It’s no secret that Indianapolis is picking Andrew Luck first overall in this week’s NFL Draft, and seemingly every pundit on the planet is convinced he’s a sure thing. Last year, things weren’t so clear-cut, as doubts about Carolina’s choice at no. 1, Cam Newton, abounded. Newton promptly went out and surpassed every rookie QB mark that matters, including those for passing yards, rushing yards and total TDs. He also broke the league record for rushing TDs by a QB and made the Pro Bowl. (And that was before he started rocking Under Armour Highlight Cleats, in action bottom of next page.) So we asked him for his secrets to raising your game at every level. Take notes, Mr. Luck.
MADE MAN: In your first and only year of junior college, you won a national title. In your first and only year at Auburn, you won a title and the Heisman. Then you came to the NFL and immediately set records. What’s the trick?
CAM NEWTON: I don’t know if there’s a trick besides looking to what works for so many people way before me. The ingredient for success is hard work. I came in from day one and tried to earn everybody’s respect by working hard, not getting anything given to me. I just wanted to prove to my teammates that I was a standup candidate for the job.
You don’t have to embrace what people think of you. I wanted people to know the stereotypes about me were all false.
MM: But three teams in three cities at three levels in three years…
CN: Long road to the top and I’m still trying to climb that mountain. Going from Florida [Newton spent his freshman and redshirt sophomore year backing up Tim Tebow, believe it or not] to junior college to Auburn to the NFL, it’s been something I wouldn’t trade for the world.
MM: Did you have any rookie moments with the Panthers, like getting stuck in traffic and almost missing the kickoff?
CN: I don’t think that would be acceptable, with so many people counting on me, particularly with my role on the team as quarterback. Me coming in and taking on a role with so much leadership… to do that, from the water boy to the head coach to the trainer, they’re looking to see how I respond to different adversities, how I handle the good and the bad.
MM: As the new guy who’s also the quarterback, how do you balance showing respect for your teammates but still taking charge?
CN: With me being the first pick, I didn’t want it to feel like everybody was obligated to give me attention. I feel like with all the public attention for me or any high-profile athlete, you’re coming in and people might call you a prima donna. You don’t have to embrace what people think of you. I wanted people to know the stereotypes about me were all false.
MM: Do you have any teammates you reached out to and said, “I respect you. What can you tell me?”
CN: Steve Smith [the Panthers’ five-time Pro Bowl receiver]. From day one he took me under his wing. Any questions I had on the field, off the field, he was there to answer them. When I needed someone to talk to, he would be there. So many different veterans stepped up and made my transition very smooth.