CORNELIUS In one moment, Cam Newton was jumping in the air and chest bumping a Charlotte Catholic defender following an interception.
“Only one coach on the field,” said Newton, almost immediately following his celebration, before two high school football coaches retreated to their sideline.
Then he turned to two of his Cam Newton Foundation staff members and began a freestyle rap to the tune of Jay Z’s “On to the Next One.”
Here was Newton, the 24-year-old franchise quarterback of the Carolina Panthers, leading his 7-on-7 competition, comprising 16 area high schools. He danced, he ran routes in warm ups, he convened with officials and he danced some more.
“When I got the chance to lead, I just want to give back, and especially show my face,” Newton said Friday afternoon at Hough High. “I want people to know this is my event, and I want people to know that I’m out here from start to end.
“If someone gets an interception or throws a touchdown I’m asking for some dap, I’m asking for some five, I’m asking for a chest bump.”
Entering Year 3 in the NFL, Newton, the former Offensive Rookie of the Year whose play promised to transform the quarterback position forever, still doesn’t have a captain’s patch on his No. 1 jersey. There are still constant questions about his maturity and doubts about his ability to lead a group of 52 other men both on and off the field.
Commanding the attention of nearly 300 high school football players isn’t the same as owning an NFL locker room, and Newton knows that. But there’s still a common leadership tie in both instances.
“It’s all about accountability,” Newton said. “God has blessed me with unbelievable influence not just with this community but people I don’t meet, and I know that. Whether it’s giving a person a handshake or taking a picture or showing my face at a high school game, it’s all about appearance and holding myself accountable and (being) available.
“I want to show my face in the community as much as possible. I definitely don’t want to be a figure that’s untouchable, because I’ve embraced Charlotte and Charlotte has embraced me.”
Hough football coach Bobby Collins said he had never seen anything like it.
Newton would start a chant with one squad, then jog to another huddle where he was shouting into helmets asking if the players were ready.
On to another team Newton would run so he could join in stretching and warm up drills.
“They love him,” Collins said. “He does a really good job interacting with the kids.”
Before competition began, Newton spent about 10 minutes talking to the players asking them to get “turnt up,” a term meaning excited or pumped up.
“Can I get a ‘oh yeah?’ ” Newton asked the crowd before continuing. “As I look off in the crowd ...”
Then he was interrupted by his dad, Cecil, who noticed his famous son putting his infamous Gatorade towel underneath his black hat.
“Towel on his head again,” Cecil Newton said sarcastically into his microphone.
Newton’s sideline demeanor – towel draped over his head, often times looking demur – led to questions last year about how he should conduct himself.
Those doubts continued during his postgame press conferences, which are some of the few glimpses the public gets of Newton without a helmet on, as he preached to fans, media and teammates.
His surly interview following the nationally televised Week 3 loss to the Giants last season made its way into video packages on both ESPN and NFL Network for the rest of the season.
“I think this offseason has been key in my growth, going back and looking at things that I’ve done on the field and off the field,” Newton said. “Whether I’m watching film or just watching things that I can become a better person at, I’m trying to polish things up to make me a better person and better player.
Does that mean body language?
“Body language is everything. I could be having a conversation with you guys and have my face down and not make eye contact and everything’s OK. But the way it looks may come off a different way. And I understand that. That’s one thing I’ve tried to focus on, but at the same time it’s a work in progress.”
Cecil Newton said Cam has taken a detailed look at last season’s film, and that includes the way he presents himself. He said his son can police himself, and that he’ll be fine after a few tweaks this offseason.
And with age comes wisdom. Going into his third year, Newton said “there’s a lot of youth that has to be flushed out” of his game.
He mentioned not making the proper reads, which led to things like the 25-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter against Chicago during a 23-22 loss. Newton talked about errant throws he made, like when he continually overthrew Steve Smith early in the season. He even threw in not making the right calls in the huddle, a roadblock that may have been removed with simpler verbiage installed by new offensive coordinator Mike Shula.
And also how he conducts himself in front of a microphone.
“It’s all something I want to hone in on and become better at,” Newton said. “It’s something I’ve observed and said, ‘Hey, I’m not the best at that, let me work on that.’ ”
Newton said last month he would love to be an offensive captain, a position held by Carolina’s two most-veteran players, Smith and offensive tackle Jordan Gross.
Of the 12 other NFC teams that had permanent offensive captains during the 2012 season, eight included their starting quarterbacks.
Newton felt as though his comments were blown out of proportion, as if he had asked to be captain.
But he’s learning more leadership skills this offseason, even if it’s just taking ownership of his two-day high school football competition.
“Of course, as the quarterback of an NFL team I’d love to be captain, but if my peers don’t feel like I’m ready, then I’m not ready,” Newton said. “And first off I have to prove to myself and make myself accountable to come out each and every day to show a leader presence.
“I know that’s not going to be given, I have to earn it.”
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I see what you did there Jonathan Jones, using Jay-z references.