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Panthers set practice tempo with hand-picked playlist

Laviska Shenault Jr.

CHARLOTTE – Steve Wilks pointed one finger into the air as the Panthers broke a huddle before Thursday's practice.

Scouting intern Kaleb Leach knew his cue.

Stationed by five speakers with a cell phone in his hand, Leach hit play on "Halftime (Stand Up and Get Crunk!)" by The Ying Yang Twins, and Wilks set the tone.

Carolina's interim coach danced in the huddle, flashing moves calling back to his fraternity days. Energy erupted before the Panthers moved forward with Seahawks preparation, creating an atmosphere of high enthusiasm before zipping through a Week 14 practice day.

Running back D'Onta Foreman felt how Wilks' lively fun impacted the mood.

"(Music) gives you some energy, some up-tempo action," Foreman said. "It's kind of like before the game when you're preparing; you're getting in that rhythm, getting in the mode. It's the same thing at practice."

When the players are in high spirits and practice flows well, Leach knows he's doing a good job as the guy in control of the aux cord.

"That's been the gig," Leach said. "No one has come up to me and said, 'Hey, can you play this list of songs?' It's more like, 'Make it happen, and make sure the vibe is right.' So I'm feeding off these guys every day."

Heading to Seattle this weekend, noise has played a vital role in creating the appropriate practice environment to prepare for a raucous crowd. Leach played a crowd noise mix when the offense practiced, which has been pumped in at multiple points throughout the season. When the defense is out, he returns to the music, a staple in pre-practice warmups and at various moments throughout a typical practice.

Matthew "Los" Delgado, Kaleb Leach, DJ Moore

Leach manned four speakers in an indoor practice Wednesday – doubling the typical number of speakers inside the Atrium Health Dome. He had the mobile sound system for Thursday's outdoor practice, riding with chief of staff Matthew "Los" Delgado around the practice field in a cart with five speakers blaring.

"(We) create a hostile environment for these guys at home, so they're prepared to take their flight and go do what they do," Leach said. "They didn't let the noise and all the yelling and other distractions get to them. They're like, 'All right, we're going to do our job and handle our business.' It was pretty impressive."

There's a formula that goes into the perfect practice playlist, but it's a blend of art and science. Leach takes some requests, like Wilks' Ying Yang Twins that kicked off Thursday. Leach knows defensive tackle Derrick Brown wants to hear rapper Lil Baby every day, cornerback Jaycee Horn will come up to request Young Thug, and Leach knows that Wilks is a "big fan" of Major Nine (also known as former Browns defensive end Chad Thomas, whom Wilks coached in 2019). Leach also stays on top of new releases from artists like Drake and Future, who is one of linebacker Frankie Luvu's favorites.

Leach has been adding songs to the playlist daily since he took over responsibilities before the season, creating a catalog with 471 songs (26 hours of music) to select. He prepares to keep up with the practice flow, moving the tempo in warmups from higher to lower depending on the stretch or drill.

Laviska Shenault Jr., Terrace Marshall Jr.

"You can't play hype music from the get-go," Leach said. "(When) guys are just trickling in, they just want a nice, cool vibe. … As soon as that whistle blows for the first stretch, I need to start getting turned up, and I need to start bouncing around.

"If we're in a live team period, it has to be something that's getting guys moving, bouncing around, dancing a little bit. It's a job."

Wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. is one of the players often spotted dancing between reps, so it comes as no surprise he's an advocate for the impact music can have before playing.

"What's crazy is it's big," Shenault said. "Because the frequency levels and all that the music sends off is supposed to make you feel some type of way, so I think it's big. I don't think it should change what you do, but I think it helps."

Thursday, Wilks got the day going with extra juice before Leach traveled around the field flipping from crowd noise on offense to music on defense.

The speakers set the vibe to ready the Panthers for Seattle, and Leach knows his job has been especially imperative this week.

"It's a really loud stadium, so as much crowd noise as we can pump into the quarterback's head or into the defense and offense," Leach said. "We want to distract you, but we need you to focus on your job. … Coach Wilks is doing a great job leading them, and I'm just the guy that gets to press play. It's pretty fun."

View photos from Thursday's practice as the Panthers prepare to take on the Seahawks.

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