Former Cobbers receiver Brandon Zylstra making impact on and off the field for undefeated Carolina Panthers
Former Concordia Cobbers wide receiver Brandon Zylstra has three catches for 44 yards and a touchdown this season for the Carolina Panthers.
MOORHEAD — Marcia Zylstra was in Detroit a couple weeks ago when her son, Brandon Zylstra, caught his first NFL touchdown pass.
Marcia and her husband, Vonn Zylstra, were helping their son Shane’s family get settled in Detroit. Shane was signed to the Lions practice squad about a month ago after the Minnesota Vikings cut him before the start of the regular season.
A former Concordia Cobbers wide receiver, Brandon caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Sam Darnold to help spark the Carolina Panthers to a 26-7 home victory against the New Orleans Saints in Week 2.
“We were at a bar because they didn’t have their internet and TV and all of that hooked up,” Marcia said. “I had a few tears. He finally had a chance to prove himself and what he can do.”
The 28-year-old Zylstra is in his third season with the Panthers and has three catches for 44 yards and a touchdown this season. Carolina (3-0) is off to an undefeated start under second-year head coach Matt Rhule and plays the Dallas Cowboys at noon Sunday, Oct. 3, at AT&T Stadium.
“I think this team has really bought into what these coaches are looking for,” said Brandon, who played one season with the Vikings before the Panthers claimed him off waivers. “It’s a lot of guys who are just hungry for success.”
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Zylstra said it was “super cool” to catch his first career NFL touchdown against NFC South division rival New Orleans.
“A big rivalry game, a division game, something that meant a lot for us in the standings,” said Brandon, who is from Spicer, Minn., and scored his first NFL touchdown off a muffed punt in 2020.
The New Orleans game was played at Bank of America Stadium, the Panthers' home, in Charlotte, N.C. Brandon said there was a different feel to that game with the Panthers early season success and the return to full crowds at stadiums after the coronavirus pandemic limited crowds a season ago.
“To me just the energy in the building felt way different,” said Brandon, who played football for Concordia from 2013-2015. “I felt like there was a lot more energy.”
Zylstra has a growing role on the Panthers offense, playing 21% of the offensive snaps through three games, while also expanding his role on special teams where he’s played 72% of the snaps, playing on both kickoff and kickoff return teams and punt and punt return teams.
“It’s more understanding my role, understanding what the coaches expect for me,” Brandon said. “I have a lot of different jobs and responsibilities. I’m a guy that gets shifted around a lot. I’m kind of expected to know everything. I’ve accepted that role now.”
Brandon recently announced the winners of the "Road Less Traveled Scholarship,” a crowdfunded scholarship that he created in response to the killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, in Minneapolis.
The scholarship was created for Black high school students who plan to attend college. Zylstra said there were thousands of essays submitted that were narrowed down to 11 finalists before he selected two winners, Zaniya Taylor from Denver and Emmalina Simonis from Orlando. Each received a scholarship around $6,200.
“That meant a lot to me,” Brandon said. “It was such a cool, humbling process reading through all the essays. I don’t think I could have picked two more deserving people. It’s people who are looking to help not only themselves, but other people as well.”
Marcia said she was proud of her son.
“He knew what he was doing,” Marcia said. “A pretty proud parent moment to realize that he put this together and he made a difference in some lives.”
Marcia said she and Vonn plan to be at Bank of America Stadium to watch Brandon on Oct. 17 when the Panthers host the Vikings.
“He’s finally getting his chance, he’s having fun,” Marcia said. “He established himself, he made himself known. He loves it down there. He loves his teammates. It’s wonderful. We couldn’t be happier.”