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Alex Highsmith, Larry Ogunjobi Wreck Panthers in Return to Charlotte



Steelers Larry Ogunjobi Alex Highsmith

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — On the back of the football card for Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Alex Highsmith, it lists his birthplace as Wilmington, North Carolina, but it was clear on Sunday when he stepped back into Bank of America Stadium, he was home.

Highsmith lived in Wilmington through high school, which is three hours to the south and east, on North Carolina’s Atlantic Coast. But he grew up a “die-hard” Carolina Panthers fan and spent plenty of time in the bright blue seats, cheering on the Panthers. 

After high school, he spent the next five years honing his craft at UNC Charlotte, just around the corner from where the Steelers played Sunday.

In fact, the team stayed near the campus this weekend as Highsmith and fellow former Charlotte 49ers defensive standout made their way back to their old stomping grounds. The duo were responsible for a good portion of the black and gold wave that descended on Charlotte and turned the home-field advantage into a boon for the visitors.

“It’s a lot,” Highsmith said when asked how many ticket requests he had after the game. “I got a lot of family and friends in town so I’m excited to see them.”

“I got about 80 people to go and see,” Ogunjobi said as he hurried out of the Steelers locker room.

Their well-wishers got their money’s worth. Highsmith and Ogunjobi, along with Cam Heyward and T.J. Watt, were an absolute wrecking crew at the front of the Steelers defense.

Ogunjobi had five tackles, two for a loss, and a hurry. Highsmith had a sack, four tackles, a tackle for a loss and a hurry. Combined, they were part of a Pittsburgh defense that held Panthers running backs D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard to 19 yards on 14 carries. The longest Carolina carry of the day was for five yards as Pittsburgh won, 24-16.

“We gave them stuff all week long about coming back here and just staying on their campus,” veteran defensive tackle Tyson Alualu said. “For them to play the way we did, for the team to play the way we did, this is a homecoming for them, I know it was special for them. Definitely one we knew we had to handle our business.”

Those opportunities to make a splash, back in your hometown, don’t come every day for NFL players. Highsmith is in his third season and playing in Charlotte for the first time in the regular season. Ogunjobi, who has spent his entire career six-year career in the AFC North, also made his first regular-season pro appearance at the stadium. 

Both of them had one of their best games of the season.

“It’s just cool coming back and being able to play here,” Highsmith said. “It’s a feeling I can’t describe, I’m just so grateful.”