CHARLOTTE – Panthers defensive end Wes Horton was looking for an opportunity to make a positive impact on a personal level with kids growing up in the vicinity of Bank of America Stadium.
Courtnie McIntosh was a Panthers fans looking to further inspire the students in her fledgling nonprofit program that happens to meet just across the street from the stadium.
Horton and McIntosh linked up on LinkedIn, and now Horton knows something new about himself that he wants to share.
"I just feel like I'm doing the Lord's work," said Horton, who seems to have found his off-the-field calling as group mentor leader for the 38 students currently participating in The Academy of Goal Achievers program. "I've been given this platform to play football at the highest level, and I want to use it to help the next generation. In my past I made mistakes that cost me, so to be able to mentor these kids, maybe they can avoid some of the trouble I've gone through."
McIntosh started the organization in 2015 with 13 high school freshmen that are now seniors. The 35-year-old East Mecklenburg graduate recalls feeling alone when she turned her attention to transitioning from high school to college, saying she had to Google how to do it.
Her organization provides that guidance and much more – for both the students and the community at large. Her students are learning to be leaders, and in the process they've impacted more than 1,200 area residents through youth service projects, and throughout the football season Horton is trying to help the kids by sharing his unique perspective.
"You have this image in your mind of what professional athletes are like, but Wes is just so humble and so sincere," McIntosh said. "I knew it was going to be great from when I first met Wes because he was so passionate."
In a 90-minute session every other Tuesday, Horton presents topics to the group for them discuss. His talking points go pretty deep, and the students have responded as they've gotten more comfortable with their session leader.
"Courtnie gave me free reign to take it where I want to take it. We talk about pretty touchy subjects – about relationships with the opposite sex, about culture, about staying right with God," Horton said. "I think it's healthy for them to hear from each other on topics that sometimes people aren't comfortable talking about.
"I hope they get something out of it that will carry down the line and will help them grow and make wise decisions, just help them be the best versions of themselves."