Photo by Phelan M. Ebenhack
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- A dapper Cam Newton strolled briskly down the red carpet, smiling and acknowledging adoring fans. He paused momentarily to sign a few autographs, then rushed off to begin collecting some of his postseason hardware.
The Auburn star won the Davey O'Brien Award as the nation's top quarterback Thursday night, when he also walked away with the Maxwell Award as the best all-around player in the country. His next stop will be New York, where he's the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy on Saturday.
"No guy would be able to do it without a supporting cast," he said to an audience that included his mother, Jackie, and his coach, Gene Chizik.
Dressed in a black suit, white shirt and orange tie, Newton was the next-to-last player introduced on the red carpet for the College Football Awards Show at Disney World -- just ahead of Wisconsin offensive tackle Gabe Carimi, the Outland Trophy winner as the nation's best interior lineman.
The 6-foot-6, 250-pound quarterback led top-ranked Auburn (13-0) to the Southeastern Conference championship and a spot in the Bowl Championship Series national title game against No. 2 Oregon on Jan. 10 in Glendale, Ariz.
"I just take pride in being the person that everybody looks to for leadership and guidance," said Newton, who answered questions during ESPN's telecast but wasn't available to reporters covering the event.
Newton led the SEC in rushing with 1,409 yards, while also completing 67.1 percent of his passes for 2,589 yards and 28 touchdowns. In all, he accounted for 49 TDs, scoring one on a reception and running for 20 to join former Florida star Tim Tebow and Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick (also this year) as the only Football Bowl Subdivision players with at least 20 TDs both rushing and passing in a season.
"I think he's the best player in the country," said Oregon's LaMichael James, who won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back and also is a finalist for the Heisman.
The other Heisman finalists -- Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck and Boise State QB Kellen Moore -- also were up for the awards Newton swept Thursday night. Earlier in the day, he won the Walter Camp player of the year award as well.
Prior to the show, Newton said in an interview with ESPN that he "did no wrong" during the recruiting process that led to him signing with Auburn.
Speaking hours before the broadcast, Newton told the network that he followed his heart in signing with the Tigers instead of Mississippi State.
"I'm a person that did no wrong," Newton said. "I did it the right way."
He had not spoken publicly about the failed pay-for-play scheme involving his father, Cecil, and former Mississippi State player Kenny Rogers while the star quarterback was being recruited by the Bulldogs. The NCAA ruled that Cam Newton was unaware of the payment scheme.
After the ruling, George Lawson, the Newton family attorney, said that Cecil Newton cooperated with the NCAA.
"Cam's father participated in the investigation truthfully and honestly in terms of what he knew and what he didn't know, regardless of the consequences," Lawson told WSB-TV in Atlanta.
Newton told ESPN he hadn't directly asked his father what transpired between him and Mississippi State, but "at the end of the day I can look him in the eye and know he has my best interests at heart."
Newton said it wasn't for him to say if his father had done anything wrong, but he knows his father is there for him.
"My love for him is unconditional," Cam Newton said. "This type of situation can split a family but it makes us stronger."
Cecil Newton, whose access to Auburn athletics has been limited by the university in conjunction with the NCAA findings, said Thursday he will not attend the Heisman ceremony.
In a statement through the family's Atlanta-based attorney he said his presence might "rob Cam and the event of a sacred moment."
Cecil Newton said in the statement that he has made an "exhausting attempt to be a good husband, father and generally a good person of integrity." He added that "the past 60 days have caused all that my family worked to accomplish to come into question."
On the eve of Thursday's awards show at Disney World, James was asked if he'd vote for Newton for the Heisman.
"I'd vote for him twice," the running back said, smiling. "I don't care what happens off the field. To me, he's the best player in the country."
Like Newton, LSU junior cornerback Patrick Peterson was a double winner Thursday night, receiving the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back and the Chuck Bednarik Award as the best defensive player.
Oklahoma State had two winners, with Justin Blackmon getting the Biletnikoff Award as best receiver and kicker Dan Bailey taking the Lou Groza Award. Florida punter Chas Henry won the Ray Guy Award.