SAN JOSE, Calif. — Trouble was easy to find, had Kawann Short wanted to look for it growing up in East Chicago, Indiana.
The reason the Panthers defensive tackles is here — at Super Bowl 50 as one the NFL’s best players at his position — has as much to do with his support system as his 6-foot-3, 315-pound frame.
“Guys I’ve been around just wanted to be successful,” he said. “A guy I’ve been hanging out with since I was knee-high has been E’Twaun Moore. He’s been playing ball ever since.
“Just following and watching him do what he does, it was only a matter of time that I just tried to follow his footsteps and become successful as well.”
The man nicknamed “K.K.” still talks to the Bulls shooting guard — with whom he teamed to deliver East Chicago Central High School a Class 4A basketball title in 2007 — every other day. A year older than Short, Moore also attended Purdue.
Short joked that he feels like a member of the Bulls because of their conversations. His diagnosis of the team’s troubles: it’s a long season.
“You’ve got some guys who get injured and sit out, some guys who haven’t played the role that they fit in, and it’s going to take time,” he said. “Just glad it’s not the playoffs right now.”
It is for the Panthers, however, and they wouldn’t be here were it not for Short’s ridiculous season.
Short is the only player in NFL history to win NFC Defensive Player of the Month twice in one season. His 11 regular-season sacks were tied for the most by a tackle this season.
He recorded a sack in each of the Panthers’ two playoff games and forced a fumble in the second quarter of the 49-15 NFC title game shellacking of the Cardinals.
“As a defensive end, defensive tackles are like my best friend …” said defensive end Jared Allen, who was limited in practice Wednesday with the foot injury that cost him a title game appearance. “It’s special and it’s fun to watch and be on a defensive line like that, where young guys are coming into their own.
“As long as Kawann keeps working, he is going to be a force in this league for a while.”
The Panthers drafted defensive tackle Star Lotulelei in the first round in 2013 and Short in the second. The two complement each other beautifully, with the Utah alum plugging holes and Short using his powerful hips to attack from the guard’s outside shoulder.
The two free the game’s premier inside linebacker, Luke Kuechly, to be exactly that.
“There’s not a lot of guys at the ‘3’ technique that can do what Kawann does,” safety Roman Harper said. “He’s great against the run as well. Most of the ‘3 ‘ techniques that are so coveted right now are just the ones that can get up the field and pass rush. He can do both.”
Lotulelei noticed Short gain confidence as the Panthers’ magical 15-1 season rolled on.
“The people who know football definitely know who Kawann is,” he said. “I think in the next year or two, the league is going to be put on notice. It’s just a matter of time.”
The kids back home know.
East Chicago Central High School will celebrate Kawann Short Day on Friday by dressing up in Panthers colors. Sunday, the school’s football players will watch the game on campus.
“That’s home,” Short said. “That will always be home. And I will always go back.”
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