ATHENS -- Cam Newton, the leading contender for the Heisman Trophy as Auburn's quarterback, might have been relegated to a different position if he had signed with Georgia out of Atlanta's Westlake High School.
"I remember him [as a recruit]," Georgia coach Mark Richt said Tuesday. "He was a very talented guy, a guy that we did look at."
But . . .
"We actually had him pegged as more of a tight end prospect," Richt said. "A lot of it had to do with what we like to do offensively, more of a fit [issue] than any disrespect to his ability to play quarterback.
"He's proven to be pretty darn good, though."
Newton is the talk of college football, both for his play on the field and for the controversies engulfing him off the field. Not surprisingly, with Georgia facing Auburn on Saturday, he was the top topic at Richt's weekly news conference Tuesday.
On first reference, Richt referred to the Auburn quarterback simply as "Cam."
"You can tell you've arrived," Richt said, "when all you have to do is say the guy's first name."
Richt gave Newton even higher praise when he compared him to a former Heisman-winning Florida quarterback.
"Just when you thought [Tim] Tebow left," Richt said, "he showed up again in another jersey."
Newton signed with Florida out of high school before transferring to Blinn College in Texas and then to Auburn. Although Georgia recruited Newton in high school, the Bulldogs did not pursue him after he played last season at Blinn, Richt said.
Newton's play has put Auburn (10-0, 6-0 SEC) in position to clinch the SEC West title with a victory over Georgia (5-5, 3-4) Saturday.
As for whether Newton will be distracted Saturday by the controversy swirling around him, Richt said: "It was swirling last week. It didn't seem to bother him last week. So I doubt it. Usually, when you start playing ball, no matter what's going on around you, it's a haven for an athlete to be in his element and shut the world out and go have some fun."
Focused on Fairley
Newton isn't the only Auburn player drawing raves from Richt, who seems at least as concerned about defensive tackle Nick Fairley.
"I’ve not really seen any one man block him," Richt said. "I rarely have seen two guys block him very well. I’ve seen him get a sack without even touching the quarterback. He knocked a guard into the running back and then the running back into the quarterback and the quarterback got knocked down.
"And then when he sacks guys, he tends to like to body slam them. It makes me real nervous. Hopefully, [Georgia quarterback Aaron] Murray won’t see this press conference.”
Murray knows all about Fairley, who body-slammed 6-foot-5 LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson on a sack and delivered a big hit that gave 6-7 Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett a concussion.
Murray said he has "complete confidence" in Georgia's offensive line to protect him and declined to contemplate a collision with Fairley.
"I don't even want to think about that," Murray said. "That's not a pleasant thought. ... Hopefully I get no concussion if it does happen."
Murray was asked what he might say to Fairley if their paths cross before the game.
"I might say, ‘Hey, how are you doing today? Please don't kill me.'"
A sick feeling
Arkansas' victory over South Carolina last week had a strong effect on Richt.
"I was sick, I'll be honest with you," he said.
That's because the outcome underscored the high cost of Georgia's Oct. 30 overtime loss to Florida.
If Georgia had beaten Florida, Arkansas' victory over South Carolina would have boosted the Bulldogs' chances of reaching the SEC championship game. The Dogs would have needed only a Florida victory over South Carolina this week to clinch the berth.
"It would have been a wonderful story," Richt said. "But it's not."
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