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Rookie Diaries: Dennis Daley's path to the NFL 

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Athletes don’t just wake up one day and decide they want to play in the NFL; it takes time and tools to develop the skills for success. It’s the same way in any walk of life, and Lowe’s through its Track to the Trades program aims to equip its employees with the ability to turn pro in the fields of construction and contracting through educational opportunities. Hopefully they, like the Panthers rookies, will thrive.

CHARLOTTE – The dream of eventually playing professional football was always on Dennis Daley’s mind, but he didn’t allow himself to get caught daydreaming.

“I kept it in the back of my mind, but I always focused on the task at hand,” said Daley, an offensive tackle selected in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL Draft by the Panthers. “I just focused on the opponents I had to face that week and on my techniques and getting better.

“Ultimately that prepared me to take the next step.”

Daley’s journey included some stops and starts, but now the South Carolina native who played the past two seasons for the Gamecocks is starting the pro part of his football career during the Panthers’ organized team activities.

“It’s a day-to-day grind – that’s the best way I can put it,” Daley said. “You just take it one day at a time, and you’ve got to stay on it every day.”

That’s an invaluable lesson that Daley learned under challenging circumstances after his high school career ended. He had to go the junior college route before heading to the University of South Carolina, a two-year experience at Georgia Military College that still sticks with him to this day.

“There’s a saying out there: ‘If you can make it through JUCO, you can make it through anything,’” said Daley, who detailed how the military school instilled self-discipline in him. “During the school year we got up at like 5 a.m. and we had formation at 6:45. … We do our classes early because practice starts at 2:30, so right after you leave class you go straight to practice.

“You get out of practice and you have to run, sprint to dinner. Dinner closes at six so when you get out of practice you have to sprint. ... At 6:50, you have another military formation and then seven o’clock starts study hall. So you’re in study hall from 7:30-9:30. Then you have another military formation at 9:45.”

Daley survived and even thrived at Georgia Military College, paving the way for him to continue his tutelage in the Southeastern Conference. He impressed early, and after spending some time at guard became the Gamecocks’ starting left tackle halfway through his first of two seasons there.

After scoring invitations to the Senior Bowl and the NFL Scouting Combine following graduation, Daley returned to Columbia to continue preparations for the NFL Draft.

“I went back and did a college workout every day, Monday through Friday,” Daley said. “College workouts are real tough, and we added runs before we started lifting and after we finished lifting. Doing that for two months prepared me and had me in shape for being out here.”

The Panthers’ offseason workout program will officially end June 13, at which time Carolina’s veterans will enjoy an extended break before training camp begins in late July. During those weeks leading up to camp, rookies like Daley will take part in an orientation program to continue their indoctrination into the NFL.

That’s just fine by him.

“I’m trying to soak everything in and learn as much as I can,” Daley said. “It’s a surreal feeling to know that I’m actually at the pro level now. It feels real good.”

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