CHARLOTTE -- There have been times when Josh Davis was close to giving up the dream, but each time, something reels him back in.
The former York Comprehensive High standout and one of the all-time leading receivers in college football won't have to go far for his next chance to play professional football, as he's signed with the Carolina Panthers for an outside chance to make his hometown team.
"It's going to be a great experience," Davis said Tuesday. "I've been in camps before, and camp is camp, but it's definitely going to be special.
"To be able to be in your own backyard, it's going to feel just like home."
Davis' football odyssey has taken him all over the globe -- literally -- in the last three years.
Since leaving Marshall University second on the NCAA's career receptions list (with 306 in four seasons), he's bounced through three NFL camps and another continent.
He originally signed with Miami as an undrafted rookie, but was injured and later released. He spent seven weeks on the New Orleans practice squad during the Saints' itinerant 2005 campaign, when they were based out of San Antonio because of the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina.
Last summer, he went to camp with Minnesota but was released, and was ready to enroll in spring classes to work on his master's (he graduated with a degree in sports management and marketing) when the next door opened.
He was invited to participate in NFL Europa, and eventually played for the World Bowl champion Hamburg Sea Devils in what would be the final game of the developmental league. It has since been disbanded as the NFL concentrates on other ways to spread their gospel overseas.
Davis caught 19 passes for 263 yards and a touchdown during the regular season, but added a touchdown during the Sea Devils' 37-28 win over Frankfurt for the title.
He said he enjoyed the cross-cultural aspects of playing in Germany this spring, and even had a long-distance family reunion at the league's final game. That's when he saw a cousin (Jerome Davis) for the first time in years. The former serviceman lives in Germany now, and Davis said without playing there, he might not have caught up.
"Fact is, I never thought I'd be traveling across the water before that," he said, laughing.
But now, all his family has to do is make about a quick hour's drive to see him play, as he'll report to training camp at Wofford College on July 27 with the rest of the team. Practice begins on July 28.
Davis won't be the first York County product to sign with the Panthers. Fort Mill's Ernest Dixon went to camp in 1998 and appeared set to make the roster, before the late addition of veteran linebacker Greg Lloyd ended his dreams of playing in Charlotte.
For now, Davis is exempt from the 80-man roster limit thanks to his NFLE background. But unlike past years, that immunity no longer lasts until final cuts are made in September. The team has to pare down to 75 players by Aug. 28, at which point European players are no longer safe. To last beyond then, he'll have to distinguish himself in a crowded field.
Davis knows his shot at making the team is long, but the opportunity's enough to keep him coming back. It was enough for him to turn away what he referred to as "pretty good money" in the Arena League in order to give himself another shot in an NFL camp.
The fact it's close to home only makes it more special.
"There's just something about being in an NFL camp," he said. "I know I'm behind as far as their system, but I just have to show I have an all-around game. I can return kicks, play special teams, catch the ball, whatever they need me to do.
"Basically, I have to show that I'm an all-around quality guy."
EXTRA POINTS: The Panthers made official the signing of fourth-round pick Ryne Robinson to a four-year deal worth $2.103 million. To make room on the roster, they released quarterback Justin Zwick, the former Ohio State backup who was only here for the final week of summer school.
The Panthers also signed two other NFL Europa players, offensive lineman Bobby Harris and defensive tackle Gary Gibson.
The roster now stands at 92, and they'll have to make six more cuts when they sign their six remaining draft picks.