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Otah surprised Panthers' traded to take him

By MIKE CRANSTON
AP Sports Writer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Jeff Otah knew the Philadelphia Eagles held the 19th pick in the NFL draft. So the Pittsburgh tackle thought he was the victim of a bad joke when he picked up his phone.

“I got a call from a guy who said, ‘How would you like to be a Panther?'” Otah said Sunday. “I was thinking the Eagles were picking, so it must be a prank call. Then I talked to coach (John) Fox and I remembered his voice, so it was definitely a good feeling knowing that I was coming here.”

Otah arrived at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday, a day after Carolina made a risky bet that the 6-foot-6, 339-pound Otah will become an immediate starter at right tackle.

The Panthers gave up next year’s first-round draft pick, and second- and fourth-round picks this year to the Eagles to move up.

“I feel like I can run and pass block really good,” Otah said. “I just have to work on my technique.”

Otah has limited football experience. A native of Nigeria, Otah was seven when he came to the United States. He started out playing basketball, and only played a few games of high school football as a senior.

Otah attended junior college before playing his final two seasons at Pittsburgh, where he quickly became one of college football’s elite tackles, prompting Fox to travel to Pittsburgh for Otah’s pro day workout.

“It was good knowing that he came up there and brought everybody and knowing that he was interested,” Otah said.

Otah continued the tradition for Carolina’s first-round picks Sunday morning when he hopped into a golf cart with owner Jerry Richardson, who gave the hulking Otah a tour of the stadium and a pep talk about staying out of trouble.

“He talks to you like a man and let’s you know the deal,” Otah said. “The things he said I pretty much believe in, so I see us having a good relationship.”

___

LINEBACKER U@: Another member of Linebacker U. is headed to Carolina.

The decision to draft Dan Connor in the third round on Sunday marked the second straight year the Panthers took a linebacker from Penn State. Tim Shaw went in the fifth round in 2007.

“There’s a ton of tradition there as a Penn State linebacker,” Connor said. “The names like LaVar Arrington, Shane Conlin, Andre Collins, Jack Ham, the list goes on. To be able to play with the same jersey, under the same coach, is unbelievable to have that kind of tradition.”

Connor, from Wallingford, Penn., grew up learning the history of great linebackers with the Nittany Lions under coach Joe Paterno. Connor went on to set the school career tackles record with 419.

“It’s something that you get that mentality. You play blue collar like they did in the 70s and the 60s when coach Paterno started,” Connor said.

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GODFREY’S SWITCH:@ Charles Godfrey started at Iowa as a free safety. He moved to strong safety as a sophomore, then to cornerback for his final two years to fill holes in the Hawkeyes’ secondary.

Now in the NFL, Godfrey is likely switching back to free safety in hopes of starting for the Carolina Panthers.

“That is the big thing, not only making it to the NFL, but contributing when I get there,” said Godfrey, minutes after the Panthers selected him in the third round.

Godfrey also played extensively on special teams with Iowa.

“They tried to take me out a little my senior year because I was starting at cornerback, but I told them no,” Godfrey said. “I trained and I’ve been training all year to handle that load. I played all four years and it was great. I’m looking forward to being able to play special teams right away.”

___

PANTHERS FAN:@ Panthers fifth-round pick Gary Barnidge was a month away from his 10th birthday when Carolina played the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 1995 Hall of Fame game, marking the debut for both expansion franchises.

Barnidge was growing up in Middleburg, Fla., 30 miles outside Jacksonville. But Barnidge decided he was going to root for the Panthers.

His father bet him an extra $20 allowance on the preseason game. Carolina won 20-14. Barnidge collected and remained a closet Panthers fan in Jaguars’ country.

“It was real nice. I just haven’t been that big of a Jacksonville fan,” Barnidge said. “It wasn’t a big deal. I don’t tell a lot of people because they don’t really ask.”

Now the 6-foot-5 Barnidge will join his boyhood team, hoping to make an immediate impact as pass-catching tight end. One of Barnidge’s problems is an envy of many: he needs to add weight.

Barnidge said he’s gained at least 10 pounds from last fall and is now at 247 pounds.

“I don’t eat bread. I don’t eat a lot of sugars,” Barnidge said. “I’ll eat a lot of stuff with just protein. If I eat a sandwich, I don’t eat bread. I just roll up the meat and cheese. And I take beef liver pills, which are really good for helping me maintain my weight.”

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