CHARLOTTE – Former Clemson cornerback Garry Peters didn't hear his name called during the 2015 NFL Draft, but he did receive a call during the draft that helped shape where he eventually ended up.
"Coach Wilks hit me up during the draft," Peters said, referring to Panthers' assistant head coach Steve Wilks, who also coaches Carolina's defensive backs. "He was the first one to contact me, and he sounded so genuine. It felt like home for me."
Now Peters is beginning the process of making Carolina his permanent home.
An All-Atlantic Coast Conference first-team selection who few opponents chose to challenge last season, Peters received the highest grade among draft-eligible cornerbacks from Pro Football Focus in 2014. But Peters ran a 4.61 in the 40-yard dash and recorded just seven bench press reps at the NFL Scouting Combine, numbers that didn't ease concerns about his straight-line speed and strength.
His college credentials, however, made him a hot commodity as an undrafted free agent.
"I was kind of sad (about not being drafted), but all in all, it's a blessing for me," Peters said. "A lot of guys wish they could be in my position, so I have to take it and run with it."
Peters grew up in the Atlanta area and closely followed quarterback Cam Newton even before Newton first donned a Panthers uniform, but Peters also followed the Falcons carefully. He's watched the Panthers play his hometown team countless times, and Mike Reed - his position coach at Clemson – was the Panthers' final selection in their first draft in 1995.
Peters said it all made his arrival in Carolina feel "surreal," but it became real at the Panthers' recent rookie minicamp.
"It was pretty much like I expected. I just didn't realize everybody would be as nice and as cordial as we were out here. Everybody's been friendly," Peters said. "Coach (Ron) Rivera comes up to me, makes me feel just like a regular guy around here, like I'm already a part of the team.
"For a guy to show me love like that, it makes me feel good and makes me want to play harder for him and this team."
The minicamp provided Peters with his first of several opportunities to prove he belongs among a competitive group of cornerbacks. He acquitted himself well but knows he still has a lot to learn on and off the practice field.
"It's harder than in college, where your life is pretty much planned out for you. You just don't know what to expect," Peters said. "You have to work hard and take care of your body, and nobody is telling you what to do. You have to do it on your own. That's the biggest part of the transition."
Peters believe his skill set will transfer from college to the pros. He described himself as a "physical shutdown corner" but seems to understand that it will take hard work to achieve the level of success he enjoyed at Clemson.
He also seems willing to do whatever it takes.
"I'm trying to come in and help this team right away – whether that be on special teams or as a starter or coming off the bench. Whatever they need, I'm here," Peters said. "I love the spot I'm in. I love the things that I can possibly offer to this team."