How Caylin Newton Stepped Out of Cam's Shadow to Engineer CFB's Greatest Upset

Adam KramerNational College Football Lead WriterSeptember 7, 2017

LAS VEGAS, NV - SEPTEMBER 02:  Quarterback Caylin Newton #3 of the Howard Bison throws against the UNLV Rebels during their game at Sam Boyd Stadium on September 2, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Howard won 43-40.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

His name is Caylin. Not "Cam Newton's younger brother." Not "Cecil Newton's youngest son." Just Caylin.   

Prior to last Saturday, though, you can understand why for most of his 18 years he had been known mostly for those who share his surname. For his older brother, one of the most unbelievable forces the quarterback position has ever known. For his father, who dabbled in the NFL and years later became college football's greatest lightning rod.

But there was Caylin on Saturday, making a name for himself. A freshman quarterback at Howard University, in his first collegiate game Caylin was the leading force in the largest upset in college football history, carving up the UNLV defense with his legs and his right arm for a 43-40 victory as a 45-point underdog.

There he was, the player who had zero scholarship offers from FBS programs despite his tremendous pedigree, rushing for 190 yards and two touchdowns—a mix of planned destruction and chaotic improv.

Courtesy of Howard

There he was, all 5'11", 195 pounds of him, throwing for 140 yards and another touchdown, finding the end zone one last time halfway through the fourth quarter, the last touchdown of the game, to secure victory.

There he was after the game in the locker room, dancing alongside teammates and coach Mike London, an ACC Coach of the Year when he was at Virginia, as an HBCU program that had won three games the previous two seasons combined celebrated victory in a game it was supposed to lose by more than six touchdowns.

So how did this all happen? How did Cam Newton's brother—sorry; call him Caylin—wind up so far from his brother's big-name, big-program path and yet right in line with his big-win legacy?

It wasn't entirely by choice.

Caylin's decision to play for Howard was made in large part because his dad, Cecil, had a feeling Caylin could thrive here and told him that's where he was going. But it was also made in part because the larger schools never truly showed interest.

As a senior, Newton starred at Grady High School in Atlanta—a talent-rich recruiting area that college coaches cycle through frequently. But while programs like Marshall checked in on the 3-star quarterback with the famous last name from time to time, it was schools like Hampton, Kentucky Christian and Savannah State that really pursued him and ultimately offered scholarships, according to Grady coach Earthward Moreland.

"I think it was the height, and people were skeptical," Moreland says of Newton's lack of big-program interest. "But the numbers were proof. Like I told everybody, just turn on the film, and this guy can play. This is not a fluke. This wasn't because of who his brother was. It was his body of work."

The numbers? As a senior, Newton threw for more than 3,000 yards, ran for more than 1,000 yards and was responsible for 46 touchdowns. Even that was overshadowed by his big brother, though, as Cam came to as many games as he could, oftentimes dealing with requests for autographs and photographs as he watched his little brother.

"I think he uses it as fuel because he wants to step out of that shadow and make a name for himself," Moreland says. "I think that's always going to be that driving force with him."

Caylin's commitment to Howard did create some buzz, but it was less about how it would impact a dormant football program and more about the spectacle of it all: the brother of a former Heisman winner, a national champion at Auburn, an NFL MVP and a player sparkling with personality doing something—anything. It didn't matter who it was or where he was going. Caylin was a story because of where he came from.

"I believe that all things work together for the good," Newton said on ESPN this week. "I'm here now, and it's no accident. At the time, maybe I didn't see where we were going. My dad said we were going to Howard. The coach wasn't even there yet."

Indeed, Caylin's verbal commitment came days before Howard announced the hiring of London, who arrived after six years at Virginia and one year as Maryland's defensive line coach.

"When I first got here in January, we heard a lot about bringing the football program back and getting it back where it used to be," London says. "We wanted to change the culture and the mindset of things."

And now, he's dancing with his players in the locker room—"I don't know what I was doing in there," London says; "I got caught up in the emotions"—with a quarterback who's showing people his name isn't all he shares with his brother.

Like his older brother, Caylin is blessed with a Hollywood smile—a mix of wholesome joy and bottomless swagger. He, not Cam, was the one who ultimately helped bring "dabbing" mainstream—suggesting to his brother he incorporate the move into a touchdown celebration. Many millions, if not billions, of dabs later, he was on to something.

Like his older brother, Caylin's playing style is both graceful and unpredictable—a duality opponents at the high school and now college level have yet to bottle up.

"He's an athlete," London says of Newton. "He has an incredible ability to run and make people miss. It's exciting to watch him."

Of course, it's not all similarities. Unlike his brother, Caylin is not 6'5" and 245 pounds. He is not a physical anomaly playing a position that obsesses over measurables—hence playing for Howard rather than Georgia or even Auburn. He is a quarterback in a slot receiver's body. But it hasn't shown any signs of slowing him to date.

Also unlike his brother, despite his comfort in front of cameras and in the spotlight, Caylin plays with a different sort of purpose. "Selfless, humble and quiet," London says of Caylin. "He allows his play on the field to do the talking for him."

There is that edge, too, an unmistakable driving force behind it all. For as much as Cam has taught Caylin about football—"an incredible resource," London calls him—he has also been the motivation behind everything he does on the field.

Not in the sense most would believe, though. For much of the past 18 years, Caylin has lived in his brother's enormous shadow. He has supported him through it, like a good brother, enjoying the unlikely journey of stardom and family fortune from the sidecar. At the same time, he has waited for his turn.

Cam, even though life is much different than it used to be, has supported him right back. When the game finally ended late Saturday night, it was Cam who congratulated his little brother over the phone with his own first game approaching.

"I've got my hands full of trying to follow up a great performance by him," Cam told ESPN.com's David Newton earlier this week. "I just see all of the notoriety he's been getting. I've just been seeing a lot of, 'Cam Newton's little brother. Cam Newton's little brother.'

"I would just prefer his name be Caylin. He's deserved that right."

"He wants to be known as Caylin Newton," London says. "He understands he's coming from a great family and has a brother who is one of the best players in the NFL, but we're living in his world right now."

It was an evening many years in the making. It came without much warning for most—a game 2,400 miles from Howard campus, and a game that carried little national interest before it happened. Then came Caylin. Then came the largest upset, at least from a point-spread standpoint, the sport has ever known.

Beating UNLV pales in comparison to beating Oregon in a national title game, like his older brother did years ago. But it was extraordinary in nature—a debut unlike anything the sport has seen in some time.

A debut that pushed a player out of a seemingly insurmountable shadow.

It will take many nights like these for Caylin to close that gap further—more rushing yards and touchdowns and moments that feel larger than the outcomes themselves. Given all that has transpired over the last few days, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that a true freshman just completed his first-ever game. He has played 60 minutes of collegiate football.

In truth, though, it has and never will be about matching Cam and all of the things he's done and will still do. Envy has no place here, and it never will. This is not about carrying on the family name a certain type of way.

This is about a young man who will grow through ups and downs over the next four years in a place so hungry for football success. This is about an undersized, uber-talented quarterback who's coming off a historic evening, poised to build on such a promising start.

His name is Caylin.

      

Adam Kramer covers college football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @KegsnEggs.