The last time 49ers punter Bradley Pinion was on the Carolina Panthers’ home field, he walked off with a win – and a trophy.
Pinion, who grew up just outside of Charlotte, N.C., competed in an NFL Punt, Pass and Kick competition in 2008 at halftime of a Panthers game. As you’d expect from someone who now handles punts and kickoffs for an NFL team, the 14-year-old Pinion excelled in two of the categories. He wasn’t too shabby in the third, either.
“The kicking and punting, yeah,” he said. “But people don’t realize I can actually throw the ball, too.”
The competition will be notably stiffer in his return to Bank of America Stadium on Sunday.
His Panthers counterpart is the same Pro Bowl punter, Andy Lee, whom the 49ers traded to the Cleveland Browns last year after drafting Pinion, 22, in the fifth round. Last month, the Browns traded Lee to Carolina, where he also has an offseason home. It took him one game to make his mark in the Panthers’ record book.
In the third quarter against the Denver Broncos, the 34-year-old Lee hit a franchise-best 76-yard punt and he finished the game with a 63-yard gross average, another Panthers record.
Lee’s punts were aided by Denver’s mile-high thin air, but he had longer boots when he was with the 49ers.
As a rookie in 2004, he had an 81-yard punt – some of the distance came on a bounce and roll – in Tampa Bay. Four years later at Candlestick Park, one of Lee’s punts rolled 82 yards.
Lee and Pinion faced off last year in Cleveland, a 24-10 win for the Browns and also for Lee. His net average that day, Dec., 13, was 36.4 yards; Pinion’s was 27.7.
Lee won’t be the only ex-49er on special teams.
One-time receiver Ted Ginn handles punt and kick returns in Carolina while Colin Jones, a sixth-round pick for San Francisco in 2011, is a member of the Panthers’ coverage units.
The 49ers’ special-teams coordinator last year, Thomas McGaughey Jr., has the same job in Carolina.
Pinion, meanwhile, already has secured 22 tickets for family and friends and says another 30 have found tickets on their own. But he said he doesn’t feel any extra pressure. After all, many of the same people drove a couple of hours from Charlotte to watch him play at Clemson or they took an even shorter trip north when the Tigers visited Wake Forest.
“Everybody asks, ‘Are you nervous?’ ” Pinion said, “No. Everybody’s that’s going to be there has seen me play, either in high school or college. It’s just another day. I’m going out there and doing my job.”