- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Most of football fans probably missed Fozzy Whittaker's big moment on Sunday night.
Most of those who attended the Carolina Panthers' 28-16 exhibition win over Kansas City left soon after halftime. Afterall, auarterback Cam Newton and his highly-publicized left ankle had completed his preseason debut unscathed and the injury-plagued Jonathan Stewart had reached the end zone for the first time since 2012.
Many watching on television probably had turned to the local news or had gone to sleep.
Newton didn't miss Whittaker's moment, though.
When Whittaker hauled in a third-and-8 pass from third-string quarterback Joe Webb and took it 22 yard for a first down in front of the Carolina bench, Newton bounced along the sideline with a smile so big you'd have thought he made the play.
"To see him out there competing and running as hard as he did, man, it's just a show of a person showing resilience, being very optimistic about his opportunity," Newton said.
Newton's excitement stemmed from Whittaker standing up during a meeting among offensive players earlier that day.
"He said, 'Well, I don't know how long I'm going to be here, but with the opportunity I'm going get, I'm going to show unbelievable effort,' " Newton recalled. "He's not a hypocrite. He did an unbelievable job with showing what he can bring to the table as a running back."
Indeed. Whittaker had the kind of preseason game NFL hopefuls dream about. He led the team in rushing with 71 yards on 13 carries, including a 1-yard touchdown run with 18 seconds left in the third quarter that put Carolina comfortably ahead.
But no play he made stood out more than the 22-yard catch and run that exemplified the effort coaches are looking for in camp.
Whittaker (5-10, 205) literally has gone from an afterthought to a candidate to make the final 53-man roster and get out of the temporary locker room that has been set up for long-shots in the player's lounge.
If he's as physical as a blocker as he is as a runner, he could move ahead of 2013 sixth-round pick Kenjon Barner, who has struggled as a runner and in pass protection.
If you're wondering where Whittaker came from, let me tell you. He attended Texas and was signed to the Arizona Cardinals practice squad as an undrafted rookie in 2012. He was released in March of 2013 and claimed off waivers by San Diego, which released him in September.
He then was claimed by Cleveland, which released him in May of 2014.The Panthers picked him up on July 27 after rookie running back Tyler Gaffney suffered a season-ending knee injury.
Whittaker's real first name is Foswhitt. It's a compromise because his dad, Foster, wanted a junior and his mom didn't. So they took the Fos from Foster and fused it with Whitt from Whittaker.
Foswhitt morphed into Fozzy.
That sometimes turns into jokes. Whittaker can't tell you how many times he's been pictured with Fozzie Bear of The Muppets. He's also been called "The Fonze" in reference to the Henry Winkler character on "Happy Days."
"I don't feel like anybody is being disrespectful in that kind of instance," Whittaker said earlier in camp. "They're just having fun."
Newton had fun watching Whittaker on Sunday night. Whittaker had fun getting a chance to prove he deserves a roster spot.
And he'll do anything to get it.
"I want to show that I'm versatile," he said. "I don't just want to be featured offensively. I want to play on all the special teams. I want to be a guy they can depend on all aspects."
"To help the team win is the No. 1 goal for me, wherever it is on the field."
Whittaker helped the Panthers win on Sunday night, but most of America missed it.