Cam Newton is fired up, probably because he had the best rookie year for a quarterback in league history and completely redefined the position. His strong work ethic, natural ability, and dedication to nutrition mean that Newton is primed to make the 2012 campaign a footnote: the season preceding his first Super Bowl win.
"We Go Into Each Game to Win"
As he took the podium after a week-two loss in Green Bay last year, Cam Newton was not happy. Never mind that he had just become the first rookie QB ever to throw for back-to-back 400-yard games to open his career. The Panthers had lost. When he was asked if he was encouraged by his team's ability to compete with the Packers (final score: 30-23), Newton looked offended, insulted, almost sick to his stomach.
"I don't like that word compete," he said. "We don't go into each game to compete. We go into each game to win."
Newton has never been satisfied with personal records or statistics. His sights are set on bigger goals, and the combination of his desire and discipline with his freakish physical attributes makes him likely to achieve them.
Newton is nearly 6'6", just a hair shorter than Michael Jordan. At 245 pounds, he's only a few pounds lighter than Terrell Suggs. Yet this dude can haul his enormous frame through the first forty yards of space on a football field in only 4.58 seconds; and his huge legs provide stability as he makes cuts sharper than a small running back or wide receiver. Newton is as big as a tight end, and he's as focused, determined and mentally tough as a backup trying to break into the starting lineup.
Newton's athletic ability and mental toughness were evident early. Coming off a JUCO National Title for Blinn (Texas) Junior College, Newton led the Auburn Tigers to an 11-0 start in 2010. One game remained before the SEC Championship, and it held the key to a BCS title. With their entire season on the line, Auburn headed into Tuscaloosa for The Iron Bowl against #11 Alabama on the day after Thanksgiving. "That's a game that I'll never forget," says Newton.
He knew the stakes: Win and achieve immortality. Or lose and be forgotten. "It was something that I have never experienced, ever," he says. "and I've seen Monopoly money thrown in the sky, and I've seen signs calling me the 'child of God.'"
After falling behind 24-0, Newton had to rely on his mental toughness to block out distractions and focus on leading the Tigers to victory. "There was a lot of doubt that crossed everyone's mind, but as a team we pulled together," he says. Instead of gambling on big plays, Newton focused on moving the chains. In the end, he was responsible for all four Tigers TDs in a 28-27 win. (Check out the Cam Newton Behind the Highlights episode, where he breaks down the fitness and nutrition choices that powered his performance).
Newton passed and ran for fifty TDs that season, on the way to winning the Heisman Trophy, capturing the SEC crown and securing the BCS National Championship for Auburn.
Making the Leap
After the Carolina Panthers made him the NFL's #1 draft pick in 2011, and thanks to a brief, temporary lifting of the NFL lockout in April, Newton took it upon himself to acquire the team's playbook. That decision would prove to be part of a larger tendency—total preparation.
Newton prepares physically, mentally and emotionally, always going above and beyond what's expected of him to be ready to perform at his absolute peak on Sundays. He's always been a superb athlete, and his dominance starts there. Newton can go through linebackers (since he's bigger than some of them) or fake out smaller corners blitzing around the outside. He's a total freak on the field. But he also works in the weight room to maximize his gifts, performing complex, multi-body lifts that work several muscle groups at once to build power and strength through his entire lower body, trunk and core.
Last year, his hard work in the gym powered Newton to 700 rushing yards and 14 rushing TDs (a single-season record for a QB); and his playbook study helped him excel as a passer.
In the off-season, Newton works at IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla., with IMG Madden Football Academy Director Chris Weinke, who led Florida State to an undefeated season and a National Championship in 1999, then won the Heisman Trophy in 2000. Learn some of the key exercises in Cam Newton's workout.
Weinke is now considered something of a QB guru. He says, "After [Newton] got drafted, he brought his playbook down and spent probably seven weeks down here." It took Newton twelve hours a day, six days a week for nearly two months to master the Panthers offense. Sometimes starting as early as 6:00 a.m., he and Weinke would go over plays in a classroom setting, then head to the field to reinforce the lessons learned.
Newton revealed himself as a gym rat in every respect. During one session, Weinke went over 30 different pieces of the Carolina offense, including formations, audibles and protections. After leading Newton onto the field to throw, the two returned to the classroom, where Weinke quizzed the young quarterback. "I tested him," says Weinke, "and he was 30 for 30."
Taking Over a Franchise
His incredible athleticism invites comparisons to Michael Vick and Robert Griffin III; but Newton knows that without thorough preparation, his God-given gifts wouldn't matter. The NFL is a business, and Newton understands the degree of commitment required to succeed. He says, "It's a whole type of preparation, from the way you prepare for games, to the way you study your opponent, to the way you eat. You have to take it upon yourself to put the right things in your body, watch extra film on your own, or just do extra reps."
Putting in extra work is the key to reaching your potential. And sometimes that extra work is showing your teammates that you're ready to play your role. When Newton reported to his first NFL camp, he had to lead a group of millionaires as a 23-year-old. "It's different going into a locker room where a guy has to go get his kids from daycare or take his wife out to lunch," he says. "You have to sit back and wait and be humble to a degree. It's different. I had to learn when to talk and when not to talk, and who to learn from."
Newton proved to be a quick study and a natural leader. "He started to understand, after being the number one pick, that there's a responsibility that comes with that," says Weinke. "Just listening to him talk, there's a maturation process that he's gone through, from being a college superstar to a rookie NFL quarterback to now, one of the leaders of that football team in a very short period of time. He understands that. He can comprehend it. And, quite frankly, I would be hard-pressed to find anybody that wants to win more than that guy."
Newton's attention to detail applies in all aspects of his professional life, from how he throws the ball to how he calls the plays to what he puts in his body. But here's a scary thought: all of his success in college and the pros so far has come without nutrition as a major factor.
Newton knew that had to change. "I can recall many times before games I would be eating candy, just to get that sugar rush," says Newton. "The athlete that I was then is not the athlete that I am now."
The new Newton has a deal with Gatorade, which helped him understand the importance of eating right and hydrating. "I'm starting the season with a nutritionist and a chef," he says. "Talking to guys that have been in this league for a long time, you're going to have to put the right things in your body.
We can only imagine how much better Newton will be as a result. Despite his youth, he's already one of the best players in the NFL. Weinke says, "As we continued to progress, not only in our relationship but in our training, what I saw was a guy who wanted to be great. And he was going to do whatever it took, both on and off the field to be successful. I think his motivation, his drive, his mindset was that he wanted to be the best in the business. And he showed that on a daily basis."
This off-season, Newton watched every single minute of every one of last year's games. A month after the season ended, he was back working at IMG. Weinke: "I just think that he's one of those rare guys who just will do whatever it takes to be able to continue to get better and never be satisfied."
We're talking about a player who is so self-critical, he called himself "a bad teammate" after his record-setting rookie season. Newton was referring to his body language during rough, on-field moments. So this summer, he showed up at the Panthers training camp with the rookies, a full five days before he was scheduled to report. That's a move that sends a message to his teammates and sets the tone for the entire franchise.
"He'll be the first to admit that although he did some things well, there are a lot of things that he needs to continue to be able to work on and get better at," says Weinke. "It doesn't just happen. It takes time and effort."
Newton already gives defensive coordinators nightmares, but like all the greats, he's not afraid of hard work, on or off the field. "Preparation is one of the biggest differences in making the transition from the collegiate level," he says. "In the NFL, all your energy is focused up on one thing—winning. You have to go over and beyond. You have to be able to sacrifice something to be able to get something."
So far, Newton has given up time, talent, energy and effort. And we're sure he'll get something back—maybe a few Super Bowl rings or a bust in Canton, Ohio. By adding healthy eating to his freaky athleticism and fierce preparation, he's doing everything in his power to make such dreams a reality. "I think success comes with being able to perform when the lights are on," says Newton, "but what people fail to realize is there's so much that goes on that people don't see."
And that's the stuff legends are made of.
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