Ex-Florida QB Newton gets fresh start at Auburn

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

AUBURN, Ala. -- Cam Newton is back in major college football. All the video cameras, tape recorders and reporters surrounding him after Auburn's first spring practice on Wednesday were a dead giveaway.

Tim Tebow's former backup quarterback at Florida is again competing for a starting job in the Southeastern Conference after a season playing in the rural obscurity of a Texas junior college.

"It was humbling," Newton said in his first visit with reporters since arriving at Auburn in January. "Take this: You got reporters asking you questions. At junior college, you could have the perfect day, you could go 20-for-20 for 500 yards passing and won't nobody know.

"Honestly, you don't have Gatorade in practice. You don't even have a ball boy half the time. I come from Florida, which is probably at the pinnacle of college football -- one day you're on top of the world and the next day the world could be on top of you, so to speak."

The 6-foot-6, 247-pound junior has orbited the college football planet again. He is the presumed front-runner in a four-way battle to replace Chris Todd as the Tigers' starting quarterback

It's a chance he wasn't sure he'd have when he was leading Blinn College -- located between Houston and Austin -- to a JUCO national championship last season. He threw for 2,833 yards and 22 touchdowns, and rushed for 655 yards and 16 more scores.

Newton was arrested in November 2008 after campus police said he stole a $1,700 laptop, then heaved it out his dormitory window when officers arrived to investigate. Gators coach Urban Meyer promptly suspended him.

Prosecutors dropped grand theft and tampering charges against Newton last December after he completed a pretrial intervention program for first-time offenders and stayed out of trouble in the meantime.

Newton said he accepts responsibility for his actions, but wanted to clear up one misperception.

"A lot of people think I got kicked out of Florida," he said. "I did not get kicked out of Florida. I transferred from Florida. I had a legal issue, a slip-up with the computer issue that I had bought from a person, which was stolen. That issue was taken care of way before I even left Florida. The charges were dropped."

Newton said he left on his own because he was caught behind Tebow and was in the same classification as John Brantley, another highly regarded prospect.

"I didn't want to sit behind any one, because I have dreams, I have aspirations to be a starter for a Division I NCAA team, and I think while I was at Florida I probably wasn't going to get that," Newton said.

So he endured a year in Brenham, Texas which he described as located "in the middle of nothing."

"I'm from Atlanta, so I was waking up to buses and airplanes," Newton said. "I go to Florida and I'm waking up to the bus transit that comes around, and then I come to Brenham and I'm waking up to cows.

"For a couple of months while I was there, I was heart-struck. At first, I thought my career as a football player was over. Luckily (with) my determination and strong will to get better as a player and a person, God gave me a second chance to be recruited."

Arizona, Mississippi State (led by Newton's Florida position coach Dan Mullen), Arizona and Oklahoma were among the schools who called while he was at Blinn.

He chose instead to come to Auburn, which has a wide-open race and Gus Malzahn's fast-paced offense that thrives under mobile quarterbacks like Newton.

Newton is trying to claim the job over returnees Neil Caudle, Barrett Trotter and Clint Moseley -- only Caudle and Newton have taken a snap in college. Redshirt freshman Tyrik Rollison is sitting out spring practice to focus on academics but remains on the team, coach Gene Chizik said Wednesday. However, ESPN.com reported Thursday that Rollison was tranferring to Sam Houston State, according to his father.

Enrolling early gave Newton a chance to go through offseason workouts and the spring with the team and learn the offense.

"He's an intelligent young man, he's not scared to work," Malzahn said. "He wants to be coachable, he wants to do well."

As for Day One: "His head was spinning at times, but that's to be expected," Malzahn said. "He had a good attitude."

Chizik said all four quarterbacks are getting the same number of practice snaps to begin with.

Newton said he doesn't want or expect the starting job to be handed to him.

"I don't want anything given to me," Newton said. "If something's given to you ... you're not going to have the same respect (from teammates) as if you earn everything you get.

"If I'm not the starter, it's because the person worked harder than me."