Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton will skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft after leading Auburn to a national championship and drawing nearly as much attention for a pay-for-play scandal as for his dynamic performances.
Auburn released a statement Thursday night announcing the quarterback's decision following his lone year as a major college starter. Newton led the Tigers to their first national title since 1957 and a 14-0 season with a 22-19 victory over Oregon on Monday night.
"This decision was difficult for me and my family," Newton said, adding that he made it after talking to coach Gene Chizik and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn.
"It's been a blessing for me to be a part of something so great," he said. "Any time you win games it's a big deal, but for this school to win a BCS national championship, what a way to make people happy. Auburn is a special place that I can call home."
The former backup to Tim Tebow at Florida arrived after leading Blinn College in Texas to a junior college national championship and won on a much bigger stage with the Tigers.
The national champions are waiting on Lombardi Award-winning defensive tackle Nick Fairley to announce his NFL decision on Friday in his hometown of Mobile. Fairley might be the No. 1 overall pick, but the 6-foot-6, 250-pound Newton is the guy that Chizik called "probably the best football player I've ever seen" after the Southeastern Conference championship game.
"We appreciate Cameron's many contributions to Auburn and the outstanding leader that he was for our football team," Chizik said. "He had one of the greatest individual seasons ever by an Auburn player and was a key part of our championship run. Cam will always be a member of the Auburn family and we wish him the best in his future endeavors."
The College Park, Ga., native was chosen the Walter Camp and Associated Press National Player of the Year. Newton also won the Maxwell Award as the nation's top player and the Davey O'Brien Award as the best quarterback.
The dual-threat quarterback brought joy to Auburn, but some troubles also came along with him. He played under a cloud the last two months of the season after reports surfaced that his father, Cecil, shopped his services during Mississippi State's recruitment of his son.
All that came of it so far is that Auburn declared Newton ineligible the week of the SEC championship game against South Carolina and the NCAA reinstated him a day later. The NCAA said it hasn't closed the case but that it had no evidence at the time that Cam Newton knew about his father's solicitation.
The case may prompt a new addition — call it "Newton's Law" — in the NCAA rule book.
It was prominent and polarizing enough that NCAA president Mark Emmert, speaking at the governing body's annual convention Thursday, called for new rules ensuring that parents can't "sell the athletic services" of their children.
"If you look at the Newton case, a lot of people came away from that, because it's a complicated case, saying, 'Gosh, it's OK for a father to solicit money for the services for his son or daughter?'" Emmert told reporters afterward. "The answer to that is no, it isn't. But we don't have a rule that makes that clear."
On the field, Newton rushed for 1,473 yards and 20 touchdowns while passing for 2,854 yards and 30 TDs. He set Auburn season records for both rushing and passing TDs and total offense and an SEC mark for yards on the ground by a quarterback.
Newton injured his back during the national title game but still passed for 265 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another 64.
He was good enough to prompt South Carolina coach and 1966 Heisman winner Steve Spurrier to marvel: "You can't tackle him. He's almost a one-man show."
Associated Press writer Paul J. Weber in San Antonio contributed to this report.