After a moment of which he’d dreamed since he was a little boy, Cam Newton said Thursday night he was ready to go to work.
Cam Newton poses with Panthers jersey after going No. 1 in NFL draft/Photos by Todd Van Emst
The Carolina Panthers made Newton, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback who led Auburn to the national championship, the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft at Radio City Music Hall. He was the fourth player in Auburn history picked No. 1, joining Tucker Frederickson, Bo Jackson and Aundray Bruce.
“I’m feeling great,” Newton said. “I’m not going to lie to you; I’m ready to get this show on the road right now. I understand this is what this process is about. It’s warmth in my heart knowing that I’m going to an excellent city and an excellent organization with excellent people around me running the organization. … I’m ready to do some work.”
Newton played just one season for the Tigers after transferring from Blinn College, but he paid tribute to the program that gave him the opportunity to stand on the big stage Thursday night.
"It’s a celebration not only for me and my family, but also for Auburn,” Newton said. “They are a part of my family, too.”
He got no argument from Auburn coach Gene Chizik, who made the trip in support Newton and defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who went No. 13 to the Detroit Lions.
Newton became a lightning rod for criticism after ESPN broke a story in early November that his father, Cecil, had allegedly sought money from Mississippi State, Newton became perhaps the most scrutinized and criticized player in college football history. NCAA president Mark Emmert said three times there was no evidence he’d done anything wrong, but the onslaught continued.
Amid the sound and fury, Newton led Auburn to a 14-0 record and won virtually ever national individual award available to him.
After Auburn beat Oregon 22-19 in the BCS National Championship Game, Newton announced he would leave Auburn after just one season to make himself available for the NFL draft.
Soon, the criticism grew loud again. There were reports, all quoting anonymous sources or no sources at all, that he didn’t work hard, that he wasn’t a leader. In recent days, the focus has turned to Gus Malzahn’s offense.
Newton said Thursday night he harbors no bitterness toward his critics.
“I understand that they have a job to do and I have a job to do as well,” Newton said. “I understand that today everybody is not going to stop and say ‘That’s Cam, he’s the No. 1 pick, leave him alone.’ More than anything, the flood gates have opened officially. I’m just going to do what I can control.”
Newton would make no predictions about whether he will be the starting quarterback for the Panthers, who had the worst record in the NFL at 2-14 last season, and first-year coach Ron Rivera.
“I can’t answer that question, but it’s a goal for me to consistently challenge myself to be get better on a daily basis,” Newton said. “I don’t know when that call is going to happen, but each day I’m just going to go out and learn something about the offense.”
Newton shattered records at Auburn last season, rushing 264 times for 1,473 yards and 20 touchdowns. He led the nation in passing efficiency, completing 185-of-280 passes for 2,854 yards and 30 touchdowns. He also caught a touchdown pass.
But Newton said he has much on which to improve to be ready for the NFL.
“Just consistency as playing quarterback,” Newton said. “This whole transition from the collegiate level to the NFL, I understand that preparation is going to be key. That’s part of the maturation process in this whole transformation. I’m willing to make that step, and we’ll see how it goes.”