By GUERRY CLEGG
Special to the Ledger-Enquirer
AUBURN, Ala. — Cam Newton leaped atop the brick wall below the south end zone stands, triumphantly waving a white towel. The giddy Auburn student section — soaking in the elation of the Tigers’ 65-43 victory over Arkansas — showered their hero with well-earned cheers. One fan held a sign that spoke for the Auburn family — and, perhaps, for a growing number of college football fans.
“Cam Scootin’ Newton for Heisman”
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As Newton dismounted and bounded his way toward the Tigers’ dressing room, a thunderous chorus erupted from the students.
“Heis-MAN! Heis-MAN! Heis-MAN!”
Newton’s exit into the belly of Jordan-Hare Stadium was just in time. See, about the only thing that appears to get to Newton these days is any individual praise.
“It wasn’t just me,” he told CBS’ Tracy Wolfson. “I’m a blessed individual on a blessed team.”
Then, Wolfson asked the inevitable regarding his Heisman chances.
“We’re just on Game 7,” Newton said. “We have a lot of football left.”
Newton is right. It’s preposterously early to start handicapping the field. The Heisman isn’t a race. It’s an award for a complete body of work. But it’s not too early to acknowledge Newton’s body of work — and his candidacy.
Newton went into Saturday’s game with the second-best passer rating in the country, trailing Boise State’s Kellen Moore. His 188 yards rushing Saturday pushed his season total to 860, which already ranks sixth-best among SEC quarterbacks of all time. He just needs 36 yards to surpass Tim Tebow’s total of 895 yards in 2007. True, that was just Tebow’s second-best season total. But that was also the year Tebow won the Heisman.
The comparison to Tebow was brought up, as was more Heisman talk.
“The Heisman Trophy? You can throw that out the window. The Tebow comparison, I’ll take that any day.” Newton said. “Tebow’s an excellent player, an excellent leader, an excellent individual. So to be compared to somebody like that. I’ll take that. But we’re two different players, two different people. Tebow is Tim Tebow, and I’m just Cam Newton.”
Just Cam Newton?
JUST Cam Newton?
Newton’s humility is genuine. The only platitudes you will hear about him will come from others. But every passing week brings more witnesses.
Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino: “Even when you have guys there, he breaks tackles. He’s also fast and big and can really run the ball. He’s just a really good player.”
As one who played quarterback, Kodi Burns has a particular appreciation for Newton. They were rival prospects in high school. Burns saw how good Newton was in a high school all-star game.
“It looks natural to me because that’s what he does,” Burns said. “As a defensive coordinator, you have to have nightmares playing him. You think you have everything covered, and he gets away.”
Wes Byrum, Auburn’s kicker, gets a field-level view: “He does some stuff that’s just jaw-dropping.”
Chizik was asked whether there is a better player in the country.
“I don’t have the opportunity to watch everybody in America,” he said. “But I can tell you this: No. 2 is one spectacular football player. I am not one to go out on a limb, but everybody in the world sees it. It’s not like I’m telling anybody anything new. He is a competitor. He wants the ball. He is humble. He keeps working, and he gives us a chance to win every week.”
No player in America means more to his team than Newton. The Tigers are now 7-0 and starting to push their way into the national championship picture. Again, there’s a long way to go. The Tigers still have games against undefeated LSU, resurgent Georgia and archrival Alabama.
Where would Auburn be without Newton? Perhaps that question can be answered with another: Where is Florida now without Tebow?
Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org