It won’t be long before the Carolina Panthers are back inside Bank of America Stadium for another season of NFL football. Until then, consider making a trip to the team’s training camp in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
If you go, here’s what you can expect:
The drive: Wofford College, home of the training camp since the team’s inaugural season in 1995, is an easy drive from Charlotte — about 75 miles straight down Interstate-85. On most days, practice starts at 10:30 a.m., so give yourself plenty of time for traffic and parking. (Click here for a practice schedule.) When I drove down there, there was contruction on the highway, so leave early to give yourself some extra time to make it through traffic.
When you arrive: Training camp is free and open to the public. When you arrive on Wofford’s campus, guides are there to show you where to park and direct you toward the practice fields. The sports complex has a separate field, called the Play60 field, where kids of all ages can toss around footballs.
Go prepared: Practice typically lasts two-hours. Fans can watch from a nearby hill or along the fences that surround the two practice fields. Even at that hour, the summer heat can be oppressive, so dress comfortably. Lawn chairs and umbrellas are highly suggested.
Food and drink: You can pack your own or buy refreshments (and team gear) from the team store.
A few no-nos: Photography and videos are prohibited during practice but allowed once the training sessions end. Fans can get autographs from players after practice along the Field 1 fence. (The team has a code of conduct for fan attending training camp.)
Before you go: Take a stroll through Wofford’s tree-lined camps, home to about 1,700 undergrads. Once an all-male school, it now has a student body where women slightly outnumber men. Wofford has been home to the Panthers’ training camp since the team’s inaugural season in 1995. Jerry Richardson, the team’s first owner, played college football there before going on to play two seasons in the NFL. He later became a major donor to Wofford, having given at least $263 million to the school.
What I saw: In the first half of training camp, the offense and defense are split of on separate fields to work individually, but the last hour is where the two sides come together to scrimmage. There were some big plays made by both units that excited the fans. Baker Mayfield threw two long tounchdown passes to DJ Moore and Robbie Anderson. Frankie Luvu also had an interception that hyped up the defense.
What I liked: You don’t usually get to see what the players go through to perform on Sundays. Fans are able to get a “behind the scenes” look ahead of the season to see how players are progressing and who’s winning position battles instead of just hearing about it on the news.
What I didn’t like: While you get a close up look at the players, you are still a considerable distance away. I would highly recommend bringing binoculars.
Stories beyond the fanfare
For Jimmy Best, going to the training camp is about more than seeing the players; it’s also about spending time with his 11-year old son, Michael.
From Wilmington, North Carolina, the two have made the trip to Spartanburg for the third time in the last four years.
“We try to make this an annual trip,” Jimmy Best told QCity Metro. “I work so much that we don’t get much time together, so this is our time together to root for the team and enjoy.”
Both father and son are looking forward to the quarterback competition between Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold but remain optimistic at the prospect of rookie Matt Corral.
“I will like his fast [throwing] release time,” Micheal Best said.
Patrick Royster isn’t new to the training camp experience but his childhood friends are.
Most are recent high school graduates of Lake Norman Charter (one from Phillip O. Berry Academy) and Royster wanted to get the group together before they head off to college.
“This is our favorite team and we just wanted to come support one last time,” Royster said.
While they are all attending different schools across the state, they agreed on who they wanted to be starting quarterback to be heading into the season.
“Go Baker,” one said immediately when asked for their thoughts on the QB competition, as the rest laughed in agreement.
Cole Coleman said he still can’t get over the days Cam Newton was considered the franchise quarterback of the team.
He’s disappointed with how Newton’s return ended last year, but he said Newton’s impact in the community will be long lasting.
“Cam’s legacy is never dying here. He did something for the city that a lot of people ain’t going to be able to do. He had that effect,” Coleman said.
A lifelong Panthers fan, he believes there isn’t a quarterback who can match Newton’s “swagger,” but he said Baker Mayfield will add some much-needed confidence to the offense.
“As a Panther’s team, you have to have that moxy and that heart. I think Baker has that,” he said.
“It was hot,” Armon Dotson told QCity Metro, describing his first training camp experience. “Other than that, it was really cool to see them do their thing. It was fun to watch.”
Dotson and his friend Christopher Shelton only stayed for an hour after the heat forced them to leave. That short period was just enough time for the Union, South Carolina natives to check out their favorite team.
Shelton said he hasn’t always been a Panther fan but decided to finally commit to the home state team 10 years ago. His fandom grew after he moved to Spartanburg in 2017 and hasn’t been missed a training camp since.
This year’s training camp is a little different, he said, as the Panthers are looking to upgrade multiple positions.
“I hope for new looks, better years, more plays and more wins,” he said.
First training camp with the Panthers
Panthers defensive back CJ Henderson was traded to the team from the Jacksonville Jaguars at the beginning of last season.
In his first training camp with the team, he said “it feels good” to build chemistry with his teammates.
Henderson said even though the defense was ranked number 2 in the league, they feel like the unit is underrated going into the season.
“I feel like all of the guys on the team are playing with a chip on their shoulder, with an edge and still trying to fight for that number one spot,” he said.
For those interested in going, the schedule is listed on the Panthers website