Kelvin Benjamin playing for his mother

CHARLOTTE – Kelvin Benjamin's pain is unimaginable. He's managing the best he can.

Seemingly out of nowhere, the Panthers wide receiver lost his mother, who passed away not long before the start of training camp.

"That was my everything, man," said Benjamin, speaking on Tuesday for the first time since her death. "Through thick and thin, she raised me. She was always there for me. If I ever needed someone to talk to, if I had a bad game, or if the media was getting on me or social media was getting on me – my mom was always there. I lost somebody dear to my heart."

Benjamin has good days and not-so-good days. Football occupies most of his time and energy, and it's certainly a welcomed distraction, but the hurt is always present.

"I didn't really have time to grieve," said the 26-year-old, who's the youngest of four. "I had to get right back into football. It kept me grinding."

As you'd expect, teammates and coaches have been there for him in his time of need, and Benjamin's resilience has made an impression on everyone.

"For him to be as functional as he is, and for people who know Benji like a lot of us do, he shows a lot of strength mentally to come back from what has happened in his life," quarterback Cam Newton said. "He's playing with a purpose.

"I feel like this is going to be his best year. I'm not just blowing smoke… He's positioned himself to make that come true."

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After leaping and reaching high for a 23-yard touchdown reception in Carolina's first preseason game against Houston last month, Benjamin pointed to the sky.

Two weeks later, after he reeled in a 9-yard touchdown reception against the Jaguars, he pointed to the sky.

When he's on the field, Benjamin is thinking about his mother "pretty much all the time." 

"I'm playing for my mom," Benjamin said of the 2017 season. "I'm dedicating every snap, every play, every time I step on the field for my mom."

As Newton mentioned, Benjamin's strength has been on full display throughout the preseason. Physically, he's manhandled defensive backs. Mentally, the battle has been far more challenging.

"It's been a tough (offseason)," Benjamin said. "From losing my mom, starting OTAs with the weight problems and the bullying on social media – stuff like that. But I'm built for it. My mom raised me right.

"I feel strong."

Even stronger than we may have known.

View photos from the Panthers' week of practice leading up to their game at San Francisco.

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