SPARTANBURG — There’s only one player on the current Carolina Panthers roster who was at the franchise’s inaugural game in 1995.
Flanked by his father, mother and brother, 5-year-old Brenton Bersin sat in the stands at Clemson’s Memorial Stadium and cheered on his hometown’s newest professional sports team.
Now 22 years old, Bersin is a wide receiver for the Panthers learning from Steve Smith at training camp and showing teammates around Wofford’s campus as a newly minted graduate.
“Born and raised in Charlotte and playing for the Panthers, it’s awesome,” said Bersin, who described the entire experience as surreal. “Also graduating from Wofford in the spring and coming back here for camp, it’s another home just like Charlotte and it’s been really comfortable.”
The Terriers’ leading receiver three straight seasons, Bersin admitted he wasn’t looking to get drafted when he began his college career. Wofford runs a triple option that saw three rushers gain at least 700 rushing yards, whereas Bersin tallied only 23 receptions for 424 yards.
Wofford coaches told Bersin, a business and finance double major, to work hard in 2011 and pointed to recent alumni like safety Tommy Irvin and wide receiver Andy Strickland as players who made it out of the small school and got a chance with NFL teams.
As day three of the NFL draft came and went without hearing his name called, Bersin and his agent fielded calls from multiple teams. Ultimately, the decision came down to the Pittsburgh Steelers and his hometown Panthers.
“My agent said the Panthers were interested, and of course I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s do that,’ ” Bersin said. “Initially we chose the Steelers because we thought it was a better fit, but we ended up choosing the Panthers, and that was a dream come true.”
Not only had Bersin watched the Panthers since their first game, but his dad also had a house two doors down from team owner Jerry Richardson. Bersin met Richardson on a couple of occasions during his time at Wofford, and the two share a school record with nine receiving touchdowns in one season—a feat Bersin accomplished his junior year.
“He’s been a pleasant surprise in terms of his ability to find the open spot and sit down and make catches,” head coach Ron Rivera said. “He’s a very sure-handed guy and especially coming from a school here that’s known for running the football.”
Like most teams in training camp, the Panthers are loaded with depth at wide receiver. No fewer than 15 players are listed at the position on the current roster. He can be spotted hauling in passes from Jimmy Clausen on the third-string team. But as a local, he’s been around the team longer than some new players, and that may work in his favor.
“The nice thing that helped him is he was able to be around from the end of the mini-camps in Charlotte. That bodes well for him,” Rivera said. “He had an opportunity to be around other players. When we did the rookie camps, he was there, too. He has flashed some. It’s a long road, especially when you’re a free-agent rookie.”
The adjustment from college to the pros is a work in progress for Bersin, but the first week has been fairly comfortable for him. Meetings, practices and walk-throughs are nothing out of the ordinary, and the scenery is still the same.
Fellow rookies have asked Bersin to point them in the direction of meetings on campus, knowing that the new receiver has gotten to know the lay of the land in the past four years.
On Wednesday night, fullback Mike Tolbert took Bersin’s advice and went with the rookie and his agent to Gerhard’s Café on East Main Street. The European-American restaurant is owned by the parents of Bersin’s former Wofford teammate Josef Grommer, and he believes his public endorsement should at least get him some sort of commendation.
“I’ll have to tell Gromer that,” Bersin said. “He’ll have to give me a little high five for that one.”