When it comes to the development of quarterback Cam Newton, his father, Cecil Newton Sr., has made it clear who is most responsible.
“I built Cam,” Newton Sr. told The Ringer’s Tyler R. Tynes in an episode of “The Cam Chronicles” podcast. “He’ll tell you I built him. Everybody else who knows me knows I built him.”
Newton Sr. is one of the prominent voices in “The Cam Chronicles,” a new, six-episode miniseries about Newton’s football career. Starting with his childhood in Westlake, Ga., the podcast documents Newton’s rise to becoming a No. 1 draft pick, NFL MVP, and now a member of the New England Patriots.
Officially listed at 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, Newton has always been big for his size. When he was born, Newton weighed in at 10 pounds and nine ounces and was “the biggest thing in the nursery,” his father said. When Newton started playing Pop Warner at the age of 7, he was already 70 pounds.
“He would always just barely make the weight,” Newton Sr. said. “He would not eat on Fridays at school in fear of not making the weight the following day.”
Even at the youth level, Newton loved to run the ball and was “not timid toward contact,” his father recalled. In addition to their work on the field, Newton Sr. emphasized the importance of conditioning, often asking his son to complete a series of sit-ups, push-ups, and pull-ups. Sometimes Newton Sr. would stop the car toward the end of their drive home and tell Newton to get out and run the final half-mile to their house.
“Whatever I told him to do, he did it,” Newton Sr. said. “I could wake Cam up on a Saturday morning and say, ‘Cam, we’re going to work out at the field. Get the ball, bring the jump rope, get your cleats. let’s go.’ He wouldn’t even grimace. He was driven. He trusted me and he trusted himself. That’s that Navy Seal mentality.”
But there was more to the Newton household than just football.
Newton Sr. worked as a Church bishop, so Newton was introduced to religion at a young age. He sang in the Church choir and attended Bible study.
“I was a straight-forward, kind of no-nonsense guy,” Newton Sr. said. “That’s all we knew to teach our kids was Christianity. I’m a pastor. I’m not in prison. I’m not on drugs. I don’t beat my wife. I’ve been with my wife 34 years. I’m teaching him righteousness, how to really be a man. I’m his living example of what a leader should be.”
Newton wasn’t “a bad, bully-type kid,” according to his father, despite getting into a little bit of trouble during grade school. Teachers would call about Newton’s antics, which included starting a water balloon fight, riding teachers’ chairs down the hallway, starting a food fight, and locking classmates in a closet.
“He was just silly,” Newton Sr. said. “Corny jokes, stuff like that.”
Newton Sr. imposed a strict curfew and kept a close eye on his son’s friends. In an effort to curtail bad behavior, when Newton was in sixth grade, his mother instructed him to wear a suit to school every Friday. Why? She thought he would be embarrassed by his overly formal wear and, in turn, would be discouraged from acting out.
“It worked to the opposite,” Newton Sr. said. “Surprisingly, he took to it, genuinely and honestly. On Thursdays, he was already ironing his shirts and slacks for the following day.”
In 2003, Newton arrived at Westlake High School, where his older brother, Cecil, was already a starter on the football team. Newton was initially known as “Cecil’s little brother,” but developed a name for himself as a junior. After growing three or four inches and gaining 15-20 pounds the summer before football season, Newton put up numbers on the field.
That season, Newton threw for 2,500 yards and 23 touchdowns, and ran for 638 yards and nine touchdowns. His senior season, he became a five-star prospect. During the recruiting process, however, only Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi State pursued Newton as a quarterback. Other schools viewed him as a tight end.
Newton Sr. ended up taking things into his own hands, calling Dan Mullen, then the offensive coordinator at Florida, and informing him of his plan.
“I tell you what I’m going to do, Dan, when I bring my son there, if he is the best quarterback prospect, you offer him on the spot,” Newton Sr. recalled. “Nothing else said. If he’s not, we’ll ride out of there the following day and you’ll never have to hear from me again.”
Newton ended up committing to Florida, which his father called, “Hollywood of the South.”
At Florida, Newton did not earn much playing time behind starter Tim Tebow. As a freshman, he played in five games, completing 5 of his 10 pass attempts for 40 yards and rushing for 103 yards and three touchdowns. As a sophomore, he suffered an ankle injury during the season opener and opted to take a redshirt season.
Later during the season, Newton was suspended from the team after getting arrested on multiple felony counts for allegedly stealing a laptop from another student. According to campus police, Newton stole the laptop and threw it out the window after police officers arrived at his dorm. When officers recovered the laptop, according to the police report, it was painted black with “Cam Newton” written in white paint.
To this day, Newton Sr. calls the incident “an egregious rush to judgment.”
“The contention is, how did he come into possession of it?” Newton Sr. said. “It was a rush to judgment that he stole it. When it dawned on him that it was going to create a legal, criminal problem, what would a person do? Adults to this day — 30, 40, 50 years old — try to hide or discard or obstruct investigations, willingly or unwillingly, intentionally or unintentionally.”
Newton ended up transferring to Blinn College, a community college in Texas, at the end of his sophomore year. It was later revealed he was reportedly facing expulsion from Florida for three instances of academic dishonesty.
Newton Sr. called his son’s departure from Florida “a very dark day in Cam’s life.”
“The decision was already made after the sophomore year,” Newton Sr. said. “It was made for him. It was actually, in my honest opinion, by divine order. Even though it was painful, it was by divine order.”
Blinn was certainly far from an SEC powerhouse, but Newton Sr. felt his son needed that time to “heal” and “redirect himself.”
“I didn’t want the burden of this transition to get the best of him, psychologically, and to where he was really beating himself up,” Newton Sr. recalled. “I said, ‘Bruh, this is a business trip. This is a 12-month business trip. Buy in. Do your job. Go to class. Pass in your work. Stay out of trouble, and keep your hope, faith, and trust in God.”
At Blinn, Newton threw for 2,833 yards and 22 touchdowns, and ran for 655 yards. He was heavily recruited by multiple SEC schools, including Mississippi State, but ended up committing to Auburn.
Though Newton Sr. said he would not have sent Newton to Mississippi State, one of the university’s boosters revealed that Newton Sr. solicited $120,000 to $180,000 in exchange for his son’s enrollment. Newton Sr. declined to go into detail on “The Cam Chronicles.”
“That stuff has been buried,” he said. “It was a hoax. I went through a literal financial colonoscopy. They didn’t find nothing.”
As a result of the investigation, Newton Sr. was unable to attend the 2010 Heisman Trophy presentation, nor was he able to watch the 2011 BCS National Championship Game. Instead, he watched Newton and the Tigers take down the Oregon Ducks from a sports bar with Newton’s high school guidance counselor and one of his former assistant coaches.
“I was torn,” Newton said. “I felt betrayed. I felt like society had betrayed me because I built Cam. He’ll tell you I built him and everybody else who knows me know I built him. I don’t need the stardom in the spotlight. I don’t live for that. But when it came to the national championship, I wanted to share that. I did. It ain’t the end of the world.”
After Auburn won, Newton Sr. walked about a mile and ended up sneaking into the stadium. The ushers were gone from their posts, and the doors were open, so Newton Sr. accessed the field looking for Newton. From the stands, Newton saw his father, came down, and gave him a hug.
“It was an unbelievable scene,” Newton Sr. said. “I cry every time I see it. That’s what it was. It was a dream.”