Why biggest Panther drove 7 hours in 'hamster car' to be on time

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Zach Banner is the biggest member of the Carolina Panthers at 6-foot-9 and 360 pounds. The offensive tackle makes defensive end Julius Peppers, 6-7 and 290 pounds, almost seem small.

But what made Banner stand out on Monday, the first day of offseason workouts, wasn’t just his size.

It was the effort he made not to be late for the first session with his new team -- he was claimed off waivers from Cleveland in March -- which included a seven-hour drive in a "hamster car."

More on that later.

It wasn’t exactly planes, trains and automobiles, but two out of three’s not bad.

And now there’s a bike in the picture.

It all started on Sunday. Banner left his home in Los Angeles for Charlotte at 8 a.m. PT. He was scheduled to arrive by 5 p.m. ET, but his flight was delayed due to weather and he had to stop in Columbus, Ohio.

Because of severe storms in the Charlotte area, the earliest flight available was Monday morning. That would have made Banner late for a 7 a.m. breakfast at Bank of America Stadium, and in his words: "My undefeated streak of being on time would be broken."

It's crazy how this world works when you're on a path to try and get that you want. At USC i was never late or missed a meeting, practice, lift, or anything. This morning i left my place to leave for Charlotte at 8am PST, and was supposed to be there by 5pm EST. My flight got delayed at first cuz of weather, and I had to stop in Columbus, OH. Then They told me no flights till tomorrow morning, and I had an issue with that because my undefeated streak of being on time would be broken, because breakfast at the @panthers facility is at 7am tomorrow for our first day of OTAs. So I got a rental car, specifically the Notorious Hamster car aka @godswarriorr favorite car. And if @shareecewright2.0 Black ass could do this a year ago, then so can I. This is to all those people a prime example of taking what you want, and earning respect. Don't just expect it. Pray for me and this journey across the frozen tundras of my old home, into my new one lol. #HulkSmashingInTheHamsterCar

A post shared by Zach Banner (@zbnfl) on

According to Banner’s Instagram post, he never was late for a meeting, practice or anything while at the University of Southern California, where he was last year when the Indianapolis Colts made him a fourth-round pick.

Banner’s only option to guarantee he would be on time was to rent a car and drive seven hours.

He did -- in a Kia Soul that in commercials is affectionately known as the "hamster car."

Put a man the size of Banner in a Kia Soul and there isn’t room for a hamster -- or much of anything else.

"This is to all those people a prime example of taking what you want and earning respect," Banner wrote on the Instagram message along with a picture of the car and map of his journey. “Don’t just expect it. Pray for me and this journey across the frozen tundras of my old home, into my new one lol. #HulkSmashingInTheHamsterCar.’’

Banner left Columbus at 6 p.m. and arrived in Charlotte around 1 a.m. He told the team website he’d never driven that far before. Offensive line coach John Matsko called periodically to make sure his new project was safe while he drove through bad weather throughout the trip.

“It was a huge first-impression deal for me,” Banner told Panthers.com. “Coach [Ron] Rivera looked at me and said, 'I heard you had some troubles last night; thanks for being here.' That showed that I earned a little bit of respect."

And if you’re wondering about the bike: Once in Charlotte and settled in, Banner downsized from his tiny car and bought a two-wheeler to get him around the Queen City.

That will make an impression, too.

"To be a second-year guy who has already been on two different teams, you have to accept the opportunity," Banner said. "I’m really happy to be here. I’ve been ecstatic ever since [I was claimed]. I love this place. I’m grateful to be in this situation. I don’t want to let this go to waste."