CHARLOTTE – As a small child, Will Grier watched Wesley Walls catch touchdown passes in Ericsson Stadium. Grier loved wearing his DeShaun Foster jersey and loved watching Steve Smith do Steve Smith things.
When Grier was a little older, he listened intently as Cam Newton, fresh off winning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, spoke to 7-on-7 high school teams gathered at the Bank of America Stadium practice fields for a tournament.
Those are cherished memories for a Panthers football fan for life. For a Panthers football fan now set to share practice reps with Newton, now in position to possibly throw some touchdown passes of his own inside his hometown team's stadium.
"It's overwhelming," Grier said after the Panthers picked him in the third round of the NFL Draft late Friday night. "Unbelievable. Unbelievable opportunity. I couldn't be more excited. I don't even have to move. I'm here. This is my team. It's what I've always wanted."
What the Panthers wanted was a talented young quarterback to develop behind Newton, their No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. That was the last time Carolina had drafted a quarterback before Friday, when they pulled the trigger not because of Grier's ties to Charlotte but because of his potential to strengthen the roster in support of the franchise quarterback.
"I'm grateful for the opportunity, and football is a team sport – it's the greatest team sport there is. The goal is to win at the end of the day, and it's my job to ready to play whenever my name is called," said Grier, who considers himself the best quarterback in his draft class but knows who's the best quarterback in the building.
"With the situation as it is right now, I'm going to give Cam as much support as I can, try to do everything I can to try to make him a better player and play my role on the team, whatever that might be. Part of my job is to stay ready, whether it's now or a couple of years down the road."
It will be an adjustment for Grier, but one he sounds more than willing to make.
When Newton addressed Grier and the other prep players seven years ago before that seven-on-seven event, Grier was already a coveted college recruit helping Davidson Day light up scoreboards. Grier went on to star at the University of Florida for a half a season before being suspended for violating NCAA policy on performance-enhancing substances, then he starred at West Virginia the past two seasons.
With the Panthers, he'll sit behind a star.
"I look so forward to just learning from him, being in the same room with him, watching what he does," Grier said. "Unbelievable player. I have the utmost respect for what he's done and how talented he is and how he's handled himself throughout his entire career.
"It's really an honor to play with him. He's a baller. He's one of the best to ever do it. I couldn't be more excited."