AUBURN, Ala. | Cameron Newton was working out when he got the summons to meet with Auburn coach Gene Chizik and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn.
“My first thought was I didn't do anything wrong,” Newton said Thursday. “I was kind of nervous.”
The coaches were instead telling the ex-Florida and junior college player Wednesday that he was the winner of Auburn's four-way battle at quarterback during spring practice. They spent nearly 10 days reviewing film from every practice and scrimmage before declaring Newton No. 1.
“I was happy inside,” the 6-foot-6, 247-pound junior said. “I was full of joy. Words can't even explain how I felt. But this is not the end of the road. If anything, the microscope gets more focused on what I really do on and off the field. I'm going to need to be 100 percent focused throughout whatever I'm doing.”
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Newton knows he still has to hold onto the job for four months before the season. But it was good news for a coveted recruit who spent two years behind Tim Tebow with the Gators, then played one season in the obscurity of a Texas junior college.
Now, he's finally the man to beat at a Southeastern Conference school. The news came as a welcome surprise to Cecil Newton, Cameron's father.
“Short of an NFL draft phone call,” Cecil Newton said, “that was the best call we could have gotten in April.”
“It's going to be special, but it's going to take time to develop that,” the elder Newton said. “He came into Florida coming out of high school playing second fiddle behind Tebow, deservedly so, but always going on the field and going to practice and doing all the things it takes to compete.
“But in the back of your mind knowing you're the second fiddle, it's a different mindset.”
Newton beat out Neil Caudle, Barrett Trotter and Clint Moseley in his second SEC go around after enrolling in January.
To the coaches, he wasn't just competing against those guys. They could measure him against the contenders last spring, who were also new to Malzahn's up-tempo offense.
Newton has the athleticism and mobility that fit the system, and impressed the coaches with his leadership. Plus, he was rated the nation's top JUCO prospect by Rivals.com.
“We thought his upside is huge,” Chizik said. “He's very confident, but not too confident. His presence is known and felt by the other players when he's in there.
“He manages the offense. He was very good protecting the football this spring. His completion percentages were very high in scrimmages. He brings an element to the table in terms of escapability, of his running game, that we feel can create problems for defenses. All of those things mixed together were the things that we saw.”
Newton led Blinn College – located between Houston and Austin – to a JUCO national championship last season. He passed for 2,833 yards, rushed for 655 and accounted for 38 total touchdowns.
He landed there after an arrest at Florida in November 2008. Campus police said he stole a $1,700 laptop then threw it out his dormitory window when officers arrived to investigate.
The charges were dropped last December when he completed a pretrial intervention program for first-time offenders. Newton has said he bought the stolen computer from someone else.
He has drawn only positive reviews from coaches and teammates since arriving at Auburn, which was seeking a replacement for starter Chris Todd. Newton was regarded as the instant favorite upon arriving in campus but, according to Chizik, didn't act like it.
“One of the things I really liked in what Cameron has done since he's been here is he's come in here, he's not talked a lot,” the coach said. “He's not told everybody what he's going to do and how he's going to do it. He just came in here and basically closed his mouth and went to work and worked very hard, and took very hard coaching.
“We're very specific and very demanding on what we're asking him to do.”
Chizik said he met with the other candidates individually to break the news. He said he doesn't expect redshirt freshman Tyrik Rollison to return to Auburn. Rollison missed spring practice to focus on academics after being one of the Tigers' top recruits last year.
Newton said he also spoke with the other quarterbacks.
“The overall vibe from the whole team is they're behind me 100 percent,” he said. “I've talked to Barrett, Clint, all those guys. It's nothing that I see as it being a problem. I hope to God it's not a problem. I don't sense that by any means. I've been getting a lot of good nudges to push me to success.”