Cam Newton has a strong connection to the number 1. In the 2011 NFL Draft, Cam was the round 1, No. 1 pick. In 2011, on Sept. 1, he was named the Carolina Panthers’ starting quarterback. And Cam’s jersey number is 1. But before Cam became a standout, he was one person among many trying to find his way.
Born on May 11, 1989, Cameron Jerrell Newton was the second child of Cecil Newton Sr. and Jackie Newton. He grew up in the Atlanta suburb of College Park. Cecil was a linebacker from Savannah State University who played for the Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills in the early 1980s. Cam and his older brother Cecil Newton Jr. wanted to follow in their father’s footsteps.
Eager to prepare his young sons for a shot in the NFL, Cecil Sr. put Cecil Jr. and Cam through college-type drills before they became teens. By age eight, Cam stood close to 5-feet tall and weighed nearly 100 pounds. Cecil Jr. often invited Cam to play football with his friends. Even though he was younger, Cam performed well. He loved playing football alongside his brother and learned a great deal about the game.
“My brother is my biggest teammate,” Cam recalls. “It was the lessons and plays we created as children in the backyard that I learned the most from.”
Soon enough, Cam began playing organized football. Cam’s love for the game showed itself in his intense preparation.
“I recall when I played as a child, I would get up early and suit-up hours before the game actually started,” Cam says.
HIGH SCHOOL STAR
As Cam grew, so did his speed, agility and strength. In 2003, he enrolled at Westlake High School, playing basketball and football. As a freshman, Cam’s adroit arm, pocket presence and slick football moves encouraged Coach Dallas Allen to bump the standout freshman to the varsity team.
“Football is a game that I love at every level,” Cam says. “As a freshman or varsity player, it wasn’t about me. It was about the team. If I’m working hard, then the guys around me and the guys still learning become their best by working hard.”
As a sophomore, when the team’s starting quarterback broke his finger, Cam got to start. In his first game, Cam fumbled a snap from his brother late in the game. The other team recovered, costing the Westlake Lions a win. But for Cam, the bigger picture is not the score, but the continuous improvement inspired by lessons learned from the game.
“It’s not about winning or losing to me. It’s about gaining experience and knowledge because knowledge makes you powerful,” Cam says.
His junior year, Cam ran for 638 yards with nine touchdowns and threw for 2,500 yards with 23 touchdowns and nine interceptions. As a senior, he threw for 1,400 yards and ran for 1,000 yards. Cam was considered one of the nation’s top quarterback prospects, and more than 40 scholarship offers rolled in.
On Sept. 7, 2006, in a press conference at Westlake High School, Cam verbally committed to the University of Florida where he would play alongside fellow quarterback Tim Tebow.
“Florida was the best fit for me at the time,” Cam recalls. “I chose Florida because my talents fit the spread option offense better than any other out there.”
In 2007, as a college freshman, Cam was the backup quarterback for Tebow. Cam played in five games and threw for 40 yards on 5-of-10 passing and ran the ball 16 times for 103 yards and three touchdowns.
Cam’s 2008 sophomore year began with great promise, but promises can be broken when life happens. He played in the season opener versus Hawaii but, after spraining his ankle in the opener, he was red-shirted during what would be a national championship season for Florida. Cam’s football career was at a crossroads.