CHARLOTTE – On Tuesday, kicker Graham Gano was promoting a Fuel Up to Play 60 message at West Mecklenburg High School. It was his second Panthers community event is as many weeks.
Since he arrived in Charlotte 10 games into the 2012 season, Gano has embraced the community and attends as many events as he can.
"Charlotte reminds me a lot of home," said Gano, who is from Pensacola, Fla. "The people are really nice. (My family) loves the area."
And after signing a contract extension, Gano – who was going to become an unrestricted free agent next week – is set to make Charlotte his home for the next four years.
"I was very excited to be able to set my family up for the future and not have to worry," Gano said. "It feels really good. It's something I've worked for for a long, long time."
This four-year deal with the Panthers is one Gano long coveted.
As is the case with the majority of kickers, Gano went undrafted in 2009 after graduating from Florida State.
His first NFL opportunity came shortly after the draft when he attended training camp with the Baltimore Ravens. But he was waived before the start of the regular season.
With only 32 place-kicking jobs available in the NFL, the chances are slim. So Gano kicked for the Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football League in 2009.
The Washington Redskins came calling in December of 2009, and he spent the last four games of the season with the club. He went on to kick for the Redskins in 2010 and 2011. But his tenure with Washington ended when he was cut prior to the start of the 2012 regular season.
Carolina signed him during the 2012 season to replace struggling kicker Justin Medlock. Gano impressed, connecting on nine of 11 attempts in the final six games.
He impressed again in 2013, making a career-best 88.9 percent of his field goals on 24-of-27 kicks while converting all 42 of his extra points.
That production earned Gano his new deal.
"I definitely feel fortunate," Gano said. "Without different coaches giving me opportunities I wouldn't be here, I wouldn't have had this opportunity with the Panthers. I feel like it is definitely a blessing."
The Panthers made a commitment to Gano, but he knows job security is a relative term, particularly for a kicker.
"I don't know if you can say it is a good level of security, because every week I am still going to have to go out and perform," Gano said. "But knowing that the team has the confidence and the faith in me to sign me to a four-year deal is definitely exciting.
"I'm going to keep working hard every single day. Nothing is going to change for me. I'm going to keep getting better."
Kicking in the NFL is a pressure-packed job. And while there may have been more lucrative offers on the open market, Gano didn't want to do it anywhere else but in Charlotte with the Panthers.
"This is definitely what we'd hoped for. This is where we wanted to be," Gano said. "The city keeps growing, and we are looking forward to growing with it."