NEW YORK -- Auburn quarterback Cam Newton is expected to receive the Heisman Trophy tonight, and most of his immediate family will be in attendance.
His mother, Jackie, and brothers, Cecil Jr. and Caylin, will be there, cheering him on as they always have. But his father, Cecil Sr., will be watching from afar, a pariah in the aftermath of the recruiting scandal that’s been the talk of college football for the past month.
Does Newton feel cheated that his entire family won’t be there to watch him reach the apex of the sport?
“I don’t,” he said. “This is a blessing in itself.”
It will be an unusual Heisman Trophy ceremony to say the least tonight at 8 p.m. The outcome isn’t in doubt: Newton should win -- and win big.
But something will be missing, namely Newton’s father, who chose to keep his distance after the NCAA ruled he committed a violation by seeking $180,000 from Mississippi State to secure his son’s signature on a letter of intent last year.
Newton emerged unpunished from the imbroglio, ruled ineligible before being reinstated a day later without conditions after the NCAA concluded he had no knowledge of his father’s dealings.
But as part of its agreement with the NCAA, Auburn has limited Cecil’s access to the football program. An easy punching bag for the protectors of amateurism in college athletics, he receded from the spotlight, keeping a safe distance from his son.
It hasn’t changed Newton’s opinion of his dad, however.
“He’s my father,” Newton said. “I’ve said on numerous occasions on how I feel about my father. I love him with all my heart.”
Cecil issued a statement through his attorney Thursday, saying he will stay away from the Heisman ceremony, not wanting to “rob Cam and the event of a sacred moment.”
“It’s unfortunate,” Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs said. “But I certainly respect the decision that he’s made, and I think, as he’s said, it’s in the best interest of Cameron.”
“It hurts, but it’s a decision that he made, and he’s doing it by the betterment of me, his son,” he said. “I think that’s a good thing. Whatever his decision is, I’m all for it.”
Newton will plow ahead, just like he has in the face of mounting criticism near the end of the season. The quarterback’s play got better despite those distractions, culminating in a 408-yard, six-touchdown effort against South Carolina in a 56-17 SEC championship game blowout that made any Heisman Trophy debate moot.
“He’s handled it a lot better than most of us have,” Jacobs said. “He has a peacefulness and he knows exactly where he stands, and I really think that he just keeps doing business and doesn’t let things distract him, and he’s just an unselfish guy.
“He never takes those distractions on the field, never lets them impact his team. So he just keeps rolling. Once he puts his helmet on, I really believe that he’s in his environment. The practice field, in the stadium, in the arena -- whatever it is -- he’s just born to play this game.”
Newton’s not impervious to criticism, however. He admits he thinks about how he is portrayed, although he tries to block it out.
“I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t,” he said. “I have. Have I been for a long time? No. I thank God for putting me in a lot of situations because a person can get stronger by adversity, and going through that, I feel like I’m a stronger person.
“God cannot put more on you than you can bear,” he added. “And in this circumstance, I haven’t broke yet.”