As a child growing up in Morrocroft Estates, the gated community in south Charlotte, Brenton Bersin attended an annual spring barbecue at a neighbor’s house.
Bersin and the other neighborhood kids would drink sodas and play football in the backyard while their parents ate and visited with their host – Panthers owner Jerry Richardson.
“He’s been scouting me out since I was 10,” Bersin said.
Bersin’s family lived two doors down from Richardson. And after a successful career at Charlotte Latin, Bersin chased Richardson’s receiving records at Wofford.
Now he’ll play for Richardson’s team.
Bersin is one of 12 undrafted free agents signed by the Panthers, but the only one who got grass stains playing in Richardson’s yard and butterflies watching games from Richardson’s suite at Bank of America Stadium.
“It was a weird feeling,” Bersin said of the times Richardson invited neighbors to join him in his box. “My dad was like, ‘Don’t freak out. It’s a normal game, normal seat. Just have fun.’”
“It was awesome,” Bersin added. “Unlimited Cokes and hot dogs, whatever you wanted.”
What Bersin wants now is to claim a roster spot for his hometown team. Bersin, born in 1990, is a first-generation Panthers fan who attended the team’s first ‘home’ game at Clemson in 1995.
Given the Panthers’ strong ties to Wofford – team president Danny Morrison played basketball for the Terriers – cynics might think the Panthers threw a bone to a Terrier in signing Bersin.
They would be wrong.
Bersin, 6-3, 210 pounds, had a free agent offer from Pittsburgh and drew interest from Baltimore before deciding his best opportunity was with the Panthers. When he first heard the Panthers were scouting him, Bersin thought the scenario of playing for them was too good to be true.
“I was like, that’s too perfect. It was honestly like a dream,” he said. “And it’s happened.”
It happened only after Bersin, overlooked by bigger schools, accepted a scholarship offer to Wofford, which – with its enrollment of 1,500 students – is the smallest football-playing school in Division I. Bersin liked Wofford’s academic reputation and its proximity to Charlotte.
A bad choice?
But for a wide receiver, choosing a program that runs the triple option looked like career suicide.
“We sat here for the longest time saying, why go to Wofford?” said Larry McNulty, the Charlotte Latin coach. “If you want to catch the football, you’re going to touch it about three times a game.”
Bersin averaged less than three receptions a game during three years as a starter. But he made the most of them, averaging 17 yards a catch as a senior.
“We don’t throw the ball much, but when we do there’s chances for big plays,” Bersin said. “You get 1-on-1 coverage because everybody’s going to be in the box trying to stop the run.”
Bersin finished fifth in school history with 1,567 receiving yards, and his 15 touchdown receptions rank third on the Terrier’s career list. In 2010, Bersin hauled in nine touchdown catches, tying the record held by his former neighbor.
Bersin could have broken Richardson’s record if a Chattanooga defensive back hadn’t interfered with him in the end zone during the last game of the season.
Bersin is friends with Johnson Richardson, the owner’s grandson who played tight end for the Terriers. Johnson Richardson texted Bersin Saturday night after hearing he’d agreed to terms with the Panthers.
Bersin watched the draft at his Spartanburg apartment with his roommates, girlfriend and older brother, Bradford, a Naval nuclear officer in Charleston. He never saw his name scrolled during ESPN’s draft coverage, but was elated to receive the call from his agent saying the Panthers wanted him.
“Me and my brother just freaked out because we’re huge Panthers fans,” Bersin said. “And it was just a perfect scenario.”
If Bersin makes the Panthers’ training camp roster, he’ll be on familiar ground. He remembers saying hello to former Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers when Bersin was a freshman at Wofford, where the Panthers train.
“I think it’s exciting for both parties,” Morrison said. “But the bottom line is our coaches and our scouts evaluate on merit. The Wofford connection’s an added bonus.”
McNulty, the Latin coach, said in high school Bersin would stand flat-footed under a basketball goal, jump and throw down a two-handed reverse dunk. Bersin racked up 264 yards of total yards in Latin’s state championship win over Charlotte Christian in 2007, and covered a lot of ground in center field during baseball season.
McNulty called Bersin the best athlete he’s coached, ahead of New York Giants defensive tackle and Latin grad Chris Canty. Still, Bersin is a longshot to make the Panthers’ 53-man roster.
“If (Bersin) can stay healthy and do the right things in camp, who knows?” McNulty said. “He’s 6-foot-3 plus, and with his shirt off he looks like he’s chiseled.”
Bersin, who ran the 40 in 4.56 seconds at Wofford’s pro day, wants to show the Panthers he belongs. Punter Brandon Kale, the only other Wofford player to sign with the Panthers, was cut after minicamp in 2000.
But there is precedent for a Wofford receiver succeeding in the NFL – and beyond.
“Back in the day there was a guy named Jerry Richardson who got a shot in the pros and did better probably than a lot of people thought he would,” Wofford coach Mike Ayers said. “Might be the same story for him.
“I don’t know if at the end of the day he’ll be the head of a NFL franchise. But Brenton will be successful in football and after football.”
Panthers sign 12
The Carolina Panthers announced the signing of 12 undrafted free agents Monday:
Brenton Bersin, WR, Wofford
Will Blackwell, G, LSU
Nate Chandler, DL, UCLA
Jared Green, WR, Southern
Wes Kemp, WR, Missouri
Tarren Lloyd, TE, Utah State
Princeton McCarty, RB, Idaho
Tauren Poole, RB, Tennessee
Matt Reynolds, OL, BYU
Lyndon Rowells, RB, Humboldt State
Ryan Van Bergen, DE, Michigan
Rico Wallace, WR, Shenandoah