At this very second, the most intriguing college quarterback since Michael Vick is training in San Diego, California.
His name is Cameron Jerrell Newton, and he wants to prove he should be a top-five pick in late April's NFL Draft. To work on his skill set, he's training with George Whitfield Jr. who, after spending time as a pro QB, decided to start coaching them and has done so with the likes of former first-round picks like Akili Smith, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers. In addition to Whitfield, Hall of Famer Warren Moon is also mentoring Newton.
Cam, as some call him, started his path to becoming an NFL QB on the day he committed to the University of Florida while at Westlake High School in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia.
It's not like he came out of nowhere like most thought after seeing him last year; he was a five-star recruit coming out of high school. Newton knew he would probably have to ride the bench for a while behind Tim Tebow before he'd get a shot.
The real problem in Gainesville was that he fell down the depth chart, and after a cheating accusation and an arrest for possession of a stolen laptop he decided it was time to leave the Swamp.
So, after two years at UF, where would he go?
What school would he transfer to? Would he stay in the SEC or go to another conference? Would he even play FCS ball? He answered all of that with the announcement that he would attend Blinn College in Texas for his redshirt sophomore year.
While in Texas, Newton really was humbled. He realized he needed to earn what he gets on the field—that way, he could play big time ball instead of playing at a junior college the rest of his career. From then on, he definitely earned a big-time scholarship as he led Blinn to a junior college national championship and was the best JuCo player in the nation.
Newton told America he was going to leave Blinn after just one year so he could continue his march to the NFL. As the top-ranked junior college player in the nation and a 6'6", four-star quarterback, almost every team in the country was salivating just thinking about the strong-armed sophomore in their offense.
It really ended up coming down to two schools for Newton: Mississippi State, whose head coach was his former offensive coordinator; and Auburn. After a long recruiting period he chose to play football for the Auburn Tigers.
When Newton walked onto campus in Alabama that summer, no one gave him the credit he deserved. Some people didn't even think he should be the starter and no one beyond the Tiger faithful saw him becoming an immediate success.
He started his Tiger career on the right foot, with five touchdowns in a 52-26 win over Arkansas State. This performance was much overlooked for two reasons: one, because almost every game the first week of the NCAA season is a blow out; and two, because Auburn played a much weaker team.
Newton couldn't repeat those types of numbers against SEC teams, right?
Wrong. The next week Auburn traveled to Mississippi State, the same school Newton almost attended, and he won the game with a pair of touchdown passes. That set the pace for his season as he never threw less than two touchdowns a game for the whole year and got better and better every week.
As the regular season ended, Auburn was 12-0 and facing a dangerous South Carolina team in the SEC Championship Game. How would Newton react?
By throwing for four touchdowns and 335 yards and running for two more TDs. Not only was he a good QB, but he also got better as the pressure mounted. Newton was now faced with the biggest game of his career: the BCS National Championship against the University of Oregon.
TV, radio shows, newspapers—they all talked about Newton for the next month. When game day finally came, however, the pressure didn't seem to faze him at all.
It was just Auburn and Oregon, and he was going to do anything he could to win. It ended up being the only game in his career in which he threw more than 28 passes, and at the end of it all the 2010 Auburn Tigers were crowned national champions.
His 2010 season wasn't all good, though—I won't sugar coat the story. Newton and his father Cecil were accused of deciding his college choice based on how much money schools would give them.
Turns out the NCAA is very, very against that. When they investigated, though, they found no hard evidence of wrongdoing in Auburn's recruitment of Newton, just a tape of his father saying, "It really comes down to the money."
Still, NFL teams may think twice about Cam's judgement, and they'll have a really hard time figuring out where to put Newton on their big boards because of it. He's a huge QB (6'6" and 250 pounds, reportedly) who can only be compared in size to Ben Roethlisberger, Dante Culpepper, Tim Tebow and Jake Locker.
He has a huge arm, but only one year of tape to check his accuracy. Throw that on top of the scandals around him, and teams will carefully check and double check everything he's done. Plus, no one really know how he gets along with players, or what his commitment level can be in view of his enrollment at three schools in the past three years.
Newton will have some guidance, though, once he does get into the NFL. His father played safety for the Cowboys and his brother is currently a center for the Jaguars. Not to mention the two guys coaching him up right now.
After he showed up in San Diego for a media day event, at least six teams said Newton was the No. 1 player on the list. That answers the question of whether he'll go in the first round, but it also raises many more.
Where will he end up playing? Arizona, Buffalo, Carolina, San Francisco? In the end, will the Heisman winner fall off the map like so many have before? Will he bust just like Alex Smith, another Urban Meyer-coached QB? Will he succeed, but become a run-first player like Tebow?
No one really knows, but following the career of this young man since he was a high school kid in Atlanta has been a treat and I bet it will be just as exciting on draft day and beyond.
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