Scott Fowler

From a diaper change to the pass rush, Panthers’ Dontari Poe handles the dirty work

Dontari Poe is a very big man — a 340-pound defensive tackle who will be one of the keys to the Carolina Panthers trying to upset San Francisco on the road Sunday.

Dontari Poe also has a very small son — 13-month-old Jayden Poe. And he wants to be as involved in every aspect of Jayden’s life as possible.

This sometimes presents a problem, especially when Poe and his girlfriend (who is pregnant with their second child) are out on a date night in Charlotte.

“It will be my turn to change Jayden,” Poe said. “And I go to these bathrooms and there never seems to be a changing table in the men’s restrooms. And that’s a big thing — an important thing for dads who are trying to be hands-on.”

So that’s how it came to be that Poe was at Discovery Place (one of Charlotte’s greatest treasures, by the way) in uptown Tuesday. Poe was in one of the men’s restrooms, helping to install a changing table as part of an initiative by Pampers to add 5,000 changing tmen’s restrooms in North America by 2021.

As a father of four kids myself, I ran into this problem frequently during my children’s younger years. Poe said he has, too, sometimes having to resort to going into a public bathroom stall, locking the bathroom door and trying to balance Jayden on his legs while performing a change.

“A table just makes it so much easier,” Poe said.

Dontari Poe and son
Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Dontari Poe poses with his 13-month-old son Jayden at a recent charity event at Discovery Place in Charlotte. Scott Fowler Charlotte Observer

After the installation and a few photos, Poe and I sat on a couch at Discovery Place and talked. Poe’s own father was around very little when Poe grew up in Memphis, he said. When I asked Poe who raised him, he said: “It was pretty much 98 percent my mom and two percent my Dad…. And it’s important for the betterment of the child for the father to be there. I’m enjoying it. I’m loving it. I wouldn’t miss it for nothing.”

As for football, Poe also told me that he played at close to 350 pounds last year but is now playing at 340 and feels “a little faster” for a Panthers’ defense that leads the NFL in sacks.

“He’s playing very well,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said of Poe. “One thing that goes unheralded when the pass rush is going well, and you’re getting a lot of sacks from your outside guys, is the fact that you’ve got good inside push. He’s contributed mightily to that … When the quarterback can’t step up, he’s hanging out there like a sitting duck and our guys have been able to get there.”

The new guy fielding punts

If you’re a Wake Forest fan, you know the name Greg Dortch quite well. He was first-team All-ACC at two different positions for the Demon Deacons in 2018 — as an all-purpose player on offense and as a kick returner on special teams.

For the rest of you, pay attention to Dortch on Sunday. He’s only 5-foot-7 and 175 pounds, but he’s very quick. He’s also the Panthers’ new punt returner after Ray Ray McCloud got fired for fumbling too often.

Dortch, who had been on the New York Jets’ practice squad, will wear No. 14 for Carolina. When I asked him how he felt about that, he said: “I’m just happy to get any number.”

You’ll like Dortch’s philosophy on returning punts, too: “First, secure the ball, because that’s how you lose your job (if you don’t). So catch the ball. And then just try to get north and south quick.”

Prediction time. I moved to 4-2 picking the Panthers’ games after selecting them to beat Tampa Bay in London. Defeating San Francisco on the road, however, is a much taller task. I believe the Panthers’ four-game winning streak will come to an end.

My pick: San Francisco 20, Carolina 16.

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.