Yes, Cam Newton is a STACK partner, but by every objective measure—his performance on the field this season, his work ethic off it, and the effort he puts in to giving back to the community—he's earned "Athlete of the Year" distinction. Although he's been a favorite of ours for months, that has nothing to do with his receiving this recognition.
You have to credit Cam Newton for backing up his bold pronouncement.
During a pre-season interview, STACK asked Newton what people should expect from him and the Carolina Panthers this season. The quarterback didn't mince words or set modest expectations.
"A lot of wins," Newton said. "Much-needed wins. Not just for Cam, but for the Carolina Panthers. We're a team that's destined for greatness."
Back in August, few predicted the Panthers would live up to those words, especially after star wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin went down with a torn ACL, putting the team's top pass-catching threat out of commission for the season. Newton, now in his fifth NFL season, took the loss with a veteran's poise.
"That's the life we live in the NFL," Newton told FOX Sports' Jay Glazer. "You have to adapt. You have to roll with the punches."
And roll the Panthers have. Entering NFL week 15, they have yet to lose a game, sporting a perfect 14-0 record. With two games left to play, Newton has already thrown for more touchdowns (28) than in any season in his career.
The quarterback and his teammates have done all of this while appearing to have tons of fun. Observers inside the Panthers' organization and out have commented on the great chemistry the team has developed—something that was questioned in the past and that Newton made a conscious effort to improve. Before each of the past few seasons, Newton invited all of the team's skill position players to train with him at an intensive camp under trainer Nate Costa at the Under Armour Performance Center in Baltimore.
"[I'd bring] my teammates out not only to get in good work with them, but to bond as well," Newton said. "We can form some type of friendship, rather than it being all about football, football, football. Guys eating with each other and talking about families or friends, or what have you. It's making us better."
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The players spent weeks living at the camp. Many were far away from their families and off-season homes. Throughout the time they spent together and the extremely challenging workouts they endured, the athletes formed a bond that is evident both on the field and off.
"I know it's a cliché to say, 'one team, one dream,' but yet you're able to enjoy it more when you've actually been working your tail off together, preparing for an unbelievable season," Newton said.
"Unbelievable" may be the best description for it. Or maybe not. Maybe this level of success is believable. Maybe we should have expected it from Newton all along. Standing 6-foot-5, weighing 245 pounds and capable of reaching blink-and-you'll-miss-him speeds, Newton has always had the physical attributes. A fierce competitor willing to suffer serious discomfort to win mid-workout rowing challenges, he has always had the drive too. Maybe the 26-year-old simply needed some time to put it all together.
"I'm still chasing greatness every day," Newton said. "You know, I'll never reach the point in my career or in my life where I'll feel like I have arrived. I refuse to be complacent."
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Even if Newton doesn't feel like he's arrived, his name is getting serious consideration for the NFL's MVP award this year. If he wins it—and if the Panthers win the Lombardi Trophy (which Newton has dreamed about since he was a kid)—he'll be closer to achieving an even bolder pronouncement he made to STACK before this season began. When asked how he wanted to be remembered, Newton again didn't mince words.
"The best football player ever to play this game," Newton said. "I know that's a big statement. But if I don't have that type of confidence in myself, how can others have that type of confidence in me?"
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