(AP Photo/Mike McCarn)
Julius Peppers walked over and slapped high-fives with Luke Maye and Joel Berry and the celebration was on.
The Carolina Panthers honored members of the North Carolina Tar Heels men’s basketball team and South Carolina women’s basketball team _ both national champions _ prior to Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills.
Maye and Berry of the Tar Heels and A’Ja Wilson and Tyasha Harris of the Gamecocks served as the honorary “Keep Pounding” drummers before the game. They each pounded the drum once to signify the four quarters of the game.
Maye is a Huntersville, North Carolina native _ located about 15 minutes north of Charlotte _ and his family has season tickets to Panthers home games.
“It’s pretty cool,” Maye said. “It’s a lot of fun being able to come out here and do something I have always dreamed of growing up watching Panthers games. It’s a big honor and to honor Sam Mills is pretty cool opportunity.”
The Panthers team mantra has been “Keep Pounding” ever since 2012 when late Panthers player and coach Sam Mills used the phrase before a playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys. Mills later died of cancer and is honored with a statue outside the stadium.
Peppers, who played basketball at North Carolina, had a wide, proud smile on his face as he congratulated Maye and Berry.
Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, a North Carolina native who attended college at Wofford College in South Carolina, made sure to incorporate both states when the Panthers received an NFL franchise in 1993. He named the team the “Carolina Panthers” rather than the “Charlotte Panthers” to honor both states and bring fans in from around the area.
“I can’t put into words how excited I am,” said Wilson, who grew up in Columbia, S.C. “I’ve always been a Panthers fan growing up so just to be a part of it and be out here with my teammate is just a lot of fun. I have been a fan since Julius Peppers the first time around.”