Carolina Panthers

What did Panther players do before the NFL? Let them tell you about their first jobs.

Do you remember your first job?

Sure you do.

First jobs are one of those things that make an indelible impression. Getting a paycheck. Seeing how far it will stretch, and bemoaning the taxes that fly out of it. Buying something with your own money.

Luke Kuechly sure remembers. “The first job you ever had gives you a real idea of what money is, you know what I mean?” the linebacker said.

All the Panthers work at the same job now — pro football player for a 4-2 Carolina team that next plays at San Francisco (6-0) Sunday in a game that will likely have some playoff implications.

But what were the Panthers’ players doing before this? I interviewed several current team members about their own first jobs outside of football, and the lessons that those jobs taught them. Here are some of the best responses, in the players’ own words.

Kuechly: “This was in high school, in Ohio. I worked at my Dad’s place, where they sold auto parts. It was called J&N Auto Electric. He’s sold it now.

“I worked in the warehouse and I would pick up orders. I would go to the computer screen, print off the order from a customer and then it would have where all the stuff was located in the warehouse. I’d go get a big gray cart, and you had to fill up these bins with all the parts. And it wasn’t air-conditioned in there.

“It was hot. You work however long you work in the day and by the time you get your check sometimes you’re like, ‘Dang, that’s it?’ And you start to realize that stuff costs money, and then you start to assign value to money. Like if my mom goes to the grocery store and she buys a gallon of milk and the gallon of milk costs this, then you start to run it back in your head and you’re like ‘Dang, that’s a half hour of work!’

“It assigns more value to stuff we had growing up and that’s one of the things I learned most about it. Because once I was working, my Dad’s like, ‘You’ve got money now. You can go buy things if you want them. And then it starts to teach you: ‘Oh, do I really need it?’ You start to understand what 20 bucks really means.”

Carolina Panthers offensive guard Greg Van Roten worked at a plant nursery for his first paid job. He said it taught him both “the value of a dollar” and how to pack a trunk so expertly it looks like Russell Crowe in “A Beautiful Mind” did it for him. Jeff Siner

Offensive guard Greg Van Roten: “I had a family friend that owned a nursery – like plants and trees and stuff. So I worked there. I’d help people bag their stuff, bring it to their car, put it in their cars and stuff like that. You’re working for tips pretty much.

“I don’t know if I even got paid minimum wage. I was young. Naïve. But that honestly taught me the value of a dollar. It’s hot out. Sometimes you’ve got to move trees. And heavy pots and plants. And bags of soil.

“No, it didn’t help me know how to identify plants. I couldn’t tell you what things are, even now. But do you know what I’m really good at? Packing things. I’m like a Tetris 3D for your car trunk. When I come down for training camp, my car is packed up and I’ve got everything where it needs to be. I see it all in three dimensions. It’s like ‘A Beautiful Mind.’”

Cornerback James Bradberry: “I worked at a Boys & Girls club as a counselor. I started that when I was only 15 years old. I did it in the summer and during school breaks.

“That place really had an impact on me. I started going there when I was seven years old – the Boys & Girls Club of Central Alabama. Then I came a counselor-in-training at 13 or 14, and then they hired me at 15.

“At the time, I really liked it. I don’t know if I’ve got as much patience anymore (laughs), but I had a lot of patience then. I try to go back there still at least once every year to go hang with those kids.”

Carolina Panthers cornerback Javien Elliott had his first job at a T.J. Maxx in Florida. Jeff Siner

Cornerback Javien Elliott: “In Florida, my first job was in high school – I worked at T.J. Maxx. I always was interested in clothes, and I wanted to work in retail. That was a pretty good job. I did a little bit of everything, and I got a 10 percent employee discount, too.”

Long snapper J.J. Jansen: “After my junior year in college at Notre Dame, I was a six-week summer intern at a small accounting firm in Phoenix. That’s really the only non-football job I ever had.

“It taught me a few things, and one was that I don’t believe I will ever be an accountant. I realized, in hindsight, that accounting wasn’t something that got me that fired up. I will do something in finance or investing or analytics when football is over, though, because numbers make sense to me.”

Cornerback Donte Jackson: “I worked at a playground, and it was the same playground I had played on growing up (in Louisiana). Sometimes I’d be picking up juice boxes, and sometimes I’d just be playing games with some other kids. At the time, I used the money mostly to buy some shoes that I wanted. It was a great job, really. I was glad to have it.”

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 hosted the Observer’s hit podcast “Carruth,” which Sports Illustrated named the best podcast of the year in 2018.