CHARLOTTE – J.J. Jansen had life figured out in August 2008.
He was engaged to his high school sweetheart, Laura, and the undrafted rookie had earned a job as the Packers' long snapper. But with five minutes left in Green Bay's preseason finale, and with his fiancée sitting in the front row two days after she had moved up there, Jansen tore his LCL while running down the field in punt coverage.
Such is life.
"It was a good ride," Jansen recalled thinking back then. "I had an accounting degree, so the logical next step was to start studying for the CPA."
Fortunately for Jansen, the injury didn't force him to enter the real world after spending the entire 2008 season on injured reserve. In what was a decent market for long snappers that next spring, Kansas City and Seattle talked to Green Bay about a trade. So did the Panthers, who were hesitant to fork over the cash it would take to re-sign 15-year veteran Jason Kyle.
The Panthers and Packers eventually agreed on a deal that sent Jansen to Charlotte in exchange for a 2011 seventh-round pick. But when told of the trade, a question superseded Jansen's excitement for a second shot.
"Carolina Panthers? I didn't really know they were in Charlotte," the Phoenix native and Notre Dame product admitted. "The franchise at the time was 13 years old. I wasn't really familiar with the Carolinas. It was the one part of the country that I wasn't super familiar with."
But this is a story about something happening for a reason, because when asked if he ever thinks about what would have happened if he had never injured his knee, Jansen matter-of-factly said: "I wouldn't be in the league."
That's because Green Bay's punter and kicker at the time – Jon Ryan and Mason Crosby – had a combined five years of experience.
"It would have been the blind leading the blind," Jansen said.
In Carolina, Jansen joined punter Jason Baker and kicker John Kasay, who had spent a combined 28 seasons in the league.
"Everything that I've accomplished here has been by the grace of God and because I had two really good mentors at the beginning of my career to show me the ropes," Jansen said. "They taught me how to be a pro long snapper.
"In college and high school, it's about firing it as hard as you can. They taught me how to manage conditions, how to help out the punters and kickers and all sorts of things about being a pro that I needed to learn."
Nine years after he landed in Charlotte, Jansen has handled every snap on punts, field goals and extra points in each of the Panthers' 141 games. And of those 1,000-plus snaps, only one – on a punt in the 2010 season opener when the ball slipped out of his hands – was notably bad.
"When you have a guy like J.J., you don't have to think about it," said interim general manager Marty Hurney, who in his first stint with the Panthers pulled the trigger on the Jansen trade. "Long snappers are hard to find when you don't have one, and when you have a consistent one like J.J., it takes that off the table."
A year-and-a-half after Kasay's final season in Carolina, Graham Gano took over kicking duties. And like most guys at his position, Gano wants everything just right before a boot.
"I feel like that's where the confidence in a kicker starts is with a snapper," Gano said. "You want to know that the ball's going to be consistently going to be in the same spot and with J.J. you have no doubts. So I think he's the glue that holds the whole unit together."
A unit that includes punter and holder Michael Palardy.
"I've never once doubted or questioned or had a lack of trust with (Jansen) and his ability to put the ball where it needs to be, whether it's field goal or whether it's punt," Palardy said. "And I think that goes back to his incredible attention to detail."
A bookworm who's fascinated with the world of finance, Jansen will likely end up putting that accounting degree to use when his playing days are done. But for a guy who didn't even know where his new employer was way back when, things sure have worked out for the Charlotte resident and father of three.
"It was pretty obvious to me within a short period of time that I was supposed to be here," Jansen said. "And like I said, it's probably the one team in the NFL that I couldn't have picked out on a map. I couldn't have planned this."
View photos from the week of practice leading up to the Panthers' game against the Packers.