Tuesday, June 17, 2014
Newton: New friend 'lightened my day up'
By David Newton
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Clayton Gring turned to his wife during the Carolina Panthers' minicamp on Tuesday and yelled, "Hey, Katherine, watch this!"
Out on the practice field was their 6-year-old son George, in a smaller version of the gold Under Armour high top cleats that quarterback Cam Newton wears, taking the snap in a red No. 2 jersey like the red No. 1 Newton wears.
Lined up as a receiver was Newton, still limited from the ankle surgery he had in March, but not so much that he couldn't help fulfill George's wish.
George Gring, age 6, of Houston spent a day with QB Cam Newton and the Panthers. George will also be the team's "Keep Pounding" drummer before the August 17 exhibition against Kansas City.
"Anytime as a player, as a role model, as whoever, you get a chance to give back and make somebody's day, man, I'm all for it," Newton said after the first of the three-day camp. "He lightened my day up for it to be such a monotonous process for me coming out and pretty much doing nothing.
"I was excited today, because of my man, G-square."
Waiting until training camp in late July to participate fully in practice might be monotonous for Newton, but it seems like such a small sacrifice when you consider what George has endured.
In November, a few days before Thanksgiving, a lump the size of a grapefruit was discovered in stomach area of the 4-foot-2 kid from Houston. It was diagnosed as Burkitt's Lymphoma, an intestinal-based cancer.
After two surgeries and five rounds of chemotherapy, doctors pronounced the cancer was in recession.
During the treatment, George became associated with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. His wish was to be a member of the Carolina Panthers and play with Newton.
On Tuesday, that wish came true.
The Panthers signed George to a complicated deal that included a bonus of Skittles and KitKat bars, fitted him with a locker that included his jersey and cleats that Newton had special ordered, and put him on the practice field with the entire team.
The whole experience will be a part of a "My Wish" television series on ESPN in July. Newton was touched by it.
"The impact I had puts into perspective how much people really actually watch you," Newton said. "Even though he's hundreds of miles away from where we are on the East coast, it still makes an impact being in this NFL.
"It also puts stress on you to let you know you have to be mindful of what you do and what you say as well."
Newton isn't feeling any stress to rush back from the ankle surgery. He's on schedule to be ready for camp, which opens on July 24. Other than being limited in quarterback runs -- a big part of his game -- he is expected to be full-go during the preseason.
That he took three- and five-step drops on Tuesday was another good sign.
"His timing is probably the most important thing as far as their running the routes and him releasing the ball," coach Ron Rivera said as he looked ahead to training camp. "That's probably the biggest thing he's got to get into focus. I'm not concerned with him running now, because that comes very natural for him."
Making George feel special came natural, too. Asked who his favorite player was, there was no hesitation from the kid with the big smile.
"Cam Newton," George said.
Newton probably would like George's enthusiasm during the formal news conference held after practice. Asked how he thought the Panthers would do this season, George said, "They might win the Super Bowl."
He also did a good job of avoiding the hard questions like, "Who are your favorite role models?"
"I don't know what that means," he said.
George did seem a bit puzzled when he was asked if he ate his Fruit Loops for breakfast with a spoon. Guess he hasn't familiarized himself with defensive end Greg Hardy and his alter persona, "The Kraken."
George was a good reminder for a team many are expecting to take a hard fall from last season's 12-4 record that dealing with the hot, muggy conditions in June isn't so bad.
He was a good reminder for Newton that as monotonous as his recovery has been, it's just a minor setback.
But this journey isn't over. George will return to Charlotte and be the team's Keep Pounding drummer before the August 17 preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Maybe by then he will have his timing down on passes to Newton.
"It was pretty good," Newton said of George's pass that he had to stretch hard for. "We've got to coach him up and get better at things, but so do I."