Avius Capers spent the first four days of last week running routes with his fellow Carolina Panthers receivers and catching passes from the NFL MVP. On the fifth day, he went to work.
Sleeping in would’ve been easier, especially because Capers is going back to his other job later this week. But hours after he returned from the Cam Newton-led pre-training camp sessions in Baltimore, Capers was deep frying chicken and pouring lemonade.
“He was like, 'I flew in yesterday, I worked out this morning,' and he's here on time,” says Michael Rhynes, owner of Mr. Charles’ Chicken & Fish and Capers’ boss. “He doesn't have to do it, but he's just a good kid.
“Some people say great things about people because they think it's the right thing to say, but I'm not like that. He's just a good kid.”
Who clearly isn’t living a glamorous NFL lifestyle.
“All I do is work out and come to work,” Capers says.
The Charlotte native started at Charles’ last summer when his pro football dreams appeared dead. Capers had tried out for the Panthers at their rookie minicamp — riding his bike to the stadium — but he didn’t earn a contract. So he learned to cook. Then the call came. His hometown team wanted him to come to training camp.
It was the opportunity of a lifetime, but Capers wasn’t ready to seriously compete for a roster spot. The NFL is a long way from Divison II and Johnson C. Smith, which hasn’t sent a player to the league in more than two decades.
Capers, who caught 13 touchdowns for the Golden Bulls, played in the Panthers’ first two preseason games, but wasn't targeted on 28 snaps. He was then released in the first cutdown.
“Last year I made plays, but it was hard cause I was thinking every single play,” Capers says. “Now after I saw what I can do and how I compete against people, I can build off that and get better from last year. I was doing stuff I didn't think I could do.”
Capers did enough to get the attention of the CFL’s British Columbia Lions, who signed him in April. But a month later, the Panthers called again. This time, they invited him to OTAs and minicamp.
Now, as Capers gets ready for his second training camp, the numbers certainly aren’t in his favor. He’s in the bottom half of a receiving group made up of 14 guys, and at most, six will end up on the final roster.
“I don't look at numbers. I just do what I can do,” Capers says. “If they like it, they do. If they don't, somebody else will.”
If the 5-foot-9 speedster has a big camp, he could make an argument for a spot on the practice squad. If that doesn’t happen, he’s willing to head to Canada. And if that doesn’t happen, he’ll go back to Mr. Charles’.
“This just helps me stay on my feet, make some money and help my mom out,” Capers says. “Once I graduate, I'll get into computer engineering.”
Yeah, Capers isn’t your typical jock. He has post-football goals, and deep frying chicken is a way to reach those.
"I tell him, 'I want you to do well, but you've done so well here, you're kind of putting me in a bad bind leaving me,’” Rhynes says.
"If football doesn't pan out, life's going to pan out for him if he stays the way he is. I want it to pan out for him, but if it doesn't, he's going to land on his feet wherever he is."