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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Running back Cameron Artis-Payne is hoping there's enough room for two Cams in the Carolina Panthers' backfield — him and quarterback Cam Newton.
He didn't think he could use the name when he arrived at Auburn, where Newton's legendary status prompted him to go by a different name while playing for the Tigers.
Artis-Payne said at Auburn he went by "Cap," a nickname derived from his initials, instead of Cam because "people at Auburn are sensitive about their legends — and Cam definitely qualifies in that category."
Auburn even built a statue of Newton outside their stadium after he led the Tigers to a national championship in 2011.
"People had a problem with calling me Cam, because they already had one," Artis-Payne said. "So I said, 'OK, that's fine then. I'll go by, I guess, Cap.' And we went from there with it."
Artis-Payne said he wants to be known as "Cam" in Carolina.
Coach Ron Rivera said Saturday the Panthers have plenty enough room for another Cam in the backfield, especially if Artis-Payne performs the way he did at Auburn and during the team's rookie minicamp.
"If he's going to be productive we will call him Cam," Rivera said with a smile.
Artis-Payne ran for an SEC-best 1,608 yards and 13 touchdowns and earned first-team all-conference honors last season for the Tigers. That left him third on Auburn's all-time single-season list behind only Tre Mason (1,816) and Bo Jackson (1,789).
His arrival in Carolina was the culmination of a long road to the NFL for Artis-Payne, who turns 25 next month.
"It's definitely real now," Artis-Payne said following his first rookie minicamp practice with the Panthers on Friday. "It just hit me coming out to practice that it's time for the NFL now. You dream about this as a kid."
Artis-Payne never gave up on that dream, even after taking two years off from football following high school. He passed the time working in a warehouse assembling lawn products such as rakes and shovels.
Eventually, he had enough of the monotony and quit.
He remembers thinking to himself "I can't do this no more."
He enrolled at Allan Hancock, a junior college in California, and spent two seasons there accumulating 3,412 yards rushing and 43 touchdowns. That led to a scholarship to Auburn, where he spent his first year backing up Mason before his breakout senior season.
The Panthers drafted Artis-Payne in the fifth round this year, hoping the 5-foot-10, 212-pounder can take some of the load off starter Jonathan Stewart.
"He's a very mature kid," general manager Dave Gettleman said of Artis-Payne. "One of the questions that we talked about in the fifth round is it going to be too big for him? There are guys that get drafted, they get into the veteran mini-camp and in their eyes they give you that Brook Trout look. It can be frightening."
Rivera didn't see that look from Artis-Payne at rookie minicamp.
"He had a really nice day," Rivera said. "He had some really nice runs and we got to see that burst of speed. And then he showed some versatility coming out of the backfield catching the ball. He has an opportunity to help this football team."
NOTES: First-round pick Shaq Thompson was on the field Saturday with a helmet on, but didn't participate in drills after tweaking his hamstring on Friday. ... Second-round pick Devin Funchess, a wide receiver from Michigan, returned to practice after experiencing leg cramps on Friday and leaving early to receive an IV. ... Rivera said among the tryout players who impressed him at rookie minicamp were Johnson C. Smith wide receiver Avius Capers, Villanova defensive end Rakim Cox and Coastal Carolina tight end Jamie Childers.
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