by Nathan Fry
For many athletes, personal motivations are driven by relationships and the places that they came from. Troy Pride Jr., cornerback and fourth-round pick out of Notre Dame, is no different.
But the difference between Pride and most of the stories you'll hear on draft night is that while he plays for a team located nearly 700 miles away from his alma mater, Notre Dame, playing for the Panthers won't force him to move more than a two hour's drive from his hometown of Greer, South Carolina.
One of the most influential figures for Pride is his father, with whom he shares his name. The connection between the two goes as far as the number that he wears for Carolina: 25.
“25 was the number he had,” said Pride. “I wore it the first time I played varsity football and it was kinda like the roots for me.”
The father and son bonded over football throughout the years, as the sport was an early presence in Troy's life. His younger brother, Chance, played with him as well.
Pride Sr., who is currently an assistant coach at nearby Riverside, where Troy began his high school career, was also the coach for his sons.
“My dad coached me a couple times when I was growing up, playing on the Taylors Falcons with my brother," said Pride.
"It teaches you a lot. To be the coach’s son is usually a privilege, but for me it was more pressure- an opportunity for me to prove myself to different players and the parents in the stands who were thinking ‘Why is this kid getting the ball?’ That was the start of it, but moving on past that, he taught me about important attributes to have that will make you a successful football player.”
By playing for him in his early years, Pride said that his father instilled in him the values of “toughness, determination, and hard work.”
Whether it was being pushed to win every rep during wind sprints, or being challenged to be the best player on every snap, Pride's competitive and determined nature began from a young age.
“I was held to a different standard from the beginning. With that, it taught me to always be a step above.”
That drive to be a step above continued throughout his high school career, which saw him win region titles in football, enjoy back-to-back undefeated regular seasons, and play both sides of the ball effectively - as well as winning state championships in track and field - while competing at his hometown school, Greer. His accomplishments, which included setting Greenville County records in the 100, 200, and 400 meter races, earned him a football scholarship to Notre Dame- one of the most selective schools in all of college football.
Pride's high personal standards aligned with the university's, which is part of what led the 4 star corner to commit to the historical powerhouse, despite having offers from schools like Clemson, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Ole Miss.
“Notre Dame is tradition,” said Pride. "What Notre Dame stands for entails a lot. To carry on that tradition takes individuals that are willing to do the hard things and be something different than a normal student athlete. I took that challenge head first and committed myself to that process.”
The dedication that Pride showed to the culture of Notre Dame and the daily process that it required didn't just line up with his previous experiences- it also put him in a position to succeed in Matt Rhule's new Panthers' culture as well. Those values of determination and hard work translate well to the defense that Rhule and his defensive coordinator, Phil Snow, are trying to build in Carolina.
“We’re attempting to set a standard for our players and our coaches of being the toughest, hardest working, and most competitive team in the NFL," Pride explained.
"That’s what we want to embody and what we want to be. It’s what we’re all working to do each and every week. Either you’re up to that standard and doing everything for the team or you’re not.”
Attempting to establish a new culture takes new players and fresh blood all around the organization. In this search for a new identity, the Panthers started with drafting seven defensive players, setting an NFL record for having the first ever all-defense draft.
"It’s been fun to get to know [the rookies] and to be thrown into the fire with them to get to see what they’re made of," said Pride.
One of the rookies that Pride has had a strong relationship with is the safety-linebacker hybrid out of Southern Illinois, Jeremy Chinn, who Pride famously predicted would wind up on the same team as him in an Instagram direct message.
“Me and Chinn were training together and I knew that guy was a dog," said Pride, "I wanted to team up with a guy like that and it’s been great so far.”
Pride commended Chinn for his hard work and dedication, as well as mentioning the award that the safety took home in October.
“Him being a defensive rookie of the month has been wonderful- hopefully I can take that honor as well pretty soon.”
Both Pride and Chinn have been called upon to play more snaps than the average rookie in the NFL. Some of this is in relation to COVID, which has made the season a grueling test of health and safety for players and staff alike. Though cliché, the best ability in 2020 may in fact be availability.
Pride saw an uptick in snaps starting with a game against Atlanta in Week 5, which saw him play 97% of the game. When asked about the changes that come with injuries and filling in for other players, Pride said “There hasn’t been much of an adjustment period.
"Just more of trying to do my part to uphold the standard and be a guy that my teammates can rely on. It’s nothing different. I’m not trying to be anything I’m not, I’m just trying to do as much as I can for my team. That’s upholding the standard that we’ve all set for each other.”
The transition into the NFL is a difficult one for many players. The speed, size, and skill of the competition is enough to turn All Americans into benchwarmers. That alone is hard to compete with, but this season’s first-year players have another hurdle to clear- COVID-19 and the precautions that organizations have taken to eliminate risks for the team and staff.
Without OTAs, a typical training camp, or the NFL preseason, rookies have been thrown into the fire more than ever before. Though there are many opportunities to complain over what was a shortened offseason, Pride isn’t one to make excuses.
“I wouldn’t say that [it’s been more difficult] because the fact of the matter is, everyone had to do it.
“You gotta take what you’re given and do what you can with that. You still gotta be ready, you still gotta prepare and take extra reps when you can. Regardless of what I was not afforded, I know that I’ve worked hard to put myself in a successful position.
“It’s definitely been a lot to adjust to and figure out on my own," Pride added, "but it’s been fun playing the game that I love and building bonds with individuals that I’ve met for the first time.”
Growing up in South Carolina, the Panthers were the hometown team for Pride. Though the connection followed him into the NFL, he didn't have to wait until getting drafted to be in contact with the team.
“I was given a unique opportunity by DeAngelo Williams as a very young kid,” said Pride.
“When I was playing Little League football, I played against the Blue Ridge Tigers. We were both undefeated teams and I had a pretty solid game running the ball. DeAngelo reached out to my family and I and gave us tickets to a Panthers game because I had some of the better runs in the game, so I got the opportunity to go to a game.
“It was awesome, it was a surreal experience.”
While some may be pressured to live up to the expectations of the local fans and supporters around South Carolina and the region as a whole, Pride is encouraged by the history of his connection to the team and the close proximity to his family and friends.
“I don’t take pressure from it. I think it’s a privilege to be able to be close to my family and that I have the opportunity to play in the NFL.
“They get to come to as many home games as they want to and they’re just a quick drive away. They’re accessible and that’s something that I’m not really used to, and am still kind of adjusting to- It’s great to have my family here."
Growing up a Panther fan, Pride has seen two Super Bowl runs in his lifetime, but both times the team fell short. Now he hopes to make an impact that will cause a different result and bring a title to Carolina.
“In 2015 when they went to the Super Bowl, I was ready to go to the parade, but that didn’t happen. Hopefully I can be in one.”