CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Justin Medlock was a little apprehensive when the Panthers called in March and asked him to come in for a tryout.
After all, he had a three-year offer on the table to return and kick for the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, a job with some measure of short-term security. In Carolina, he knew he'd have to fight an uphill battle to unseat 15-year veteran Olindo Mare to secure a roster spot.
He decided to give the NFL one more chance.
And he's glad he did.
Medlock won the kicking job after the Panthers (No. 20 in the AP Pro32) released Mare on Monday.
A bit more mature and polished, Medlock is back in the NFL for the first time since 2007 and hoping to make the most of a second opportunity he thought might never come.
"It was a little bit of a gamble," Medlock said of signing with the Panthers. "At the same time I would have always looked back and said, 'What if?' It's everybody's dream to play in the NFL. I loved the people and loved playing (in Canada) but at the same time I always wanted to kick again in the NFL."
His first chance didn't go so well five years ago.
The Kansas City Chiefs drafted him in the fifth round and Medlock stumbled through the preseason, struggling with his consistency. The Chiefs told him he'd get a one-game tryout to start the regular season. And when Medlock missed a field goal in week one the Chiefs wasted no time cutting him.
At the time he figured he'd be back in the NFL pretty quick.
"I mean, I was a draft pick," Medlock said.
But that didn't happen.
There was a trend in the league to go with older, proven kickers and Medlock was young and inconsistent. So he sat and waited for an opportunity.
The following summer the St. Louis Rams gave him a tryout in training camp but he failed latch on.
That's when he tried Canada.
Medlock signed on with the Toronto Argonauts in 2009 and converted 40 of 46 field goals with a long of 52 yards, one of the best seasons in league history. He didn't kick much the following year, but last season signed with the Tiger-Cats and turned in another solid season converting 49 of 55 field goals, the longest coming from 57 yards.
He also doubled as the team's punter, finishing with a net average of 41.6 yards.
Mare and Medlock both missed six field goals last season. The difference was Medlock made 27 more than Mare (22 of 28).
The Panthers took notice of his field goal accuracy — and length — and brought him in to push Mare, who struggled last season with two key late-game misses.
While the job appears to be Medlock's — general manager Marty Hurney said there are no plans to bring in any other kickers — Medlock is not planning on building a house here in Charlotte.
In his eyes he hasn't won anything yet.
"It's not over yet," Medlock said. "It's the NFL and it's a one-game tryout every game. It doesn't matter if you sign a four-year deal or a one-year deal — it's always a one-game tryout in this league."
The Panthers don't seem to view it as such.
Coach Ron Rivera likes the notion of the 29-year-old Medlock and rookie punter Brad Nortman being the team's kickers for quite some time to come.
"We had to look at the big picture when it came to making decisions on our kicking positions," Rivera said. "We have some guys who can be with us for a long period of time and have nice long careers in one spot. We are most certainly looking to the future with those guys."
Medlock said he's a much different kicker than when he was five years ago.
Looking back, he said he's glad the Chiefs cut him when they did because he wasn't physically or mentally ready to handle the job. He was beating himself up after misses and losing confidence. On the technical side, his form was off and he found himself swinging his leg too far outside on field goals, which affected his accuracy.
"I'm glad it happened because it changed me as a kicker," Medlock said. "If I would have continued to do the things that I was doing it in Kansas City it would have cost me even more down the road. I would have been even more of a mess than I was."
Now he's comfortable with where he's at.
And while he's not yet ready to say the job is his, he's anxious to make sure he makes the most of a golden opportunity.
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