Gene Chizik has kept up with Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton since their one season together at Auburn, and Chizik said he has seen a growth in maturity in Newton both on and off the field in the past several years.
Chizik, who coached Newton and Auburn to the 2011 BCS national championship, said Tuesday that he has noticed Newton has “matured pretty quickly” since leaving Auburn in 2011 and becoming a captain on the Panthers.
“I think he understands there’s no other way to survive and be good at your craft without really growing up,” Chizik, now North Carolina’s defensive coordinator, said after a Tar Heels practice. “I know he’s a guy that’s going to come in early and be one of the last ones to leave. I know that. We talked about that, him coming in early during the season and being one of the last ones to leave. That’s what he needs to do to be great, and he’ll do whatever he has to do to be great.
“As far as being able to handle pressure situations and all outside interference, he was the best I’ve ever been around in terms of eliminating distractions. So in that regard, he was probably wise beyond his years. But as a football player in terms of maturing and in conversations I’ve had with him, I think he’s a different player because he knows what it takes at that level to excel.”
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While Newton still has the penchant for missing high on passes, his quarterbacking skills have improved since college. He doesn’t rely as heavily on his athleticism, and his play in his first four seasons has earned him two trips to the Pro Bowl.
Newton transferred to Auburn in late 2009 after one season at Blinn College, a junior college in Texas. He embarked on what would be, at the time, the greatest season for a college quarterback in history.
He led the country in total touchdowns (50) and passing yards per attempt (10.2), and led the SEC in passing efficiency rating (182.0) and rushing yards (1,473). He was the runaway winner for the Heisman and took the Tigers to the national championship.
But the makings of that season didn’t start in preseason camp. During the winter and spring of 2010, Newton would assemble the receivers on their day off to work out.
“He would call the wideouts on Saturday mornings and get them out of bed and say we need to go throw,” Chizik said. “At first they were a little bit resistant to it, and he was very adamant and persistent to make sure they were spending the extra time to do it. They hadn’t done a whole lot of that. He was the guy who rallied the troops and said, ‘Meet me over there. I’m going to be there whether you are or not.’ And they started to do that.”
Newton is back at Auburn finishing his sociology degree and set to graduate this semester. Carolina’s voluntary offseason workouts begin April 20, and it’s unclear how many, if any, he will miss because of school.
Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9