Cam Newton on kids, college, football and fashion

It’s been a hectic offseason for Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, the former Westlake High star who in the 2010 season led Auburn to the BCS title and won the Heisman Trophy.

Since last season ended, he had his high school jersey retired, continued his education at Auburn and fully participated in the Panthers’ offseason program. He also attached his name to a department store’s clothing line.

On Thursday, two weeks before the Panthers report for training camp, he helped his Cam Newton Foundation sponsor a “Fun Day” for about 300 children at the Andrew Young & Walter Young Family YMCA in southwest Atlanta.

During a break, Newton slipped into an office just off the Dominique Wilkins basketball court and held an exclusive interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

While he didn’t want to address the arrest of former Florida teammate Aaron Hernandez, Newton talked about his foundation work, college, the coming season, the Falcons and his sense of fashion.

Here’s what he had to say:

Q: What are you and your foundation hoping to achieve with the Fun Day at the YMCA?

A: It’s something that always has been on my heart to do. It’s not the first, nor will it be the last time. As long as I’ve got breath in my body, I will always feel obligated to give back to the community that raised me.

Q: What’s the key point of your message to the kids?

A: The main thing is to stay fit. When you see kids today, they have a lot things they can look to (for fun) like (electronic games and phones). In my last little days of growing up, it was popular for us to come in the house sweating, and my mom would have to beg us to get in the shower after playing outside.

Now, you have kids that come home from school and just play video games. The focus is on staying fit and having fun. My big focus is whether you want to be a fireman, a lawyer, a doctor, a nurse or what have you, a veterinarian, it doesn’t matter. Whatever is the thing you decide to do, just go headfirst and try your best.

Q: What do you see when you look into their eyes?

A: I see so much (uncertainty), but at the same time innocence. … The foundation is trying to give them some type of hope to say, “Well, I want to do this” instead of getting into the default lifestyle, especially in this ’hood, of being on the corner selling drugs, doing drugs or what have you.

Q: How did summer school at Auburn go for you?

A: It went very well. My grade-point average was a 3.5. … I focused and challenged myself to devote all of my time and effort to trying to become the best student that I could. … There were challenges, but I feel as though I put forth my best effort.

Q: How tough was going back to college as a millionaire?

A: The most challenging thing was going back into a structured learning environment. When you’re in a football meeting, you can stick your leg up (on the table) … and you can throw spitballs and keep it light. But in a classroom of 30 to 70 students. … I couldn’t go to class and be twiddling my hands and not be focused on the professor. I put that type of (pressure) on myself to focus.

Q: How close are you now to earning your sociology degree?

A: Next semester, 15 hours. Hopefully, I’ll be busy in the spring semester. But I think there’s a plan that we can put together as soon as the season is over where I can finish up my credit hours and earn my degree.

Q: How was the offseason for the Panthers?

A: The OTAs were great. I think it’s going to be a transformative thing for us as a team to have a coordinator (Mike Shula) that knows each and everyone’s personality. Me, the offensive line, the running backs and wide receivers and mixing us together. He knows the things that we like to do. He knows the things that we’re good at.

Q: How do you see the NFC South? Can the Panthers make the jump to the top?

A: For us, I’m not going to (predict) anything because that can be very dangerous. We are capable of being a dangerous team. But at the same time we have to take care of the things that we can control first. That’s having an unbelievable training camp. Two-a-days are right ahead as well as having unbelievable team chemistry. I think at times last year it was challenging, but we finished strong, and we can take that momentum going into this season.

Q: The Panthers came pretty close to sweeping the Falcons last season. How tough is it playing your hometown team?

A: It’s always a heavily critiqued game. … I’ve always been a Falcons fan, and I’m still a Falcons fan except for those two times a year.

Q: How is your Belk line going?

A: It’s going great. Everyone has some type of fashion in them. For me, it was an opportunity that presented itself with an unbelievable organization, and I took the opportunity and ran with it.

Q: How would you describe your fashion sense?

A: My fashion is somewhat changing to a degree. I prefer dressing in layers. (I like) different colors. I don’t always want to be seen in a green shirt or a blue shirt or a red shirt. Whatever is trending at that particular time, I would hope and pray that my outfit is trending as well.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.