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Panthers rookies get a chance to learn from experience

Thomas Davis

CHARLOTTE — The spring is the time when NFL rookies get thrown into the deep end.

For the Panthers rookies, they at least know now that they have some lifeguards watching over them.

A group of Panthers Legends met with this year's rookie class this week, and shared over a meal the kind of wisdom that only comes from successfully surviving a rookie year — and what lies beyond.

As former Panthers defensive end Mike Rucker told the group, they didn't have to worry about any of the old guys competing for their jobs; they were simply there to offer "as much or as little advice as you might want."

And there was a wide variety of perspectives in the room for the rookies to tap into.

At one table, first-rounder Ikem Ekwonu and sixth-rounder Cade Mays sat on either side of Matt Campbell.

Campbell, now the athletic director at Lugoff-Elgin High School in South Carolina, was one of the original 10 Panthers players, a former tight end turned offensive lineman signed well before the inaugural season. So he was able to joke with wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad at the next table about being "the original number 87."

Muhammad came into the league as a second-round pick and played 14 years in the league.

But in a room full of undrafted rookies, most of whom face long odds to make the team, there were plenty of other perspectives to draw from.

Former Panthers quarterback Brett Basanez, who now works in the medical equipment industry, told the rookies flatly that he's made far more money since leaving the NFL than he ever did playing. So he encouraged them to network, and take advantage of all the doors that opened to players beyond the locker room.

Former tight end Luther Broughton told them about the importance of "saying no," a lesson he heard because he was fortunate enough to have gone to the same high school as longtime NFL defensive lineman Robert Porcher (Cainhoy High in Huger, S.C.).

"The NFL stands for 'not for long,' so this is the only time you need to be selfish, for your own good," Broughton reminded the crowd of young players.

Former safety Nate Salley also emphasized the need to serve others, telling the rookies to "be clear on why you're here, and to live a life aligned with that."

There was as much talk about off-field and post-career opportunities as football itself, though there was plenty of football talk. But at the end of the night, contacts were made, numbers were exchanged, and a new class of rookies joined the family.

Rookie linebacker Brandon Smith called it "a positive night," and said he didn't expect to be embraced so warmly.

"I mean, these guys don't know us, but everybody in here is looking out for our best interests," Smith said. "I didn't know there would be this kind of care for us, just because we're part of the Panthers organization now. It shows a lot for them to do this, and that they'd welcome us here like that. It's good to know you're part of something bigger than yourself."

View photos from the annual Panthers Rookies and Legends dinner where the 2022 rookie class met with a number of former Panthers to get insight into the successful careers of NFL alumni.

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