Cam Newton hits the Big Apple

NEW YORK – Cam Newton arrived here Friday in advance of Saturday night's Heisman Trophy ceremony, answering some of the same questions that would be lobbed to any overwhelming favorite.

Like, how will it feel, do you suppose, when you’re holding that primitive bronze figure and a young life’s work – this one begun in south Atlanta – has led to college football’s highest point?

“Words can’t describe it. It would be a dream come true,” Newton said.

But in this run-up press conference to Heisman night, the questions were not all so easy, so routine. Many circled the minefield of father-son relationships, more specifically the one between Auburn’s star quarterback and a father accused of trying to sell his boy’s services.

Last week, the NCAA ruled that Cecil Newton had unsuccessfully solicited money from Mississippi State in exchange for Cam signing with the Bulldogs. Stating that it had no proof of the younger Newton’s involvement in the pay-for-play proposition, the NCAA declared him eligible to play for Auburn in the SEC championship game and the upcoming BCS National Championship game against Oregon. The investigation is ongoing.

Thus, Friday came the atypical Heisman questions:

Are you disappointed in your father?

“No, I’m not,” Newton said.

How will it feel to not have your father there Saturday to share the moment? (On Thursday, Cecil Newton, through his Atlanta attorney, announced that he would not be in the theater when the Heisman is awarded, for fear of distracting from the ceremony.)

“It hurts,” Newton said. “That’s the decision he made, he’s doing it for the betterment of me, his son. I think that’s a good thing. Whatever his decision is, I’m all for it.”

Do you feel cheated not having him there? (Newton will be joined by his mother and two brothers.)

“I don’t. This is a blessing in itself, me being here,” he answered.

Once more, Cam was even moved to reaffirm the most basic feelings he has for Cecil: “He’s my father. I said on numerous occasions how I feel about my father. I love him with all my heart.”

Whatever else occurred along the way, Cecil Newton laid paving stones all the way from College Park to Broadway for his son to follow.

The strong-willed pastor already had raised one son – Cecil Jr. – who defied long odds to make an NFL roster as an undrafted offensive lineman in 2009. Jacksonville released him this year.

And when college suitors lined up at Westlake High and beheld young Cam Newton, their imaginations red-lined. His father was the man in charge of bringing them back to his non-negotiable reality.

Darron Rogers, Cam’s basketball coach at Westlake before losing him forever to football as a senior, remembered the way the elder Newton held the line.

“His father is the main reason [Cam] is where he is today,” Rogers said.

“He was always over [Cam’s] shoulder. When recruiters started talking about Cam being a tight end or whatever, his father said, ‘No, we’ve been working since he was 5 years old to be a quarterback.' He wasn’t going to let anyone change his position.”

Cecil Newton helped pack up his son’s things when the young man transferred from Florida, leaving behind one arrest for buying a stolen computer as well as the role as Tim Tebow’s understudy.

The father drove the son the 800 miles from their Atlanta home to a small southwest Texas junior college – Blinn – where Cam started over in 2009. In a conversation retold in Sports Illustrated, he challenged his son on the trip: “You’ll either go onto the big stage from here or fade into obscurity.”

Cam Newton has arrived on the big stage this weekend. And the man who has been an omnipresent influence, who would take such keen joy in this transcendent moment, will not be there to witness it first-hand.

“What do you think?” Cam said when asked if he would contact his father directly after winning the Heisman.

“If you loved your father, I’m pretty sure you’d probably want to share everything.”

Back at Westlake, the Parent Teacher Student Association, along with Fulton County officials, have organized a four-hour Heisman Watch celebration Saturday. Music will play, cheerleaders will cheer and step teams will step in advance of a big balloon drop inside the gym when Newton is expected to be named the best college player in the land.

“This is such a rare occasion, like a shooting star. You have to seize the moment,” said Westlake Principal Byron White.

But there also is sympathy for a father who won’t be at his son’s side.

“It only saddens us if that occurs,” said Dallas Allen, Newton’s former football coach at Westlake, now at Douglass. “That there is a man’s son. People can say what they want about it, but they’re not involved. They don’t know what should or shouldn’t be done.”

A year ago Friday “was my official [Auburn] visit week, that’s crazy,” Newton said, remembering the transition such a short time ago from Blinn College back to big-time football.

“I went in one year from visiting the best Auburn has, to now one year later seeing what New York has.”

Mostly, that span has been one covered in glory. His was a stunningly prolific season, summed up aptly last week inside the Georgia Dome, when he accounted for six touchdowns in Auburn’s 56-17 rout of South Carolina in the SEC championship.

Yet the last month has been an incongruous one in which suspicion encroached upon awe. Strange times around the Heisman. Even as its presumed winner prepares to be honored, he speaks of an ordeal.

“I thank God for putting me in a lot of situations because a person can get stronger through adversity. For me to go through that, I feel I’m a stronger person,” Newton said. “God won’t put any more on you than you can bear.

“Through this circumstance, I haven’t broken yet.”