For former Aggies Mac McCain and Darryl Johnson, life within the NFL is a dream come true — •

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Simply as North Carolina A&T claims its homecoming because the Biggest Homecoming on Earth, maybe the McCain and Johnson households and the Aggies neighborhood may declare Oct. 10 as their very own best homecoming in Charlotte.

Greater than a sprinkling of Aggies have been current to see the Carolina Panthers fall 21-18 to the visiting Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.

It was the primary skilled look in Charlotte for Eagles defensive again and particular groups participant Franklin “Mac” McCain III, a Greensboro, North Carolina, native who’s the grandson of N.C. A&T alum Franklin McCain, one of many unique Greensboro 4 who took half within the sit-in at Woolworth in 1960. He grew up in Charlotte.

The matchup additionally gave the youthful McCain an opportunity to face off towards former Aggie teammate Darryl “DJ” Johnson Jr., whom the Panthers acquired throughout coaching camp in a commerce with the Buffalo Payments.

The McCains introduced near 100 family and friends members, in line with his father, Franklin McCain Jr.

Johnson’s mother and father, Savannah, Georgia, residents Johnson Sr. and Marsha, who’ve attended each residence sport this season, have been amongst a gaggle of 10, together with three of Johnson’s sisters and certainly one of his brothers.

Each McCain and Johnson have been inactive for Sunday’s sport, however that didn’t take from the second for his or her households and the N.C. A&T neighborhood.

Counting their blessings

“I say, all God, every thing God,” mentioned Vicki McCain, McCain’s mother. “Mac has actually been blessed on this course of. Even when Mac doesn’t get to decorate out, he doesn’t complain.

“That’s the factor about my son — I’m studying from him. He would possibly simply say, ‘I’m not dressing out,’ or ‘I’m not going to play this time.’ That’s all he says. He’s simply going with the movement.

“And I say to Mac, ‘What’s God saving you from, and what’s God preserving you for?’ ”

McCain, 6 ft, 175 kilos, was signed on the finish of the 2021 NFL draft day by the Denver Broncos. He was launched on lower day however later signed to the follow squad. He was then claimed off the Broncos follow squad by the Eagles. He performed particular groups within the Eagles’ 41-21 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

“God took an undrafted participant to a follow squad throughout the nation after which introduced him again residence,” Vicki McCain mentioned. “You rely that to God.”

Johnson’s mother echoed that sentiment.

“It’s a blessing simply seeing my son doing these nice issues,” Marsha Johnson mentioned, “graduating from school and being an amazing younger man. Outdoors of the NFL, my son is a superb man, and I like the expansion.”

Each gamers earned their levels earlier than leaving N.C. A&T. McCain holds bachelor’s and grasp’s levels in agricultural enterprise, and Johnson holds a bachelor’s diploma in sports activities science.

An Aggie ultimately zone

Regardless of the 2 inactive gamers, one Aggie did attain the Panthers’ south finish zone on Sunday to a rousing ovation and nationwide tv viewers. Victor Solomon, who was a finalist on NBC’s The Voice singing competitors and a present N.C. A&T senior from Peoria, Illinois, stirred the gang with a soulful rendition of the nationwide anthem.

Solomon’s footprints might need left some magical pixie mud in that finish zone, because the Panthers scored their first 10 factors on that finish of the sector — a 48-yard Zane Gonzalez discipline objective and a 5-yard Sam Darnold-to-Tommy Tremble landing cross for an early 10-3 lead that led to a 15-6 cushion at intermission.

The host Panthers misplaced ultimately, which improved McCain’s report to 2-0 in soccer appearances in Charlotte.

McCain’s greatest school soccer recollections additionally originated in 2017 within the Queen Metropolis. He intercepted two passes and returned each for touchdowns, together with the game-winning 74-yard pick-six within the Aggies’ 35-31 upset of the Charlotte 49ers.

That ignited a profession that noticed McCain turn into a perennial All-Mid-Japanese Athletic Convention performer and a two-time FCS All-American.

An opportunity for some Bojangles

Charlotte can also be residence to Bojangles (and no, he didn’t get a Bo-Berry biscuit, as Aggie freshman JR Smith did not too long ago). The McCain household, who visited with McCain Sunday when he got here to the stands after the sport, supplied him with Bojangles Rooster Supremes, fries and honey mustard sauce.

McCain mentioned it “feels nice” to play in Charlotte, “particularly since I grew up a Panthers fan and watched them go to a few Tremendous Bowls. Now … enjoying towards them is a dream come true.” He says the most important distinction between the NFL and school soccer is “the playbook is 10 occasions larger; it takes extra soccer IQ. … You’re enjoying towards vets who’ve performed a very long time, so that they know the ins and outs of the sport.”

McCain’s unique group, the Broncos, didn’t have the Panthers on their schedule, so the commerce to Philadelphia created the chance for reunions such because the one on Sunday.

“It offers me an opportunity for my household to return see me,” McCain mentioned, “and I’m excited to see them as a result of I hadn’t gotten to see them for some time, as a result of I’ve been so busy with follow, coaching camp and stuff like that.”

His household attended one preseason sport in Denver, however the weekend trip on Sunday from Greensboro was only a 90-minute drive.

“Any group is a blessing; I’m simply glad to be within the NFL,” McCain mentioned, “however it was good to know I’d be again on the East Coast, nearer to residence.”

Johnson, a 6-foot-6, 260-pound defensive lineman and the 2018 MEAC Defensive Participant of the 12 months, was a 2019 seventh-round choice of the Payments, with whom he performed for 2 seasons. He’s a local of Kingsland, Georgia, and his household now lives in Savannah, a drive of somewhat greater than three hours.

Johnson mentioned he knew a commerce may be imminent when the Payments drafted first- and second-round defensive linemen.

From left to proper: Darryl Johnson’s dad, Darryl Johnson Sr.; Verdell Johnson, his grandmother; Simon Johnson, his grandfather; and Marsha Johnson, his mom.

David Squires

When the second got here, he referred to as his father, who was carrying a Payments hat.
“I instructed him, ‘You must take that hat off,’ ” Johnson mentioned. “ ‘We going to Charlotte.’

“Ten minutes later, he was carrying a Panthers hat.”

Johnson has appeared in two video games for the Panthers after enjoying in 31 video games over two years with the Payments.

The 2 gamers, who every recalled speaking about NFL futures whereas enjoying at N.C. A&T, met earlier than and after Sunday’s sport.

“We have been telling one another that we have been pleased with one another,” Johnson mentioned. “He mentioned he would possibly transfer to Charlotte within the offseason so we may practice collectively.”

The McCain ‘village’

“Many mother and father inform their children, ‘For those who work exhausting, you’ll be able to obtain something,’ ” McCain Jr. mentioned. “And to see your little one actually do that may be a blessing inside itself.

“We’re simply eternally grateful to the village that he has behind him to assist him get to this place,” McCain Jr. added, “as a result of we all know that he didn’t get there solely on his deserves or our assist, however the assist of his better neighborhood.

“His village is huge, you must bear in mind, each his mom and father and paternal grandfather are all Aggies.

“In order that Aggie nation is robust — after which the village of Greensboro, who’ve been his educators and coaches and household pals. They’ve all supported him — my fraternity brothers [Omega Psi Phi], my spouse’s sorority sisters [Delta Sigma Theta]. He’s simply had an enormous village.”

The elder McCain mentioned the household “has been privileged” to know former NFL gamers similar to Robert Porcher (South Carolina State) and former UNC Tar Heels William Fuller, Kelvin Bryant and Victor Harrison.

“All these guys have been very useful to us on this course of.”

Former Tar Heel Mark Oglesby has additionally been a longtime mentor to McCain.

“All these individuals have helped us to make the best choice, as a result of, you consider it, many individuals had suggested Mac to remain at N.C. A&T for an additional 12 months,” McCain Jr. mentioned.

However popping out in 2021 “ended up being the best choice for him.”

The 100-strong McCain contingent on Sunday was located in varied locations in Financial institution of America Stadium, together with some in a 300-level luxurious suite.

They included McCain’s sister Taylor, who flew in from Miami, his uncles and aunts, and dozens of different pals and supporters.

The Johnson Household Reunion

Johnson had guests on the town all weekend, together with his father, Johnson Sr., who got here in Friday. He was later joined by mother, Marsha, and Johnson paternal grandparents, a brother, three sisters, and Edward Faulcon and Charlene Watson-Faulcon, an prolonged household who took Johnson underneath their wing throughout his enjoying days at N.C. A&T.

The household has adopted Johnson religiously, going to about six of his Payments video games, solely to be slowed by the coronavirus pandemic, which restricted them to 2 video games in 2020, one in Buffalo and one in Miami.

Of residing the NFL dream, Johnson Sr. mentioned: “It’s superior; it’s actually indescribable. You actually can’t put it into phrases. You discuss it, however to truly see it, it simply takes you away.”

The Johnson group who attended Sunday’s sport sat within the north finish zone, lower-level part 102.

They wore specifically designed Panthers T-shirts: The entrance of the shirts had the Panthers emblem and the group’s slogan, “Maintain Pounding.”

The again of the T-shirts learn: “JOHNSON JR. 92” and included particular person labels: MOM, AUNTIE, GRANNY, SISTER and WIFEY (his girlfriend).

David Squires

Johnson can all the time hear them from the sideline, whether or not he’s energetic for the sport or not.

“They are saying, ‘We’re simply coming to assist you,’ ” Johnson mentioned. “They have been up there yelling my identify. They have been cheering as if I used to be on the sector.”

After the sport, the group gathered at Johnson place in Charlotte.

Maintain doing what you’re doing

Every participant is aware of what he must do to remain within the NFL.

“My dad pushed me and instructed me that I used to be not going to all the time be probably the most athletic, the most important and quickest,” Johnson mentioned. “I needed to work more durable. And that’s caught with me daily. So, I take that in life and run with it.”

McCain believes the important thing to staying within the NFL is “sturdiness and exhausting work.”

“You retain on doing what you probably did to get right here,” he mentioned. “You simply maintain placing within the work and don’t let up. It’s simply staying relentless — daily.”

David R. Squires is a author, editor and digital journalist who has labored for the New York Instances, Detroit Free Press, Cleveland Plain Supplier and St. Petersburg Instances. He is additionally a former editor-in-chief of BlackVoices.com and BVQ journal, a former Black Enterprise author and editor and NUTribemagazine.com managing editor.

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