Jarrett Boykin saw his first NFL game at Bank of America Stadium in 2003, when Ricky Proehl caught the game-winning touchdown against Jacksonville in the opener of the Panthers' only Super Bowl season.
A dozen years later it's come full circle for Boykin, who will play for Proehl, the Panthers' receivers coach, after signing a one-year deal with Carolina on Friday.
But Boykin's final two seasons in Green Bay reminded the former Butler High standout the NFL is a tough business, and the homecoming narrative won't mean much if he doesn't stay healthy and produce.
"Nothing's set in stone until I go out there and prove myself on the field," Boykin said during a conference call with reporters. "That's the thing that matters most."
Boykin, 6-foot-2 and 218 pounds, described himself as a physical receiver who's not afraid to make the tough catches. He will compete for playing time in a receiving group that includes second-year wideout Kelvin Benjamin, veteran Jerricho Cotchery, recently reacquired Ted Ginn Jr., Corey (Philly) Brown and Brenton Bersin.
"They've got a great, young talented group. They've got the veteran in Cotchery. They got Ginn back. They've got Philly as a speedster. They've got Benjamin, who had an outstanding year last year," Boykin said. "I feel like that's a great group that's ready to ascend and take a step forwardto become great."
Boykin, undrafted out of Virginia Tech, spent three seasons with Green Bay before becoming a free agent when the Packers chose not to tender him.
Boykin's best year came in 2013 when Randall Cobb was injured most of the season. Boykin, 25, hauled in 49 passes for 681 yards and three touchdowns while starting eight games.
But his production fell off drastically last season with Cobb back in the lineup. Boykin missed three games with a groin injury, lost the No. 3 receiver spot to rookie Davante Adams, and finished with as many dropped passes (three) as catches (three for 23 yards).
"We had Davante Adams and a couple other young guys that stepped in and played pretty well while I was out," Boykin said. "Coming back, I kind of saw my role diminish a little. So I just tried to seize the moment and do whatever I could on special teams to contribute in any way possible."
Boykin said he plans to do the same with Carolina, which is looking to improve a special teams unit that was among the league's worst in 2014.
Boykin was in middle school when his family moved from Chattanooga, Tenn., to Matthews. He was a first-team, all-state selection as a senior at Butler, where he played with Robert Blanton and Eddie Whitley, a pair of defensive backs who are still in the NFL.
Boykin spent offseasons in Charlotte while he played for the Packers. He said his cousin took him to the Panthers' 2003 opener that Proehl won on a 12-yard pass from Jake Delhomme with 16 seconds left.
"It feels pretty good to be coming home. Familiar territory – I'm familiar with the area, people around the area, great supporting cast," Boykin said. "I grew up watching this team."
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