Cameron Jerrell Newton was born on May 11, 1989, in Savannah, Georgia. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) He was the younger of two sons born to Cecil and Jackie Newton. Both boys followed in their father’s footsteps. Cecil was an undersized linebacker for Savannah State in the early 1980s and later tried out for the Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills. He failed to make either roster. Eager to prepare his sons for a shot at the NFL, Cecil put Cecil Jr. and Cameron through college-type drills before they reached their teens.
Cameron grew up in College Park, a suburb south of Atlanta, near Hartsfield International Airport. Cecil Jr., three years Cam’s senior, ended up as an offensive lineman in the NFL after playing college ball at Tennessee State. When Cam’s older brother invited him to play football with his friends, it was the younger Newton who ran circles around them.
Cam began playing organized football as soon as he was allowed, and by age 8, he was a star. Cam stood close to five feet at that age and weighed almost 100 pounds. Because it was a weight-based league, he often skipped meals in order to remain eligible.
Cam was a so-so student at Seaborn Lee Elementary School and at Camp Creek Middle School, but his parents refused to let him slip through the cracks. Jackie saw to it that her son kept up with his schoolwork. Cam was bright enough, and the teachers liked him, but his abundant energy often made him hard to handle in the classroom.
As Cam grew, he lost none of his speed or agility. But he did get stronger. He enrolled at Westlake High School in 2003 and impressed coach Dallas Allen with his spirit and athletic ability as a freshman. He was moved from the frosh squad to the varsity by the end of his first year. Cam got a chance to start as a sophomore after an older played broke his finger. In his first game, Cam fumbled a snap from his brother in the closing moments of a close game, costing the Lions a win. He went back to the bench.
Between his sophomore and junior seasons, Cam grew three inches and added 15 pounds of muscle. By his senior season, Cam stood 6-4 and weighed 230 pounds. He could throw the ball 75 yards in the air and run over just about any would-be tackler. The college recruiters who watched Westlake’s games were divided over Cam’s future position. Some saw him continuing to develop as an option quarterback. Others believed he had the ability to become a good pocket passer. Tommy Tuberville wanted Cam at Auburn, but as a tight end.
As the scholarship offers rolled in, Cam was drawn to Florida, where Tim Tebow had just made a splash as a do-it-all freshman. He joined the Gators for the 2007 season and played sparingly as a back-up. The 2008 season began with great promise, but after spraining his ankle in the opener, Cam was red-shirted during what would be a national championship season for Florida.
In November of that year, Cam was accused of stealing a laptop. He claimed he had bought it from someone for $120 and later admitted he should have know it was too good a deal to be true. When officers came to his room, he compounded his mistake by throwing the computer out the window. He was charged with burglary, larceny and obstructing justice. The charges were later dropped.
Despite the embarrassment, and being suspended from the team by coach Urban Meyer, Cam wanted to stay and take over the Florida offense in 2009. That plan came apart when Tebow—who everyone assumed would go pro after his junior year—announced that he would return for his senior season.
ON THE RISE
Cam knew it was time to go somewhere else. He left Florida and enrolled at Blinn Junior College in Texas. The Buccaneers had a good football program, winning the national Juco title in 1995 and 1996, and again in 2006. Cam fit right in. In 2009, he threw for 2,833 yards, ran for 655 and accounted for 38 touchdowns.
Blinn reached the championship game, against Ft. Scott Community College. Trailing 26–10 in the third quarter, Cam led the Buccaneers to two touchdowns, but he was tackled short of the end zone on a two-point conversion that would have tied the game with less than three minutes left. The Blinn defense held and Chad Froechtenicht won the game 31–26 with a spectacular 84-yard punt return. Cam ran for 102 yards in the game and passed for 113.
For the second time in Cam’s young life, he was one of the most-recruited passers in the country. This time he chose Auburn. The Tigers had a power running game ideally suited for Cam. Although his passing skills were still unpolished, every time he got flushed out of the pocket, something good usually happened. Head coach Gene Chizik was an ideal mentor for Cam. During his coaching career, he had been involved in the development of Daunte Culpepper and Vince Young. He thought Cam had even more potential.
That potential burst forth in the season opener, when Cam sliced through the Arkansas State defense for a 71-yard touchdown run in a 52–26 victory. He also threw for 186 yards and three touchdowns. The Tigers won again at Mississippi State, but the game was a tough defensive battle. Cam threw for a pair of touchdowns in the first half to give Auburn a 17–7 lead. The Bulldogs shut him down after that, but the Tigers held on to win 17–14. Defensive lineman Nick Fairley starred for the Auburn defense.
Next came Clemson in a game of Tigers. Clemson opened a 17–0 lead, but Cam recovered from a mistake-filled first half and led Auburn to 21 points in the third quarter. The score was knotted 24–24 after 60 minutes, but Auburn won in OT on a field goal. Two close games against good teams prepared Auburn for its next battle against South Carolina. Auburn prevailed 35–27 in what was Cam’s coming-out party. He accounted for all five touchdowns, throwing for two and running for three while racking up over 300 yards of total offense.
Wins over Louisiana-Monroe and Kentucky ran Auburn’s record to 6–0 and set up a showdown with 12th-ranked Arkansas. Coming off a game in which he scored four first-half touchdowns, Cam engineered a victory over the Razorbacks, erasing a fourth-quarter deficit and scoring three late touchdowns in a 65–43 shootout win.
The Tigers vaulted to #1 in a 24–17 win over LSU, running their record to a perfect 8–0. Against the SEC’s best defense, Cam ran for 217 yards and a pair of scores to go with 86 passing yards. He basically took what LSU gave him. Right after halftime, Cam made perhaps the signature play of his season, breaking five tackles on a 49-yard touchdown run anddragging All-American Patrick Peterson the final 10 yards.
The next three games were blowout wins over Ole Miss, Chattanooga and Georgia. Can threw for a career-high 317 yards in the second of the three contests and then helped Auburn erase an early deficit against Georgia with 148 passing yards and 15 rushing yards in a 49–31 victory.
Auburn’s toughest game of the season came a week later, against Alabama in the Iron Bowl. The Crimson Tide built a 24–0 lead, and hopes of a national championship bid were fading when Cam came alive and threw for three touchdown pass and ran for another to give the Tigers a 28–27 victory. Auburn had never won a game it had trailed 24–0, and Alabama had never lost one.
By comparison, the SEC Championship against South Carolina was a yawner. Cam threw four TD passes and scored on two runs in a 56–17 wipeout. He set a championship game record with 408 total yards. The victory preserved the Tigers’ #1 ranking and earned them a berth in the BCS title game against Oregon. It also sewed up the Heisman Trophy for Cam, who outdistanced Andrew Luck of Stanford by more than 1,000 points.
As the championship game approached, the experts were predicting a high-scoring affair. Once the game began, there was indeed plenty of offense—more than 1,000 total yards between the two schools—but they combined for a mere 41 points, with Auburn prevailing 22–19. The score was tied 19–19 until Wes Byrum kicked the winning field goal as time ran out. Cam threw for a pair of touchdowns in what would be his final college game. Three days later, he announced he would make himself eligible for the NFL draft.
No one was surprised when the Panthers made Cam the first overall pick in the NFL draft. Carolina wanted a quarterback, and Cam’s arsenal of skills made him an easy choice over Jack Locher and Baline Gabbert. Cam was the fourth Auburn player to go #1—the first three were Tucker Frederickson, Bo Jackson and Aundray Bruce.
Training camp started late because of the lockout, but Cam made the nost of this time by working out with former Heisman winner Chris Weinke at the IMG complex in Bradenton, Florida. Once in camp, he worked with the Panthers’ quarterbacks coach, Mike Shula, to prepare himself for the NFL.
MAKING HIS MARK
After the labor dispute was settled, Cam beat out Derek Anderson and Jimmy Claussen and was named Carolina’s starter by head coach Ron Rivera. He made his debut on September 11 against the Arizona Cardinals. It was quite a performance. Cam set a record for rookies with 422 passing yards. He threw a pair of TD passes and just one interception, and also ran for a score. The only blemish on his record was the final score. Carolina fell 28–21.
Against the defending NFL champion Green Bay Packers a week later, Cam broke his own rookie mark with 432 passing yards and surpassed Kurt Warner’s rookie record 827 yards in two games. The Panthers lost that game, too. It was in Week 3 that Cam finally notched his first victory as a pro, a 16–10 decision over the Jacksonville Jaguars in which he had 158 passing yards and one touchdown. Win number two came in Week 7, against Washington Redskins.
The Panthers lost their next three games to fall to 2–8. At that point, however, something clicked for Cam. The turnovers that haunted him in his losses became few and far between. He beat the Colts in Indianapolis and in doing so joined Peyton Manning, Matt Ryan and Sam Bradford as the only rookies to surpass 3,000 yards passing. One week later, in a 38–19 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cam barreled into the end zone for the 13th time to set an all-time record for quarterbacks.
The Panthers split their final four games to finish 6–10. In a Week 16 rematch with the Bucs, Cam eclipsed Manning’s record for passing yards by a rookie. He added 158 in the final game against the New Orleans Saints to finish with 4,058. He had 21 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, and also ran for 706 yards and 14 scores. Eight times during the season, Cam ran and passed for touchdowns in the same game—tying a league record shared by Daunte Culpepper and Steve Grogan. Cam was an easy pick for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
The 2012 edition of the Carolina Panthers will be built around the skills of four great runners—Cam, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and newcomer Mike Tolbert. That should buy Cam an extra beat to find his receivers, and possibly run an option play. However the Panthers play it, how Cam does in his second pro campaign should be one of the biggest stories in sports.
CAM THE PLAYER
Blending a linebacker's body with a tailback's speed and quickness, Cam hit the NFL with all the subtlety of head-slap. Unlike many running quarterbacks who come to the league, Cam had the powerful arm and unwavering confidence to ease into Carolina’s drop-back game. He surprised many experts by completing difficult throws that he was rarely asked to make in college in Auburn’s spread offense.
When the pass rush gets too heavy, or when the defense leaves him a gaping hole, Cam instantly turns into one of the league’s most dangerous runners. That being said, the main criticism of Cam in his rookie season was that he relied to heavily on his throwing ability and did not develop the efficient footwork that pro quarterbacks need to survive. In some case, this led directly to interceptions. Football insiders will be watching this part of his game closely in 2012.
Cam has prven to be a great leader in his short time playing big-time football. At Auburn, his teammates felt they couldn’t lose when Cam had the ball. His Carolina teammates have developed the same type of faith in him. Don’t be surpised to see Cam hoist the Lombardi trophy some day.
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