Cam Newton ran on to the Panthers’ practice field Tuesday morning, slapped hands with about 50 players and gave a pep talk about playing the game with passion and being a “trusted teammate.”
That Newton was addressing a group of high school players from the Carolinas and not his Panthers’ teammates mattered little to the second-year quarterback.
Newton was a surprise speaker before the Panthers’ annual 7-on-7 high school passing tournament, which included 12 teams from the area and as far away as Havelock, near the Outer Banks. Davidson Day knocked off Mallard Creek in the final, avenging a loss earlier in the day.
Davidson Day will play in the NFL’s High School Player Development 7-on-7 national tourney on July 14 in Indianapolis.
Newton played in the NFL-sponsored regional tournament in Atlanta when he was in high school, leading Westlake to the national championship game the summer before his junior year.
Newton spoke for about 10 minutes, telling players he was in their “shoes, cleats, helmets or whatever you want to call it” just a few years ago.
“How can you be on a football field and not be passionate?” Newton asked. “That’s like going to the cafeteria and you’re not eating.”
Newton then gathered the group around him and talked about football as a meal ticket.
“If you’re great at football, they’re giving money away,” he said. “This is my ticket so I can feed my family.”
Newton then broke the huddle with a shout of “All in!” As teams scattered across two of the Panthers’ three practice fields – the third is being re-sodded – Newton met briefly with the media, then hung around to check out the action.
“These guys are yearning for something. They’re in hopes of being the next Mohamed Massaquoi, being the next Chris Leak, being the next Tim Tebow, being the next Chris Weinke,” said Newton, referring to two Charlotteans (Massaquoi and Leak), a former Florida teammate (Tebow) and the ex-Panthers quarterback (Weinke) who worked with Newton last summer.
“All the greats that played this game in college and went on to play it in the league, this is what those guys are passionate about,” Newton added. “Sometimes people don’t have that push, that nudge to get up and do it. My message today was be passionate about it.”
Newton’s 7-on-7 team advanced to the title game in Long Island, N.Y., before falling to a school from Washington, D.C.
“I just took pride in doing it. It was just organized ruckus for me. I felt like I could just go out and prove to somebody that I was worthy of being on this field,” he said. “I felt like if everybody played with that type of attitude, there was no losing.”
Newton grew up south of Atlanta as a fan of the Falcons and quarterback Michael Vick. But Newton said he never had any personal connections with the sports figures in his hometown.
“Even though there were a lot of people that came through my community that made it to the NFL or made it to stardom status, I couldn’t really say I could put my hands on someone and say, ‘Hey, I know this person. He just came to our school.’ And that’s what I’m trying to do a better job of,” Newton said.
“As the status grows as an athlete, as an entertainer, whatever you want to call it, your whole relationship with your community decreases. I want that to be the opposite with me,” Newton added. “As I get bigger, as I grow and mature, as my status grows, I want my impact in the community to grow bigger. I think people have to see my face. And I want to see their face because I want to get their impact, also.”
Newton said his summer schedule was “hectic,” beginning Tuesday night with an appearance in D.C. Newton will be at another 7-on-7 tournament – the IMG Madden national championships – on June 29 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
Newton will host a skills challenge at IMG, then find Weinke for his own organized ruckus.
Said Newton: “I’m always going to squeeze a little bit of training in there.”
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