CHARLOTTE — When the Carolina Panthers selected Ikem Ekwonu with the sixth pick in last year’s NFL draft, it also meant the Charlotte native was coming home.
Ekwonu spent his college career nearby at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, though prior to his NFL debut, it had been years since his grandmother, Catherine Nwobu, was able to attend a game.
She is also one of his biggest fans.
Nwobu, who lives in Charlotte, was unable to travel due to health challenges and the COVID-19 pandemic. She was one of the first people he called when the Panthers selected him.
“Grandma was obviously one of the first ones I had to call back,” Ekwonu said. “I wanted to hear her voice, hear the excitement, and let her know officially I was coming home.”
His grandmother said she couldn’t believe it.
“I was in Greensboro when I heard it with my other family members,” Nwobu said. “You mean here, in this place we’re going to see Ikem play every day? I said ‘Oh, my God!’”
His grandmother recalled watching her grandson work tirelessly at anything he set his mind to, from the time he was a little boy.
“The zeal he has, the passion he has for football ever since he was born was now manifested on that particular day,” she said.
The Panthers lineman said he can feel the support from his family on gameday, often hearing their cheers from what he’s dubbed, “The Ekwonu Section.”
“I think the first time I really saw the strength of them was (against) the Bills, the second or third preseason game,” Ekwonu said. “It was pretty easy to spot them out. They were cheering the loudest.”
“It’s beyond what I can describe, really,” his grandmother added. “It makes me feel like living more.”
>> In the video at the top of the page, Ekwonu’s family looks back at his return to Charlotte.
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