Carolina Panthers tight end Colin Thompson has had the same touchdown celebration since his high school days at Archbishop Wood in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

"I don't do anything fancy," the Cape May resident said in a phone interview from Charlotte, North Carolina. "I just spread my arms out wide like I'm going to hug my teammates."

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He got a chance to demonstrate it for the first time in the NFL last Sunday, catching a 7-yard TD pass from Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in the first quarter of a 46-23 loss to Tampa Bay. It was also his first NFL reception.

As soon as he tumbled into the end zone, a wild celebration broke out at his family's home in Cape May. Approximately a dozen relatives and friends had gathered to watch the game, including his father David, fiancee Sydney Dupre, Lower Cape May Regional High School football coach Lance Bailey and Lower basketball coach Scott Holden.

"It was pandemonium," Bailey said with a laugh.

The celebration continued after the game at the C-View Inn in Cape May and a few other establishments.

Thompson sent word to C-View owner Gregg Coffey that he was buying drinks for the entire bar and did the same for his uncle's bar, Shots and Giggles in Key West, Florida, and another place in his native Doylestown, Pennsylvania.

"The C-View is like my family's 'Cheers,' Thompson said. "It's been our local watering hole for years. I wouldn't be surprised if Gregg wants to keep the ball there."

An anonymous bettor was also celebrating a big win.

According to DraftKings Sportsbook's Twitter feed, someone placed a $15 wager that Thompson would score the first touchdown of the Panthers-Buccaneers game. It paid $1,515.

Sure enough, Carolina moved downfield on its first possession. Bridgewater called the play, then flashed a smile at Thompson before breaking the huddle. Thompson ran toward the right side of the end zone, grabbed the pass and held on as Bucs safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. tried to force an incompletion.

"We run the play a lot, so I was surprised to be wide open," Thompson said. "Teddy throws a nice spiral, but the wind was blowing pretty good and the ball started to flutter, so I had to catch it against my body."

The payout was understandably big. Thompson hadn't reached the end zone since his senior season at Temple University in 2016, when he scored against South Florida. That was his only college TD.

"I've had good luck against Tampa teams," he said with a laugh.

Sunday's TD was a reward for years of dedication and hard work that enabled him to overcome a series of obstacles, injuries and setbacks.

Thompson began his college career at the University of Florida, but suffered two stress fractures in his right foot and one in his left in two years that prompted the Gators to render him medically ineligible after the 2013 season. Thompson transferred to Temple and played there three seasons under current Panthers coach Matt Rhule.

"They said I could stay at school and keep my scholarship, but they suggested that I stopped playing football," Thompson said. "I didn't want to leave. I really enjoyed the school and the campus, but I wasn't ready to give up football."

The next three years saw him spend time with five different professional teams in three leagues. He spent time with the New York Giants and Chicago Bears in 2017-18, then signed with the Birmingham Iron of the Alliance of American Football in 2019. When the AAF folded after eight games, he moved to the XFL's Tampa Bay Vipers, catching one pass during the season before that league was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rhule signed him to a free agent contract with Carolina in April. He was originally released at the end of training camp but was signed to the active roster before the regular season began.

"It's been quite the journey," Thompson wrote on Twitter Tuesday. "I am truly a product of my family, friends, teammates, and coaches who have believed in me over the years."

The journey has also featured a second career.
Like former Eagles quarterback Josh McCown did last season, Thompson also serves as a high school coach in his spare time. He is Bailey's offensive coordinator, a job he is maintaining during the NFL season.

After celebrating his accomplishment on Sunday, he spent about an hour on the phone with Bailey to develop the offensive game plan for the Caper Tigers' upcoming game tomorrow (Thursday) against Overbrook Regional.

"He's probably more involved now than he was before going to Carolina," Bailey said. "He may not be here physically, but he talks to the kids on Zoom once a week or so and we talk every day. There have been times after (Panthers) games where it seems like he gets on the phone with us right after he takes a shower and gets dressed. He waited a little longer this time, though, because of the touchdown."

After scoring, Thompson handed the ball to right tackle Taylor Moton, who is the team's "designated spiker." Someone then took the ball over to the sideline for him to keep as a souvenir.

Once the season ends, he'll be heading back to Cape May. His father, Dave, is a realtor while mother Karen owns Cotton Company and Lace Silhouettes Lingerie on the Washington Street Mall.

"Cape May is home for me now," he said. "When I was growing up in Doylestown, other kids would always talk about going to Avalon or Sea Isle. But it's always been Cape May for us."