Given the choice, Cam Newton would rather be in Carolina, preparing for his 10th season as the franchise quarterback for the Panthers.
That’s no knock on his current team, the New England Patriots, a far more successful operation.
No one with Newton’s ability wants to be starting over at 30 years old, cut by a franchise he took to a Super Bowl and where he ranks as its greatest player ever. No one wants to be away from their family, who, in Newton’s case, are still down South.
Mostly, no one wants to be fighting back from injuries, clouded in doubt or on a one-year, incentive-laden deal. He’s too young for this. Or should be.
So, yeah, Cam Newton wants to be with Carolina, and the fact Carolina didn’t want him, well, that hits the NFL’s 2015 MVP hard.
“Let’s just say, I wake up mad, you know?” Newton said Friday in his first public comments since signing with the Patriots to potentially take over Tom Brady’s old spot. “... At the end of the day, for me, I’m not going to dwell on the past. I’m a person that’s a self-motivator and even though the past is the past, I’m not going to keep looking back, I’m just going to turn the page and move forward.”
Here is where this gets interesting, and potentially impactful for the Patriots.
This isn’t the first time Newton has had to get up, dust himself off and turn whatever rage comes from getting questioned and cast aside (whether deserved or not) into motivation.
It happened after he was booted out of the University of Florida due to a stolen laptop. Suddenly the former five-star recruit had nothing guaranteed, his career caroming. He found a home at little Blinn College, a juco amid the farm lands of East-Central Texas, where the facilities were spartan and the competition intense.
“We didn't have a million-dollar weight room,” Brad Franchionne, Blinn’s coach at the time, told Yahoo Sports. “We used the pastures that we had. We used the fields.”
Training included Ninja Warrior-type drills, tug-of-wars and a famed one-on-one competition where two guys grabbed a hold of an old car tire and tried to wrestle it from the other one. There were no rules and just one winner.
“Our practices could be bloodbaths,” Franchionne said.
Cecil Newton, upon dropping his son off at Blinn, with all Cam’s brilliant potential hanging in the balance, offered a simple challenge.
“My dad said, ‘Cam, you can make this situation a dream or you can make this situation a nightmare,’” Cam told Yahoo Sports back in 2011. “That struck a fire under me. That was my drive.”
Blinn went 15-0 and won the NJCAA national championship. Cam signed with Auburn and headed back to the big time.
Once there, though, nothing was settled. Newton had merely gotten back where he started, a major SEC program. Newton was still unknown — at UF he hadn’t been a starter. It was Tim Tebow who had gone on to become a legend.
Now it was Newton’s turn to prove himself. At Auburn, his impact was undeniable, not just on the field (the Tigers would go 14-0 and win the national title) and not just in his individual play (he passed, rushed and even received for a combined 51 touchdowns en route to the Heisman Trophy).
It was in the way he transformed the mindset of the entire program by lifting the competition level of everyone.
“Cam was as competitive and as driven of a player as there can be,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, then the school’s offensive coordinator, said. “Everything you could have wanted out of a leader, he did.”
Junior college and even SEC football are not the NFL. Newton is no longer some young, spry athletic freak who could just mow over the competition. He’s also a smarter, more experienced quarterback.
Yet if there is a connection to those days, when Cam was trying to prove to everyone, especially those who had given up on him, then New England may be in for something special.
“I have to prove to myself,” Newton said Friday, when asked about his motivation. “That’s a daily challenge. I don’t think anyone’s expectations will ever surpass the expectations I have on myself.”
Here’s a guy who is showing up to an uncertain season with an uncertain future. He still has to win the starting job. Yet it’s all there in front of him, another chance, this time with a Hall of Fame coach.
“I’ve loved it since I’ve been here,” Newton said of his week with the Patriots.
Foxborough may not be some sun-beaten field out behind a rural junior college, but the circumstances aren’t all that different.
He can make this a dream. Or a nightmare.
He’s been here before, alone with nothing but his talent and his work ethic and a whole lot of football people wondering what he’s capable of accomplishing.
Can he prove them wrong, once again?
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