Austin Duke living a dream at Panthers rookie mini camp - | WBTV Charlotte

Austin Duke living a dream at Panthers rookie mini camp

(Source: WBTV/File) (Source: WBTV/File)
(Source: WBTV/File) (Source: WBTV/File)
(Source: WBTV/File) (Source: WBTV/File)

Friday for Austin Duke was an incredible day as he took the field for his hometown team the Carolina Panthers.

"It's just a surreal moment," said Duke as he described standing in a huddle with the likes of Panthers first round draft pick Christian McCaffrey and second round pick Curtis Samuel.

The Charlotte native played his high school football at Independence and then took his talents to Charlotte to help start the 49ers football program.  He leaves the Niners as their all time leading receiver.  He signed with the Panthers as a rookie free agent earlier this week.

Growing up in the Queen City and now playing for the Panthers is a dream come true and very humbling as well.

"The humbling moment is when Luke Kuechly walks over and says 'hi, I'm Luke Kuechly'," said Duke.  "I'm like 'Luke, I know who you are.'  He's just a real humble guy so just coming in and being welcomed like that just made me feel comfortable.  Made me feel at home and I appreciate those guys for that."

First day with the Panthers and Duke has done something he has never done.  During special teams period, Duke went thru drills with the punt team as a gunner.

"That's the first time of me playing defense," said Duke.

Even with a few mistakes, Duke had a solid first day, but Saturday will be even more important.

"It will be about what they've retained and how they can take it and translate it and put it on the field," said Panthers head coach Ron Rivera.

"I think I messed up 3 times in a row so I'm ready to get in there (film room) and talk to the coaches and figure out what I need to do to correct that," Duke said.  

It has been a great week for the Charlotte 49ers football program.  Larry Ogunjobi became the first Niner to ever be drafted last Friday when the Cleveland Browns picked him in the 3rd round.  

Duke signed with the Panthers as a rookie free agent as did Brandon Banks with Washington and Kalif Phillips with Green Bay.  

Jamal Covington was invited to Kansas City's rookie mini camp and Kedrick Davis was invited to Detroit.

Duke says all the guys still stay in touch as they all look to keep their football dreams alive.

"Everybody is just excited," said Duke.  "You don't know how long the moment will last for all of us.  Yeah we're here.  We have this opportunity, but we haven't made it yet so we just need to keep going so we can make this 53 man roster and we'll enjoy it later."

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