Published January 05, 2011
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Cam Newton was part of a national championship team at Florida where the spotlight was far removed from him, and one at Blinn College where there was no spotlight, only football.
Now Auburn's Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback can't escape attention, for good and bad. Questions about Newton never seem to vanish, despite his exploits on the field — and they are impressive.
Newton's got the top-ranked Tigers a win over No. 2 Oregon away from their first national title since 1957 — and his third in a row.
Three schools, three vastly different situations and, maybe, three national titles.
"There's one common denominator: That's him," said Ronny Feldman, Newton's offensive coordinator and position coach at Blinn. "He's got 'It.'"
This time around, Newton has the chance to power a team to victory on college football's biggest stage. No comparison between this and sporting a ballcap on the sideline, like he did while Tim Tebow guided the Gators to glory to cap the 2008 season. Or winning at Blinn, where few were watching the junior college championship.
Asked Wednesday about the biggest difference between the BCS and JUCO title games, Newton waved a hand at the dozens of cameras and reporters taking in his every word. "This," he said.
"I mean, I probably had two people interviewing me after the (JUCO) game about how I felt," he said. "But this is before the game and this is what I get. So this is a big difference."
Newton mostly fielded questions Wednesday about football and his newfound celebrity status, after discovering that even in Arizona he can't go shopping without drawing a crowd. "I felt as if there was a memo to everybody that Cam Newton is coming," he said. "It's kind of crazy."
The junior offered scant insight into whether he'll head to the NFL after the season, or into how he dealt with the relentless scrutiny over the past two months from a failed pay-for-play deal led by his father, Cecil, during Newton's recruitment by Mississippi State.
Newton said his father — after skipping the Heisman ceremony and being restricted to limited access to the athletic program — will be coming to the BCS game Monday night. His family members from Georgia "are going to be loud and proud."
The NCAA hasn't closed the investigation into Cecil Newton's attempt to sell his son's quarterbacking services, but reinstated Cam the week of the Southeastern Conference championship game after Auburn briefly suspended him.
The college sports governing body ruled that Cecil Newton and ex-Mississippi State player Kenny Rogers tried to get money from Mississippi State, but Cam Newton and Auburn didn't know about it.
Newton is trying to put a positive spin on the situation that threatened to derail the season for both him and Auburn.
"I look back at it and consider it a blessing," he said. "I think that whole process has made me stronger, and I opened my eyes to the fact of who is in this process for me and whether it is family members, friends or whatever. I learned about so many people that are very close to me."
As for his plans after a season that has made him a hot NFL commodity: "I really don't want to talk about that right now. My focus right now is on this football game."
The Oregon defense's primary focus, meanwhile, is on Newton. Twelve defensive coordinators have been unable to stop the 6-foot-6, 250-pound quarterback with an accurate right arm and a mixture of speed, moves and power running.
South Carolina even had two cracks at Newton, and he had perhaps his best outing of the season on the second go around for the SEC title. Oregon's defensive boss, Nick Aliotti, hasn't lost his sense of humor over the challenge.
"I've been sleeping like a baby. Every two hours I wake up and cry," Aliotti quipped.
Ducks defensive tackle Brandon Bair said the only comparable style they have faced in a quarterback is Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor in last year's Rose Bowl. What has he seen from studying film of Newton?
"You look at what he's accomplished and where they're at as a team right now, gives you the answer to that question really," Bair said. "He's a great athlete, performs really well under pressure and the biggest thing is he's a double threat, he can throw the ball and he can run."
And a little-noticed skill: He can paint, too.
Far removed from the glamour of major college football, Blinn's coaches had Newton and his teammates add painting the stadium to their daily duties for about a month in the spring of 2009.
"Did I appreciate it then? I didn't," he said. "That's part of the process that you have to do. You just have to swallow your pride and just do it, because everything happens for a reason. I know everybody's heard that slogan and I'm a firm believer in that."
Maybe that was one small part of a maturation process from his days as Tebow's backup, a status that helped persuade Newton to leave for a season at the junior college in Brenham, Texas. He also had a legal run-in after purchasing a stolen computer.
"The biggest thing I've changed was my mental aspect on life as a whole," he said. "I know when I was at Florida, I was very immature and I was a boy. Going through the roads that I did go, I've matured and grown into a man."
Feldman said Blinn teammates saw him running bleacher steps alone, and soon followed suit. And that Newton lifted weights with the linemen instead of the backs because it was more challenging.
"He understands what he's given in his body and he does nothing to harm himself whatsoever," Feldman said. "He's a remarkable young man. The biggest thing I like about him is he's got a 25-year-old body and an 18-year-old competitive mind, because he loves to play ball. That's his whole desire, to play ball."
The championships are a nice bonus.