young Foster caught the eye of a veteran back on the opposite sideline: his future teammate, Stephen Davis.

It was a draw play that the rookie Foster took for over 60 yards. The four-time winner of the NFL's Fastest Man competition, Darrell Green, broke lose to track him down. Stephen Davis had seen this story before; he thought he knew how it would end.

"One of the fastest guys in the NFL ran up on him and didn't have a plan. (Foster) made him look like a fly," Davis recalls. "I knew then he was going to be something to deal with."

A year later, Davis joined Foster in Carolina, and the duo became a one-two punch that makes teammates whistle in awe to this day. More importantly, for Davis, they became life-long friends who still talk every other day. And even when Foster was a young pup adjusting to a life revolving around football, Davis could see the attributes that would go on to create a Power 5 head coach.

"I think he's going to be a great head coach, man, because the simple fact is he understands the little things about winning," Davis shares. "We actually learned a lot of things like when we was playing under (longtime Panthers running back coach) Jim Skipper; the little things like time of possession, going out of bounds, five minutes or two minutes left in the game. The small things that make teams good."

The small things are what Minter suggests Foster focus on right away as a first-time head coach. Build a staff and put everyone on the same page, not just in terms of culture and vision but also in verbiage.

"Got to be clear on what that standard is going to be," Minter advises. "So everybody in the organization can be walking and talking at the same time and doing the same thing."

Foster's ability to move everyone in the same direction will be paramount.

"It's about building young men up, and I think Deshaun is one of those guys that he'll be a perfect kind of mentor, role model example, he'll be able to attract the right guys," former teammate and Panthers wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad says. "I think he's the perfect type of leader to lead these young men."

It's also why, even though Muhammad admits he couldn't necessarily predict Foster would become a head coach, he was still confident in his ability to do, well, anything.

"I don't know if I could tell that he was going to be a coach, but I think he kind of demonstrated work habits and abilities to be successful in whatever he got into. So, whatever he picked, he was going to be good at it, and he chose something that obviously he's known his whole life: how to lead men on a football field."

Foster's career in the NFL was brief: six years, five of which were spent with the Panthers. He entered into coaching in 2012 at UCLA, where he's been ever since, save for one-year coaching running backs at Texas Tech in 2016. But his role in the rebuild and Super Bowl run for the Panthers was one his teammates don't discount.

Whether it was part of a thunder and lightning duo that ate up the ground game and created lifelong friends with Stephen Davis; "The camaraderie we had with each other, it was just special."

Or perhaps being the missing piece of what could have been back-to-back Super Bowl trips, according to Minter; "If we'd had him when we went to Seattle, we would have gone to the Super Bowl again."

He was even responsible for one of the greatest one-yard runs in NFL history in the 2003 NFC Championship game, which Muhammad still thinks about; "I think every defender on the team touched him before he pierced the goal line. It was one of the most impressive runs that I've ever been privileged to see in person."

Now, Foster will try to mimic that run in every facet at the helm of the UCLA Bruins. Combining all he learned at UCLA, as a player and coach, plus in the halls of the Carolina Panthers stadium, DeShaun Foster will look to climb the pyramid once again.

Carolina Panthers running back DeShaun Foster (20) heads upfield against the New England Patriots during Super Bowl  XXXVIII on February 1, 2004 at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas.  The Patriots defeated the Panthers 32-29. (AP Photo/Kevin Terrell)

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