“When you come into the NFL, your ultimate goal is to make a football team,” said Nakamura, signed by the Panthers on March 16. “Then each year, you take your goals and bump them up.”
The Panthers ranked in the bottom quarter of the league in pass defense and pass touchdowns last year and Nakamura definitely helps with their depth at safety although they return two starters at safety.
Nakamura made his mark on the Ravens as a special teams stalwart after learning from Ed Reed, something he’ll continue in Carolina while hoping to earn more chances in the secondary as well.
Nakamura said he and his three siblings were raised with the idea that they’d become Olympic judo champions, and all four did win national championships at various points. Their mother maintained her husband’s rule of no football in the house after his death, but one of Nakamura’s older brothers took matters into his own hands when Nakamura was in sixth grade.
Nakamura actually grew up thinking they would be Olympic judo champions, but one of Nakamura’s older brohers worked on their mom’s football ban in 6th grade.
“My brother saw that I had an aggressive attitude that he thought would fit good with football, so he snuck me into a CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) program without my mom knowing,” Nakamura said. “My mom found out a couple of weeks later when I brought shoulder pads and a helmet home. She just said, ‘Well, if you’re going to play, you’re not quitting.’
“I fractured my wrist a couple of weeks after the first game. Instead of being the mom that says, ‘You’re done playing,’ we got it casted and she went to the store, bought two soccer shin guards, taped them on my wrist and said, ‘You’re playing football.’ ”
Nakamura then went on to earn a roster spot on one of the NFL’s best defenses. He is now trying to be part of the Panthers solution on defense.