Panthers' Thomas Davis continues to fulfill dreams of kids while chasing his

Davis shares passion behind youth football camp (0:50)

Panthers LB Thomas Davis shares why providing opportunities for young kids is so important to him, as well as raising funds for his Defending Dreams Foundation. (0:50)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The bank of the hill overlooking Revolution Park was lined with kids wearing white T-shirts with No. 58 on the back.

Seven rows deep and more than 15 rows wide of No. 58 everywhere you looked on Saturday.

"When I say, '1, 2, 3," you say, 'TD,'" said the man warming up the kids for the guest of honor, who makes a living wearing No. 58 for the Carolina Panthers.

The man of the hour was outside linebacker Thomas Davis, better known as TD. He was hosting more than 700 kids for a free football camp on a wet and cool morning as part of a big weekend for his Defending Dreams Foundation.

“Part of playing football and doing what you love, sometimes we have to overcome the elements," Davis began after emerging from the side of the bleachers. “You came out here and it was raining, right? You guys stayed, right?"

“Yes sir," the kids yelled in unison.

“That shows me you’re ready to learn," Davis continued. “I’m excited to have you guys here."

Davis was more excited than you will ever know.

It’s no secret the two-time Pro Bowl selection didn’t have much growing up in Shellman, Georgia.

There were years he didn’t have the typical supplies -- backpack, pens, binders -- for the first day of school. Once he went to school wearing football cleats because his mother couldn’t afford to buy him new sneakers and he had grown out of his old ones.

And he never attended a youth football camp until he was being recruited by the University of Georgia during his junior year of high school.

That’s one of the many reasons he was excited on this rainy Saturday. This weekend was an opportunity to raise money for yearlong events that make sure kids have opportunities he didn’t -- down to a new backpack.

“We didn’t have this kind of stuff down there where I’m from," Davis said. “They don’t have people putting on camps ... former players. We didn’t have a guy that made it to the NFL from my hometown."

Not until in 2005, when the Panthers made Davis the No. 14 overall pick out of Georgia.

Since then, Davis has been on a mission, on and off the field.

The mission on the field is to win a Super Bowl, which he came close to doing in 2015, when the Panthers lost the title game against the Denver Broncos.

That his mission continues is quite remarkable, because he has overcome ACL surgery on his right knee three times. No player before him had succeeded after such a setback.

The mission off the field is to bring smiles and hope to kids such as the ones at his camp. That has been a success as well, and the NFL acknowledged it by naming Davis the 2014 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year.

“That’s all that matters to us, knowing we’re putting a smile on their face, knowing we’re making a difference in their lives," Davis said.

A few miles away, the Panthers were holding a rookie camp that featured first- and second-round draft picks Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel, who play multiple positions (running back and receiver) on offense.

They embody the athleticism Davis showed coming out of college as a safety who became a star at linebacker.

“That’s what you’ve got to have in this league," Davis said. “It’s all about having athletes, performing and doing it at a high level. I think we got some guys that can definitely do it at a high level."

Davis hopes that ultimately will help him complete his on-the-field mission before his career ends. He’s heading into the final year of his contract, and there are no guarantees there will be another.

But Davis’ focus on this weekend, which included visits to local schools and the Levine Children’s Hospital on Friday and ended with a celebrity golf tournament on Sunday, was the kids.

He raised more than $60,000 for events such as his backpack giveaway and a Thanksgiving dinner.

He had lots of help, from Carolina middle linebacker Luke Kuechly to former Panthers wide receivers Corey "Philly" Brown and Brandon LaFell to former Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Robert Geathers.

They all wore No. 58 T-shirts, including Kuechly, who wears No. 59 when he lines up beside Davis on Sundays.

“I’m always excited about everybody out here rocking the 58," Davis said with a smile bigger than those worn by the kids. “They know what it means to me, and it means a lot to them to come back and help these kids."