Shortly before the Wrights Mill Road Elementary School in Auburn, Ala., would welcome its students back from summer vacation, principal Lynda Tremaine was surprised one morning to see a 6-foot-6 goliath of a young man standing in her doorway.
He introduced himself as Cameron Newton and said his goal was to one day open a child care center and help kids. He explained he was a football player at the university, and he wondered if he might be able to mentor some kids who might be struggling.
At the time she had never heard of Cam Newton, but most of the world hadn’t either. That was in early August, and today, just over two months later, he is the hottest player in all of college football. What you need to know is that since his dizzying ascent to stardom began, he’s not missed a week without going to Wrights Mill Road Elementary School.
Every Monday he comes, sitting with a handful of fifth-grader boys who desperately need a role model, and he goes over their school work, their behavior and their goals. Every Saturday he plays quarterback for Auburn, where he has led the fifth-ranked Tigers to a 7-0 record and been named as the SEC Player of the Week three different times.
With five regular-season games left to play, Newton is one touchdown away from Auburn’s record for most touchdowns in one season. He has scored 25 times, one shy of Heisman winner Pat Sullivan’s 26 in 1970.
Sullivan is delighted. “I’m pulling for him because he’s a great player, but more important than that, he’s a great person. He’s representing Auburn in a first-class manner, and that’s important to me.”
The trouble is, that’s not the story America wants to hear. No, in a sad commentary on all of us, most enjoy the tale of how Cam Newton was arrested several years ago when he was at the University of Florida. We want to hear how he was suspended indefinitely and eventually quit the team.
The way the story goes is that Newton actually decided to transfer before he bought a stolen laptop. He reportedly painted it – he knew it was “hot” – and police found it behind a dumpster after Newton allegedly tossed it from a third-floor window. The joke is they knew it was a quarterback’s because it missed the dumpster.
Well, by the time the whole sordid mess got straightened out, the kid from Atlanta left Gainesville under a rather dark cloud and enrolled in tiny Blinn Jr. College in Texas. “It was a culture shock, to say the least,” Newton has since said.
“I go from the University of Florida, where you can get Gatorade at your beck and call, to a place you have to paint your stadium for you to at least look like the program is up to some kind of standard."
That’s right, the players actually painted the bleachers one day. "I think it was one of the most influential changes in my life, hands down. Everybody has that turning point in their life where they can say, 'That's when I really decided to put things all together.'"
Better, it’s a round-about way of explaining not only how he grew up and “got his focus,” but why now, every week, he takes little bags of candy to an elementary school and goes over fifth graders’ mistakes. “It’s a serious conversation,” said the principal, Mrs. Tremaine. “He goes through each page of their work, and he’ll say, ‘Mmm … 65? Not good. What happened here?’
“He holds them accountable, too. He found out what kind of candy each boy likes, but this week he had to leave it because each of his boys had gotten a behavior check. He wouldn’t give them their little rewards. That’s how serious he takes his visits,” the educator told Rachel Moreland of AuburnSports.com.
As signs like “Scootin’ Newton For Heisman” and “Yes We Cam!” have sprouted in Jordan-Haire Stadium, Cam’s presence at Wrights Mill Road Elementary has also blossomed. Now he speaks every week to children in the whole school who, through grades and behavior and kindness to others, earn the chance to visit with him.
“The teachers can’t believe the difference in attitude. He was made-to-order for our program,” the principal said. She also said she’s been floored by his sincerity. “I don’t want to speak for him, but I believe he really enjoys what he’s doing here.”
Mrs. Tremaine said that once he brought the Auburn mascot, “Aubie,” with him and was surprised to find a third grader sitting alone in the principal’s office. “Aubie scares me,” the child explained, and Cam – the guy who once bought a ‘hot’ laptop - promptly sat down in the floor and had a gentle conversation that brought tears to those nearby.
“He’s doing this, without a doubt, out of the kindness in his heart. He really wants to make a difference,” the principal said. “He told his boys, ‘You know, there were times when I was bad when I was your age, too,’ but he lets them know that we learn from our mistakes.”
Obviously Cam Newton has learned much. And it’s a better tale than the more popular one going around about the best college football player in America.
- Photo2 by Auburn