The music blared in the Bears' locker room earlier this week, as the players went about various post-practice activities. Some sat and chatted with their teammates; other showered and dressed to prepare for afternoon meetings. A few of the guys sang along to the track, a 2013 hit by Drake.
"It's hard to do these things alone," the chorus of the song says. "Just hold on we're going home."
|Alshon Jeffery is averaging 13.1 yards per reception this season, which leads the team.|
The lyrics ring true for a pair of players who will do exactly that this weekend, when the Bears head to Carolina in an important Week 5 contest. For South Carolina natives Tim Jennings and Alshon Jeffery, the trip to face the Panthers is a homecoming of sort. Each will be playing the game about two hours from the towns they were raised and played high school football in, with plenty of friends and family in the stands supporting them. It is also a business trip, one that both players hope will result in a victory for their 2-2 team.
"It would be huge (to beat the Panthers). It's big enough that we need this win as a team, but just going back home," Jennings said. "Back in Charlotte, it would be huge to get a win there. I have about 10 or 15 family members coming there, so it will be good to see everybody and have them come out. But it will be good to turn some smiles to some frowns."
Jennings hails from Orangeburg, South Carolina, about two hours south of Charlotte. He was 12 when the Panthers played their first game, but he and his family were not big fans of the team. Instead college football was big in the region. Orangeburg is the home of South Carolina State University, and many of its residents are fans of that school, along with the University of South Carolina or Clemson.
Now, the cornerback says, things have changed and many people in his hometown do root for the professional team. The arrival of Cam Newton in 2011 has sparked major interest in the Panthers, at the same time pro football has seen a revival in the area all around.
According to USA Football, the state of South Carolina ranks second – trailing only Louisiana – in the number of NFL players per capita. Fifth-five players form the Palmetto State are in the league, including the Bears' pair of Pro Bowlers, an average of one player for every 84,098 South Carolina residents.
There are also 51 NFL players from North Carolina, something players from both states take pride in.
"That's one thing I pride myself on, letting everybody know that Carolina is in the league," Jennings said. "You may not know it, but we come from all different areas. But we have a good amount of people in the league that's from Carolinas."
Jeffery grew up in St. Matthews, South Carolina, a town a few minutes down the road from Orangeburg. He was a basketball fan growing up, like many of the kids who grew up there. But he too said it's great to see so many people from the area make the transition into football and find their way to the game's biggest stage.
"I mean, of course it means a lot," Jeffery said. "Just always representing where you're from. It doesn't matter if you went to school with that guy or know him, you say 'Oh, he's from South Carolina, so he's representing as well.'"
Both players will have friends and family in the crowd Sunday when the Bears visit Bank of America Stadium. Jennings said his family will root for the Panthers, but, "they're still Tim Jennings fans." Jeffery wasn't sure which team his group would root for, adding that he wasn't making a big deal of playing close to his home state.
The cornerback has played in Carolina once during his seven-year pro career, a 29-6 win by the Bears over the Panthers in 2010. This will be Jeffery's first regular season game in Charlotte.
Each wants to make the trip a special one by brining something from Carolina back with them to their new home of Chicago: a victory.
"It's a huge game against the Panthers, we just take it one game at a time," Jeffery said. "So we can't overlook nobody. We're just going to go out there and play our game plan."