Seven-year-old with brain tumor tells Panthers to 'keep pounding'

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Two tight ends wearing No. 88 jerseys, shoulder pads and toboggans were on the Carolina Panthers practice field on Tuesday.

One was familiar, two-time Pro bowl selection Greg Olsen.

The other barely came to the waist of the 6-foot-5 Olsen.

But on this day, 7-year-old Parker Cowherd stood taller than anybody on the 90-man roster, and he wasn’t shy about giving advice.

“He told me one time to get my pads down," Olsen said after practice. "I’m not sure where that came from or if he was just judging me, so we’re going to have to talk about that."

Parker, a first-grader from nearby Cornelius, North Carolina, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in November. He had a wish to climb Mount Everest or play football with the defending NFC champions.

He chose playing football with the Panthers -- for now.

“We’ve been talking about overcoming things and achieving greatness," Parker’s father, Jon, said. "We talk about that daily.

"Climbing Mount Everest, that’s another one of those challenges of, 'Hey, maybe he will do it.'"

The Panthers, through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, have helped many kids like Parker make their wishes come true. Coach Ron Rivera believes days like this are as important as learning the fundamentals of football.

"The big part, first of all, is our players have to understand their responsibility to the community," Rivera said. "That’s what they get out of it, how significant it is that they do give back to the community."

Parker chose to hang out with the Panthers because he saw them on television and thought they were cool. It was anything but cool on this day, with temperatures in the mid-80s and humidity at 54 percent.

That didn’t stop Parker, in his fifth of eight 42-day chemotherapy cycles, from wearing full pads and carrying his own helmet.

“I said, 'Want me to carry it?'" Olsen said. "He said, 'Nah, I got it.' I said, 'All right, man. I wish I had somebody to carry my helmet.'"

Parker’s day began with a mandatory team meeting at 8 a.m. before he officially signed a contract with general manager Dave Gettleman.

From there he dressed out with the team from his own locker, attended practice, ate lunch with the players and held a news conference.

Among the questions: What is your official touchdown dance?

His answer was spot-on -- at least for this team.

“The dab," Parker said, referring to the Atlanta-based dance quarterback Cam Newton made popular last season.

Parker will return here for the Sept. 1 preseason finale against Pittsburgh to serve as the honorary captain.

"Our family motto is keep faith, keep hope, keep together, keep pounding," Jon said. "Just translating that mantra over to the Panthers' organization and how much they’ve meant to us in terms of keeping us together as a family, really having something to cheer for ... has been the best thing for us."

“Keep Pounding" has been a part of the Panthers’ mantra since former middle linebacker Sam Mills was diagnosed with cancer in 2003.

So what were Parker’s words as the boy broke down the team after practice?

“Keep pounding," Parker said.