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NFL draft 2011: Tracing Cam Newton's journey to the NFL

"Cam's the kind of kid where things just roll off his back like water."-- Dallas Allen, Newton's football coach at Atlanta's Westlake High School

By Elizabeth Merrill/ESPN.com

he Cam Newton story starts, conspicuously, on the southwest end of Atlanta. Not since the Mannings, or maybe the Clintons, have people been so fixated on one Southern family. Cecil Newton shows up at a football game -- or doesn't show up -- and it's huge news. The path to their house is well-worn. Six-figure scandals can do that, flash the spotlight on kin.

In most years, when a young man is on the verge of being the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, his beginnings are well-documented. Cam's aren't. Cecil's son exploded onto the college football scene so fast and the family's fall was so quick, the headlines changed from CAM FOR PRESIDENT to HEISMAN HYPOCRISY within a matter of days.

So the Newtons, naturally, are lying low, especially Cecil. He's at the center of it all, and he isn't about to go down Memory Lane for the sake of some pre-draft profile. But he hands his cell phone to his son Cecil Jr. while they're in the car on the way to the airport. The other Cecil Newton is a mere footnote in this whole saga, a 25-year-old man whose career, so far, has been boiled down to a couple of sentences in tiny type. That's right; Cam Newton has a brother who played in the NFL. Who knew?

Cecil Jr. is an offensive lineman, so it's in his nature to be protective. Like Cam, he will continue to stand up for his family.

It has taken a village to raise young Cam. When he was a kid and liked to crack jokes instead of focusing on his assignments, it was their mother, Jackie, who waited for his report cards. She would go to Camp Creek Middle School to straighten out her son. When the boys wanted to goof off on Saturdays, it was Cecil Sr. who always made sure they were working, on football or doing odd jobs around the neighborhood to earn a few bucks and buy their own sneakers.

"We were always raised to work hard," Cecil Jr. says. "My father was a key figure in both of our lives."

Some former classmates at Westlake High say the elder Newton, a big man like his sons, cast a large shadow.

"He wasn't the type to be seen screaming [at games]," said Adam Tolliver, who played sports with both brothers at Westlake, "but he had a reputation for being a strict father.

"It was clear that he was a figure [Cam] took seriously in life."

It seemed as if Cam had the opposite personality. He liked to laugh so much that one of his high school coaches nicknamed him "Joka." But when it was time to get serious on the football field, Newton locked in.

Cecil Jr.

Kent Davis, an assistant at Westlake, said Newton was so intense sometimes that he used to level his smaller teammates in practice. One game, he was hurt and sat out the first half with the Lions clinging to a 6-0 lead. He played in the second, and his team cruised to a 49-0 win.

He made varsity his freshman season, which was a rarity at Westlake. Back then, he was known as Cecil's little brother. Still scrawny and not far removed from his glasses-wearing middle-school days, he had little chance to see the field. Then, Westlake's starting quarterback got hurt in a televised game against rival Mays, and Newton was called off the bench.

Nerves jangling, Cam held his own. He had his brother there at center, snapping him the ball. On first-and-goal, Cecil Jr. snapped it hard, as he always did. Cam wasn't ready; the ball bounced, and the Lions fumbled. Cecil Jr. took the blame after the game.

Their coach at the time, Dallas Allen, said he was ready to choke both of them. The fumble was the turning point in a gut-wrenching, one-point loss. "You guys live in the same household," he told the brothers. "Bobbling a snap is the last thing you guys should do."

Cecil Jr., obviously, was down. Football did not come easy for him as it did for Cam. Everything Cecil Jr. got, he had to work hard for, be it the scholarship he earned after he walked on at Tennessee State or the spot on the Jacksonville Jaguars' roster.

But back to the game against Mays. The stadium was packed, but Cam was unflappable. He didn't take the fumble too hard.

"Cam's the kind of kid where things just roll off his back like water," Allen said. "He'd go back in the huddle, ready for the next play."

"I saw the potential in Cam and thought he could be a heck of a player. With his athleticism and speed, you knew he could have been Tebow-like."-- Linebacker Ryan Stamper, Cam Newton's roommate at Florida

By Edward Aschoff/ESPN.com

Surrounded by teammates under the blistering summer sun in Gainesville, Fla., Cam Newton battled what many consider giants. Only a freshman, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound quarterback competed in Urban Meyer's popular, testosterone-soaked, circle-of-life drill in which two players, surrounded by teammates, squared off to see who could wrestle the other to the ground first. It was not combat suited for quarterbacks, but Newton constantly flung himself into the man-made ring. He was pitted against linebackers, most notably Brandon Spikes, and held his own against the fierce defenders. "That showed you how strong he was," said former linebacker Ryan Stamper, Newton's roommate at Florida. "You knew physically that he was a man." Players were amazed at Newton's physique. Signed to play quarterback, he looked more like a tight end. He was tall and chiseled and ran a 40-yard dash time that receivers train for. Stamper said Newton reminded players of Tim Tebow, then a sophomore. They had seen the impact Tebow made his freshman season and expected the same from Newton.

Newton played in five games as a backup in Tebow's 2007 Heisman Trophy season. He threw for 40 yards on 5-of-10 passing and ran the ball 16 times for 103 yards and three touchdowns. It was the last significant time he saw at Florida. Newton redshirted his sophomore year, playing only in the season opener. Coaches said Newton was bothered by an ankle injury. John Brantley, also from the 2007 recruiting class, became Tebow's backup. Stamper said that Newton became more distant and distracted and that the overwhelming popularity, immense scrutiny and social scene at Florida got to him. "There are a lot of things athletes have to face and go through at Florida that a lot of athletes at other schools will never have to go through," Stamper said. "Some people can handle it; some people can't." Rumors spread that Newton was moving to tight end. Everything changed on Nov. 21, 2008.

Newton was arrested and charged with felony counts of burglary, larceny and obstruction of justice after allegedly stealing a laptop worth $1,700 from a fellow UF student and later throwing it out his dormitory window, according to a UF police report.

The report also said the laptop had been painted black and had "Cam Newton" written in white on the lid. The State Attorney's Office later dropped the grand theft and tampering charges after Newton completed a pretrial intervention program for first-time offenders. Newton has since said that he was unaware the laptop was stolen when he bought it from another student.

Newton was suspended indefinitely, and, three days before Florida's national championship win over Oklahoma, he announced his intention to transfer. Newton had his issues, but his former teammates say there was no denying he had the athletic gift to become a star. "I saw him running over people when he was at Florida," Stamper said. "I saw the potential in Cam and thought he could be a heck of a player. With his athleticism and speed, you knew he could have been Tebow-like."

"It was hot and depressing. I told myself, 'Always remember this feeling, and it will get you through the tough times.'"-- Cam Newton

By Mark Schlabach/ESPN.com

With his football career at a crossroads, Cam Newton found refuge in, of all places, Brenham, Texas. In January 2009, after Newton left the University of Florida under a cloud of controversy, he enrolled at Blinn College, a two-year junior college about 70 miles northwest of Houston. Blinn College had produced a handful of future college and NFL stars -- safety Lyle Blackwood of the Miami Dolphins' "Killer B's" defense of the 1980s played there, as did former Kansas State quarterback Michael Bishop and receiver Quincy Morgan in the 1990s. But it was hardly a football hotbed. "A year ago, I was playing football at Florida and hanging out with Tim Tebow, Joe Haden and Brandon Spikes," Newton said this past October. "I would Google my teammates [at Blinn College], and nothing would come up." Not many of Newton's teammates knew much about him, either. Newton had played sparingly behind Tebow in two seasons at Florida and was suspended from the UF team indefinitely after he was arrested on charges that he stole another student's laptop. It didn't take Newton long to win over his new teammates, though. Blinn College coach Brad Franchione -- son of former TCU, Alabama and Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione -- gave Newton a book to read shortly after the quarterback arrived in Brenham. Each week, Franchione and Newton would discuss the chapters of "Leadership Is an Art," written by Max DePree. "Cam would tell me about his football goals," Franchione told ESPN this past November. "I knew he was frustrated with where he was and where he wanted to be." Newton said he realized what he had thrown away at Florida. At Blinn College, he had to purchase his own cleats and gloves. He wasn't given Gatorade after practice. Franchione required his players to paint the stadium's bleachers by hand on sweltering summer days. "It was hot and depressing," Newton said. "I told myself, 'Always remember this feeling, and it will get you through the tough times.'" Alone on the weekends and for much of the summer, Newton said he spent a lot of time contemplating where his life was headed. "Everyone was from Texas," Newton recalled. "During the summer or weekends, everyone would go home. I'd be the only one there, and it was a ghost town. That's when I would think about what I really wanted to do with my life." Newton led the Buccaneers to a 2009 junior college national championship, throwing for 2,833 yards with 22 touchdowns and running for 655 yards and 17 scores. He was named a juco All-America honorable mention and was the most recruited juco quarterback in the country. Newton accepted a scholarship from Auburn, and his comeback was complete. "I think I went through so many stages mentally," Newton said. "I went through a miserable time as far as me being humbled. I went through a period where I was devastated and depressed. I didn't know where my career was going and if I wanted to play football anymore. I think that was really my resurrection."

"For a guy to come in and only be around one year and develop those kinds of relationships and that kind of leadership ability, I think that speaks volumes about Cam Newton."-- Ted Roof, Auburn defensive coordinator

By Ivan Maisel/ESPN.com

Cam Newton might be the ultimate Rorschach test for NFL general managers and their fantasy imitators. But for Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof, Newton is no inkblot. Roof watched Newton arrive on campus as a transfer from Blinn JC and, through personality and example, convince a veteran team that it should follow him. Roof believes that the columns and whispers that decry Newton's leadership and his maturity are camouflage put out there to hide the intent of teams interested in drafting Newton. Five NFL coaches have called Roof to pick his brain on Newton. He has given all of them three examples of why he thinks Newton will excel at the next level the way he did at this one. There aren't many college kids who, shortly after they arrive on campus, awaken at 7 on a cold Saturday morning in January to get in a throwing session in the Tigers' indoor facility. "That jumped out at me," Roof said.

Roof also said Newton isn't afraid to take control and cites this example. He couldn't remember which game it was this past season, but he remembered the Tigers struggled in the first half. He remembered Newton didn't wait for offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn or coach Gene Chizik to say something. "We had a situation where a player wasn't doing what he was supposed to do," Roof said. "Cam addressed it and got it straight real quick. He told that guy that everybody's got a job to do and he had to do his job and the rest of the team was counting on him, so let's get it done. That's what happened in the second half." Roof mimicked being grabbed by the shoulder pads. "It was just a very forceful one-on-one," he said. "'This is what we need you to do.' And very demonstrative." Roof, standing in the locker room watching the tongue-lashing, stole a look at the other players in the locker room. "It was powerful for the rest of the team to see it," Roof said, "and they were totally on board. The whole team got it, yeah." Newton persevered through being the new guy in the locker room. He maintained his focus through the controversy over his recruitment. When the SEC championship game ended, and Newton had led Auburn to a 56-17 rout of South Carolina and into the BCS Championship Game, the offensive linemen showed how they felt about their quarterback. They hoisted Newton -- 6-foot-5, 250 pounds -- onto their shoulders and carried him away. "For a guy to come in and only be around one year," Roof said, "and develop those kinds of relationships and that kind of leadership ability, I think that speaks volumes about Cam Newton. Maybe the most veteran offensive line in the country. They showed how much they respected him. You can't manufacture that. That's real. That's real." Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. After all, Newton had carried Auburn for an entire season.

"If he's successful, people are going to love him and the coach and general manager that take him are going to look like very smart guys. If he's not successful, it's probably going to cost that coach and general manager their jobs." -- a former NFL talent evaluator

By Pat Yasinskas/ESPN.com

Cam Newton has been a huge success just about everywhere he has been.

He won a national championship and a Heisman Trophy at Auburn, plus a national junior college title at Blinn College. Coaches, scouts, decision-makers and media draft gurus frequently mention the quarterback in the same context as players such as Ben Roethlisberger and Josh Freeman. Some will tell you Newton has the potential to be even better than Roethlisberger and Freeman.

So why is it that some people in those very same jobs talk about Newton and mention players such as JaMarcus Russell and Akili Smith?

Well, it's mainly because most see the 21-year-old as a player who could go either way. The one thing virtually every expert agrees on is that the only thing as huge as Newton's upside is his downside.

Nobody is sure which way the pendulum will swing once Newton gets into the NFL. But in an age when the league is driven by quarterbacks more than ever, it seems a certainty someone will take a chance on Newton in the first 10 picks of the draft.

It could be the Carolina Panthers at No. 1, the Buffalo Bills at No. 3, the Arizona Cardinals at No. 5 or the Washington Redskins at No. 10. Or maybe another team will trade up to grab him.

"If he's successful, people are going to love him and the coach and general manager that take him are going to look like very smart guys," a former NFL talent evaluator said. "If he's not successful, it's probably going to cost that coach and general manager their jobs."

If it sounds as if Newton is a boom-or-bust prospect, that's because he is.

Analyzing Cam Newton

Here are three reasons Newton has a chance to be a huge NFL success.

1. His athleticism is extremely rare. Think about quarterbacks who have had big success lately -- Aaron Rodgers, Michael Vick, Roethlisberger and Freeman. They're all extremely mobile. Vick is as quick as a running back, and Rodgers is as elusive as most running backs. Roethlisberger and Freeman aren't as fast, but they're so big and strong that coaches don't mind seeing them take off because they're capable of running over linebackers. Newton has a little of the best features of all those players. He can make plays outside the pocket with his feet. Plus, he has an exceptionally strong arm.

2. Charisma. Newton has won at every level dating to high school. Teammates follow his lead, and he isn't afraid of the spotlight. As he walked into his session with the media at the NFL combine, one talent evaluator described it as "the moment time stood still." Newton has the type of personality that can charm fans and help sell tickets.

3. The right situation could make him perfect. In talking to talent evaluators, the general opinion is that Newton would benefit most if he went to a team that didn't ask him to carry it right away. Some suggest he would be better off in a situation in which he plays sparingly in his rookie year or sits at least half a season with a transition quarterback bridging the gap. Buffalo, with Ryan Fitzpatrick already in place, could be an ideal setting. But those same evaluators look at a Carolina roster that, at the moment, includes receiver Steve Smith, running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, tight end Jeremy Shockey, and a decent offensive line, and say Newton's presence instantly could improve a team that went 2-14 this past season.

Now, let's look at three reasons Newton could be a big failure in the NFL.

1. He hasn't played in an NFL-style offense. At Auburn, Newton lined up in the shotgun formation frequently, and he doesn't have much experience taking snaps from under center. The Auburn offense didn't rely much on the complicated routes that are prevalent in NFL offenses. As great as Newton's college career was, it wasn't very structured, and there are strong concerns that he could fail miserably if he tries a freelance approach in the NFL.

2. In some ways, he's not Freeman, Matt Ryan, Sam Bradford or Joe Flacco. Those young quarterbacks all have had early success.

"I sat down with Ryan, Flacco, Freeman and Bradford," one talent evaluator said. "Those are four of the smartest quarterbacks I've ever interviewed coming out of college. You could cue up the film to a certain play, and they'd walk you right through every step of it for the entire offense. I saw Cam's interview with Jon Gruden, and the look on Cam's face when Jon asked him to walk him through a play scared the absolute heck out of me."

The concerns go beyond Newton's learning a complicated NFL playbook. Talent evaluators say they're not sure whether Newton can handle pre-snap reads because he didn't have to do that in college and they have no idea how he'll read and react once he takes the snap.

3. The background and so-called character issues could come back to haunt him. By now, you've heard all the reports about alleged computer theft when Newton was at Florida, and talk about alleged offers to play for pay when Newton was looking to transfer from Blinn and how that prompted an NCAA investigation. (The NCAA ruled in December that the Heisman Trophy winner was unaware of the pay-for-play scheme said to have been devised by his father, Cecil.) There have even been reports questioning Newton's work ethic and attitude. NFL teams have been doing a ton of homework on Newton, and they should. If you're going to hand the keys to your franchise to someone, you want to be certain he's not going to go straight out and crash it.