CHARLOTTE — Life is good for Travelle Wharton.
As the starting left guard for the Carolina Panthers, the former South Carolina star has made a solid contribution to the team, which has won eight of its past nine games.
The team’s eight-game winning streak, which was snapped by New Orleans on Sunday, began when Wharton was inserted into the starting lineup. Not bad for a 32-year old who was cut by the Cincinnati Bengals before the start of training camp.
“At one time I didn’t know what was going to happen with the NFL,” Wharton said Thursday in a telephone interview. “Then, to get the opportunity to come back here and play with my buddies, it was a great experience.”
Wharton, a Simpsonville native, was drafted by the Panthers in 2004 and spent eight seasons with the team before signing a three-year deal with Cincinnati in 2012. He injured his right knee during the Bengals’ first exhibition game that summer and missed this season. He was released by Cincinnati on July 22.
Although several teams inquired, including the Panthers, Wharton waited and continued to rehabilitate from the knee injury.
“Being in the NFL, nothing surprises me,” Wharton said. “But I thought I would get an opportunity to come back (to Cincinnati) after the injury. But, speaking with a guy who was released a week before I was, I had an idea I would probably be released before training camp. I didn’t want it to happen, but I believed it was going to happen and it did. Pretty much everybody who was in IR last year was released.”
Wharton later re-signed with the Panthers and was inserted into the starting lineup four games into the season. He will be starting his 107th NFL game when the Panthers (9-4) host the New York Jets on Sunday, and the former Gamecock is enjoying his role on a team that appears destined for the playoffs.
“It is really exciting to watch the way this team is jelling together,” Wharton said. “This whole season we’ve been having good, crisp practices, not letting the little things slide, re-doing a play if it doesn’t look or feel right. That goes a long way.
“Our coaches do a great job of getting us prepared, and it is really on us to go out there and execute the game plan. But it’s great. The locker room, the chemistry and the guys — everybody is just out there getting after it and laying it on the line for each other.”
Wharton has done his part as he has yet to allow a sack. The protection has allowed the Carolina offense to have one of its best seasons in recent history. Wharton gives quarterback Cam Newton a lot of credit for the improvement.
“The best compliment for an offensive line is on Monday when you see a quarterback not iced or bandaged up,” Wharton said. “That’s why the motto for us up front is to block them and find a way to protect Cam because he has been playing phenomenal all year. We have a lot of weapons, so it is really personal to go out and protect those guys.”
Wharton also has found time to follow the Gamecocks and is impressed with their season.
“They were very young this year,” Wharton said. “I’m really happy they were able to grind it out because 10-2 with a really young team is awesome. I’m so proud of those guys the way they have worked hard and overcome adversity.”
As far as his career is concerned, Wharton is having so much fun he is putting off thoughts of the future.
“I haven’t thought about it,” he said. “I have been playing ball all my life. I’ve been fortunate to play in the NFL. That’s one thing I will never take for granted.”