CHARLOTTE – From an early age, Todd Carter knew he possessed a freakishly strong leg.
Carter could tell, but he couldn't bring himself to tell anyone else.
"I was just really shy," the still soft-spoken kicker said. "I was real timid."
Eventually, however, Carter's leg found a way to speak for itself, and now the unheralded free agent finds himself in contention for an NFL roster spot.
Carter joined the Panthers in April and is trying to add his name to the super-short list of kickers to make a roster as a kickoff specialist. The Minnesota Vikings, with former Panthers kickoff specialist Rhys Lloyd, appear to be the only other NFL team considering such an arrangement.
Carter made his case in Saturday's preseason game against the New York Jets, getting touchbacks on both of his kickoffs, including one that nearly sailed out of the end zone.
"Touchbacks, that's what I'm here for," Carter said. "Just kick it straight and far – it's not too hard."
It certainly has been hard, however, for Carter to get noticed for his unique ability – a challenge that predates his search for an NFL job.
Soccer was Carter's chosen sport growing up in Flint, Mich., but no enterprising football coach ever really recognized the damage Carter's leg potentially could have done on the gridiron.
"I used to knock some kids out with the (soccer) ball. At like 10 years old, I was sending kids off the field," Carter said. "I tried to play football in eighth grade. I just wanted to be the kicker. I had two travel soccer teams I was busy with, so I just wanted to do that.
"But they were like, 'No.' So I was like, 'All right.'"
So Carter, still a man of few words to this day, decided not say another word about football. Finally, during his senior year at Carman-Ainsworth High School, a soccer teammate spoke on his behalf.
"One of the football coaches was my math teacher. He had asked another soccer player in the class to kick, and the other kid was like, 'Todd kicks the crap out of the ball,'" Carter said. "It just happened from there.
"My senior year, after just a couple of games, I said, 'I can take this beyond college.'"
Carter might have known it, but nobody else did. He did make enough noise his senior year to earn invitations to walk on at Michigan and Michigan State, but he chose a partial scholarship offer to attend Grand Valley State, a Division II powerhouse two hours west of Flint.
The Lakers continued to pile up acclaim, winning NCAA titles in 2005 and 2006 with Carter kicking off in '05 and adding placekicker duties in '06, but Carter remained anonymous.
That began to change shortly after Carter's senior season concluded in 2008, when Filip Filipovic, a former NFL punter billing himself as "The Kicking Coach," brought his traveling clinic to Grand Valley.
"He had messaged me on Facebook to see if I wanted to help him out with the clinic," Carter said of Filipovic, who punted for the Dallas Cowboys for half of the 2002 season. "He wanted to watch me kick because he heard I had a strong leg.
"I kicked for him, and he's been working with me ever since."
Eventually, with the help of Filipovic, Carter's name gained some notoriety in NFL circles. He wasn't really on the radar come the 2009 draft, but this past March, the Panthers invited him to a workout with two other kickers.
"I kicked all right. It wasn't my best day," Carter said. "But they told me they weren't going to keep talking to the other two guys, that they were just going to talk to me."
On April 6, the Panthers signed Carter, giving him the chance that he's now trying to take advantage of, the chance to shine on the biggest of stages after years spent toiling in silence.
"I've just always had faith in myself," Carter said.