A positive outlook
Newton seeking win-win situation
Panthers rookie has high hopes
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Cam Newton settled into a couch in the lobby of his new place of employment, flashed his million-dollar smile, and quickly offered a word of warning.
“Don’t believe what you’ve read,’’ he said.
When the Carolina Panthers made Newton the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, they gave the quarterback the fresh start few realized he needed. The Panthers, meanwhile, hope Newton will be the charismatic fresh face of a franchise in dire need of some new energy.
A 2-14 season landed the Panthers the No. 1 pick in April’s draft and led them to Newton, who is still adjusting to how quickly his life has changed.
He was in Brenham, Texas, two years ago, at Blinn College, where he quickly realized “you don’t get no respect. You are already stereotyped as something happened, that’s why you are in junior college.’’
Then it was on to one life-changing year at Auburn as Newton rocketed to stardom at the same time he was under constant scrutiny. He won a national championship, Auburn’s first since 1957, and the Heisman Trophy all while the NCAA investigated his father for seeking money in a play-for-pay scandal. Newton was cleared by the NCAA of knowing about the scheme, but there’s an obvious sense that the entire experience left him battle scarred.
“It got nasty real fast,’’ he said.
Now here he is in Charlotte, a city starving for its first true superstar. Newton, who has a billboard in Times Square even though he has yet to play a regular-season game, might very well be the king that the Queen City has been courting since the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets made it a pro city in 1988.
Although Newton knows how to turn on the charm - as he left the field after a recent practice, he waved at a television camera and said ‘Hi, mom!’ in a way that created a usable clip on a day he declined interviews - he insists he doesn’t want to be in a constant spotlight.
“People read about me, they hear about me, and they just think, ‘There’s Cam, he’s this individualistic person - is that a word? - but they think, ‘He’s just to himself all the time,’ ’’ he said. “So I keep my circle very close because I don’t want to feel like all eyes on me, unless it’s out there on the field. That’s the only time I can feel comfortable when all these people are looking at you.
“But outside of football, I’m really to my own. I understand you can’t go out because people observe everything you do, what you eat, who you are with, how you are looking. A lot of times I feel the attention and it’s very uncomfortable for me, especially looking back, this time last year, still nobody knew who I was. Now 365 days fast-forward, you went from flashes to being right up on the radar.’’
That’s right where he’ll be as everybody watches and waits for Newton to turn the Panthers around. First-year coach Ron Rivera has not yet named the regular-season starter but that shouldn’t be too far off partly because incumbent Jimmy Clausen hasn’t done anything to hold onto the job.
Newton got his first start of the preseason in Thursday night’s loss to Cincinnati. He was 6 for 19 for 75 yards in three quarters, but he did show some flash with a 16-yard touchdown scramble. It impressed left tackle Jordan Gross, who protected the stationary Jake Delhomme for seven seasons.
“When we drafted [Newton] I said, ‘This is a long ways away from Jake Delhomme in the pocket,’ and Jake is my guy,’’ Gross said. “But that’s what I expected to see with Cam. That’s huge. That’s going to make my job easier. Guys are going to have to rush to contain.
“We were in a division with Mike Vick for so long that you were jealous of their linemen because of the run threat he possessed. But I think Cam did really well.’’
But he’s got to get better, something Rivera noted after Thursday night’s game.
“He was a little erratic at times. He felt the pressure at times. I think that got to him a bit,’’ Rivera said. “He needs to make better reads at times. It was nice to see him in an extended role. You learn that he has some moxie, but he has a long way to go.’’
Newton also must adjust to making his own decisions on the field. At Auburn, plays were signaled in from the sideline and Newton mostly took the snap from the shotgun. With the Panthers, the plays are being called in directly to him, and Newton now must process them, call them in the huddle, do a defensive read, and call for the snap.
Don’t think for a minute he won’t get it down pat, said Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn.
“They’re delusional if they don’t think he can read defenses and throw the football,’’ Malzahn said. “What he did in one year in this league with the pass-efficiency record is really unheard of. He’ll be a very successful pro, as long as he keeps working and doing the things he’s done. And I really expect him to do that. The more he plays, the more successful he’ll be.’’
Newton has only ever known success. He couldn’t think of a time he’s ever played on a losing team, a winning streak that could be credited to his talent and ability to carry an offense.
But Newton likes to believe attitude is just as important as efficiency. Although the Panthers haven’t looked all that improved through three preseason games, Newton said it never has crossed his mind that this could be a long year of losing.
“That’s the mentality you’ve got to have,’’ he said. “If you go into the season thinking that, ‘Man, it’s going to be a long season,’ well, I’ve never been on a losing team, and I think it’s because of that mentality that you start the season with. I don’t think Tom Brady or Peyton Manning looks at his teammates and says, ‘Well look, we ain’t got this and we ain’t got that.’ No, they work with what they have and make the best of each situation.’’
So Newton is instead subscribing to Rivera’s “Win the One’’ motto of approaching every moment individually and not getting hung up on the long-term implications.
It helps that he gets nearly daily affirmations from Deion Sanders, who texts Newton a motivational thought nearly every morning, and constant advice from Warren Moon, whom Newton described as “the key person in my corner right now.’’
He also lists two role models, Muhammad Ali and Ray Lewis, who both have impressed Newton with their confidence. It’s been a struggle, Newton said, for him to express himself in a way that doesn’t incite the haters. His humor can have a sarcastic tone he’s found can be misinterpreted, and his drive, determination, and demands on himself have definitely rubbed people the wrong way.
So much so that he said being referred to as “cocky’’ is both the biggest misconception of Newton as well as a stinging insult.
“I take that very offensive, when a person says I’m cocky,’’ he said. “There’s a thin line from being cocky and confident, and people don’t understand that expecting so much out of yourself doesn’t make you a cocky person. I want to be good. I demand greatness for myself, and I’m not going to be complacent by no means.
“Ray Lewis . . . I don’t think cockiness plays a role in anything he does. There’s like an aura that he has, he don’t even have to say nothing, and you feel different when you are around him. You just expect Ray to do everything the right way, you know Ray is not going to give anything less than his best.
“That’s how I want my reputation to be.’’