Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local Sports

January 27, 2013

Newton: Pursue your goals

BECKLEY — Cam Newton often has been cast as a brash, sometimes immature professional athlete. Doesn’t always say the right thing after a game. Just a little more cocky than aN NFL quarterback — the leader of his team — is supposed to be.

That may be true, given all the accolades he has earned so early in life.

But Newton, the former Heisman Trophy winner who carried that success straight to pro football, has demonstrated a willingness to use his status as a role model to encourage young people as much as possible.

Newton was the guest speaker at the Big Atlantic Classic Tip-Off Banquet in Beckley on Sunday, and like all those before him, he targeted the younger members of the audience with a message of letting nothing get in the way of their dreams.

“Do not let anything hinder you from your goals,” Newton said. “And I mean anything.”

The current Carolina Panthers quarterback was an eleventh-hour replacement for Robert Griffin III, the Washington Redskins rookie QB who had originally been pegged to speak at the annual banquet.

RG3 was advised by famed surgeon Dr. James Andrews not to fly because of risks associated with his recent knee surgery.

Newton was confirmed as his replacement last Monday. And as he has so many times on the field, Newton delivered.

The Atlanta native related his experience at the University of Florida as an example of not straying from your goals. He was one of the nation’s top prospects at Westlake High when he opted to sign with the Gators — against the advice of his friends.

“Everybody said, ‘They’ve got that guy. You’ll never see the field,’ ” Newton said.

“That guy,” of course, was Tim Tebow, who won a Heisman Trophy and a national championship at Florida. Still, Newton stayed the course and went to Gainesville.

His friends were right — Newton barely played. In two seasons with the Gators, he was a combined 6 of 12 for 54 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions.

The proverbial writing was on the wall. Newton swallowed his pride and transferred to Blinn College, a junior college in Brenham, Texas. Gone were the days of fresh cleats before every game and water handed to him at the end of every practice.

“If I asked, ‘Where’s Brenham, Texas?’ ” — the crowd was silent. “Exactly. My junior college was in the middle of nowhere. I went from playing in a 90,000-seat stadium to where it was a safety hazard if the stadium was filled,” Newton said.

Newton led Blinn to the JUCO national championship in 2008, passing for nearly 3,000 yards and rushing for almost 700. He then decided to transfer back to the football-crazed Southeastern Conference, this time signing with Auburn.

That’s where his hard work began to pay off. After sitting out a NCAA-mandated year as a transfer, Newton led the Tigers to a perfect season in 2010, including a win over hated rival Alabama and a 56-17 victory over South Carolina in the SEC championship game.

A month later, Auburn beat Oregon 22-19 for its first-ever BCS national championship.

Not only did Newton have his national title, he was also named that season’s Heisman Trophy winner as the best player in college football.

All because of words his dad, Cecil Sr., said to him and brother Cecil Jr. when Cam was 9 years old. Every Saturday morning, their dad made them go to work with him at his construction business. One day, he had a message for his boys.

“He said, ‘Sons, just be good at something,’ ” Newton said. “That day, I decided that I wanted to be good, and my something was football.”

Newton urged the young people, many of whom will be playing in the Big Atlantic Classic starting today, to employ that philosophy toward whatever their “something” is. He stressed that being interested in something comes only when it is convenient, but being committed takes hard work.

“Ask yourself: Are you committed, or are you interested?” Newton challenged.

Newton currently is enrolled as a student at Auburn, where he is taking 15 credit hours toward completing a degree in sociology. He made a promise to his mother, Jackie, that he would graduate, an accomplishment he says will “dwarf all my other achievements.”

Newton kept his speech brief, then took a number of questions from members of the audience. Many questions came from younger fans, a group he tries to reach not only through his words and experiences, but also through his Cam Newton Foundation.

Newton said, “When you have (people) that look up to you — females, males, it doesn’t matter — for me to give back at this time, hopefully anything that I do say will be of encouragement to somebody.”

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