Carolina Panthers

A wide receiver who Cam Newton nicknamed ‘Pudgy’? Yes, the Panthers have that.

The best NFL wide receivers often have cool nicknames. Jerry Rice was “World.” Terrell Owens was “T.O.” Calvin Johnson was “Megatron.”

And then there’s Terry Godwin, the rookie wide receiver and punt returner for the Carolina Panthers.

He goes by “Pudgy.”

The nickname was bestowed by quarterback Cam Newton, as so many nicknames surrounding the Panthers are. How did it come about?

“Basically, I’ve got a gut,” Godwin said, smiling and reaching down to pat his belly. “So he calls me ‘Pudgy.’”

Godwin doesn’t look like he has anything approaching a gut — at least not how you or I would define one — but he’s not quite as svelte as your average NFL wideout. The former University of Georgia Bulldog is listed at 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, although that weight isn’t exactly right.

“Right now, I’m 193,” Godwin said. As for the nickname: “It started off with Cam in the offseason, when I started working out with him. And he said ‘Pudgy,’ and it just stuck from there.”

Yes, it has certainly stuck. As we were doing our interview on one of the Panthers’ practice fields at Wofford College, a group of Godwin’s teammates came riding by on a golf cart.

“Pudgy! Pudgy!” they screamed.

When Godwin raced 57 yards with a punt return this past Thursday in a preseason game against Chicago but didn’t score — he said he “most definitely” should have — his teammates were waiting to rib him on the sidelines. As Godwin recounted it, his teammates congratulated him, but then said: “’Pudgy, you’re supposed to score! Good return, but next time we need you to score, man — and we need to get some of that weight off you!’ They (were) kind of messing with me.”

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Carolina Panthers wide receiver Terry Godwin (17) looked fast and elusive while averaging 39.5 yards on two punt returns in preseason last week. Godwin is a rookie from Georgia who was Carolina’s seventh-round draft pick in 2019. David T. Foster III

Godwin got a second chance with another punt return, and on that one he gained 22 yards. It was an impressive special-teams start for a seventh-round draft pick trying to make the Panthers any way he can.

Godwin doesn’t have the burning speed of, say, a Curtis Samuel or a Ted Ginn Jr. But he has exhibited an early knack on punt returns for Carolina, even though he only returned a total of seven punts in four years as a Bulldog.

As a former high school baseball player, Godwin was good enough to once be drafted in the 33rd round by the Atlanta Braves in 2015.

Godwin chose football, but some of the same skills have translated. A former centerfielder, Godwin said he treats punts like a fly ball with a runner on third trying to tag up: You try to catch the ball on the dead run so you can get some momentum behind you on the throw.

“I’m great with judging the ball and kind of having a feel for where my defenders are,” Godwin said, “and just being able to sit on my blocks and let my teammates work for me.”

The Panthers have been working him as a slot receiver as well as punt returner.

“Terry has a unique skill in terms of punt-return ability,” Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. “He flashed that the other night. He’s a physical receiver… who’s willing to block downfield. He played very well Thursday on special teams. I’m just excited he’s stepping up.”

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Carolina Panthers rookies Elijah Holyfield and Terry Godwin (17) -- who were also teammates at the University of Georgia -- share a laugh during an offseason workout. David T. Foster III

Godwin knows Newton better than most of Carolina’s rookies do. He played on Newton’s 7-on-7 all-star team while in high school in Georgia, and he also went to San Diego to work out with Newton and a number of Carolina’s other skill-position players over the summer.

He had a respectable career at Georgia, scoring 13 touchdowns over the course of four seasons and averaging more than 16 yards per catch as a junior and senior. However, he only had more than 400 receiving yards for a season once in four years with the Bulldogs and was hampered as a senior by knee and calf injuries. That’s part of the reason he lasted until the seventh round in April.

“I think I have great hands. I run great routes,” Godwin said. “ … I feel like I’m a great possession receiver who also can make big plays as well.”

As for the “Pudgy” nickname, Godwin understands it’s all in fun. As long as he makes the team, he doesn’t really care what anybody calls him. A nickname is a sign of belonging, after all — and Godwin just wants to belong.

“I’m putting all my trust in God,” Godwin said, “and I know he’ll lead me in right direction. If it’s meant to be here, I’ll be here.”

Sports columnist Scott Fowler has written for the Charlotte Observer since 1994. He has authored or co-authored eight books, including four about the Carolina Panthers. In 2018, Fowler won the Thomas Wolfe award for outstanding newspaper writing. He also is the host of the Observer’s hit podcast “Carruth.”