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At 6-foot-3 and 315 pounds, Panthers' defensive tackle Kawann Short fears no one on the playing field.

No. 99 can make it look so easy at times as he tosses NFL quarterbacks around like rag dolls.

Off the field is a different story.

Hurricanes, 30 to 40 inches of blinding rain, storm surge, tornadoes and flash floods are an unbeatable opponent for any mere mortal.

"You can't control Mother Nature," said the East Chicago native. "You focus and hope for the best."

I called Short on Wednesday to see how he was bracing for Hurricane Florence, a then-Category 4 nearly 500 miles in width and slowly approaching the Carolinas.

This is his sixth season, all with the Panthers, and he had never experienced a hurricane or tropical storm.

Certainly not at Purdue or E.C. Central.

And now Florence was on the way, taking her sweet time, and promising record rainfall and catastrophic winds as officials ordered evacuations and opened dozens of shelters inland.

The Weather Channel estimated between 1 1/2 million to 2 million could lose power in the Carolinas.

As of Saturday, the storm had claimed seven lives, including that of a mother and her baby.

Short said the Panthers didn't know what to expect at mid-week. All they could do was wait for instructions from head coach Ron Rivera regarding any outdoor practices and their departure time for today's game against the Falcons in Atlanta.

"I stay in Charlotte. The storms here can be bad but this is my first big one, a Category 4, where they're talking about evacuations," Short told me. "A lot of grocery stores are empty; a lot of stores are closing down for the weekend and boarding up. People are worried here in town, but not like going crazy to where they're fleeing."

That was mid-week, remember.

As the monster storm drew closer with a clearly-defined eye that seemed the size of Rhode Island, gusts were clocked at 105 miles per hour.

The Weather Channel was predicting 20 to 40 inches of rain in some areas of the Carolinas.

"(Mmanagement) told us that if things go in the wrong direction, they'll do everything in their power to keep us safe," Short said. "In the meantime, we have to play it by ear."

Charlotte is approximately 185 miles from coastal waters but Short prefers city life to laying on the beach with a cocktail in one hand.

"That's the life when you retire, man," he laughed. "I've been to Hilton Head before and that's a beautiful spot, but I'm not one to make that long drive in the offseason. What I need to do is pick one spot every year to go and check out."

By Saturday, Florence had been downgraded to a tropical depression but was right on the doorstep in Charlotte, with wind gusts of 30 to 45 mph and 8 to 12 inches of rain expected, according to the Weather Channel.

The Charlotte Observer reported earlier in the week that Duke Energy, the Carolinas' main power source, had estimated between 1 million and 3 million of its 4 million residential and business customers could lose power. Some outages would last weeks.

Thursday night, Panthers' owner David Tepper issued a statement vowing to assist with recovery efforts.

The team left Saturday, hoping to win for the first time in Atlanta since 2014. Florence remained a huge distraction, like an unstoppable quarterback with a rocket-launcher for an arm.

"Oh, yeah, definitely a distraction, especially since my daughter's down here," said Short. "I don't want her or anybody going through a tragedy like that. That's my No. 1 priority — making sure she's safe."

Little Kamiyah is 4 years old.

Today's NFC South game can't end quick enough.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com.

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