For two straight games now, Brandon Wegher has been one of the unlikely standouts of one-point exhibition wins for the Carolina Panthers.
The undrafted rookie free agent scored once – on a 42-yard pass – in Carolina’s 25-24 win against Buffalo on Aug. 14. Then he doubled down by scoring twice – on runs of 9 and 4 yards – in Carolina’s 31-30 home win against Miami Saturday night. Wegher and quarterback Joe Webb have been the brightest stars in both those victories.
“He’s been doing a great job,” Webb said. “I’ve been looking for him every time I’m in trouble – you know, ‘Where’s Brandon?’ And he comes to save the day.”
Some of this is soon going to fade away, when the regular season starts and third-stringers don’t play other third-stringers in the fourth quarter with games on the line. But maybe not all of it. Wegher is on the brink of making the Panthers’ team – or at least the practice squad – after an uneven college career in which he enrolled in four colleges.
Said Panthers coach Ron Rivera late Saturday night of Wegher: “Brandon is an interesting young man. .... He and Cameron Artis-Payne are two young, exciting backs. Brandon is most certainly going to make it tough on us as we try to figure out who our 53 are. He really is deserving of our attention right now.”
Of his chances to win a spot on the 53-man roster, Wegher said: “I don’t know. It’s up in the air. The only thing I can do is come in every day and fight for a job.”
Wegher said that while keeping a protective arm on his 4-year-old son, Brody, in the Panthers locker room. Brody wore a “Dad 32” jersey to mimic his father’s number and carefully spelled his first name for reporters. “He just started preschool,” Wegher said proudly.
Brody told his father to spike the ball if he scored Saturday night, and sure enough Wegher executed a flawless between-the-legs spike after his first TD.
“The most difficult thing for me has been being away from my family,” Wegher said of his son and his fiance, Megan Glisar, who is an All-American college high jumper in South Dakota. “My family is still up in South Dakota. This is the first time I’ve seen Brody since camp started (July 29).”
Wegher’s latest move, to Charlotte, came after he wasn’t drafted in the 2015 draft despite rushing for an NAIA-record 2,610 yards at Morningside (Iowa) College. At 5-10 and 215 pounds, Wegher isn’t particularly big, but NFL teams might also been scared off by character concerns.
Wegher scored eight touchdowns as a freshman at Iowa, his original school, but by the next season had left the team for undisclosed personal reasons.
He would later briefly go to school at Oklahoma and Iowa Western but didn’t play in either place. He was arrested once on a misdemeanor charge of public intoxication and later arrested for misdemeanor domestic assault after an altercation with his brother (who did not sustain serious injuries).
He wound up reviving his football career at Morningside, where he was once again a star but at a much lower level of college football. Wegher told The Observer in May he had received “second, third and fourth” chances to make it and was determined not to let this one slip.
With the Panthers, Wegher has sometimes struggled in pass protection. But in space with the ball, he is dangerous. He is tied for the NFL lead in preseason touchdowns with three.
“Great vision, great speed, he break tackles – he’s a complete back,” Webb said.
The final roster spot at running back could come down to Wegher and Fozzy Whittaker, who was a preseason star much like Wegher only one year ago and scored a touchdown in Carolina’s playoff win against Arizona but who has yet to perform as well this preseason.
Wegher does not seem to be one for drama. This is the way he described his two TDs Saturday: “The first one, that was my first play of the game. I just got in there, had my reads and found my way to the end zone. The second one, I broke it outside and found the end zone again.”
Then again, drama cropped up in his life with regularity in the early part of his collegiate life.
Now 24, Wegher said he has put those mistakes behind him and believes he can succeed in the NFL. Two exhibitions is a very limited sample size, but so far it looks like he just might be right.