CHARLOTTE – At the start, it felt like a familiar scene for Panthers quarterback
There he was, standing in a gigantic inflated Panthers' tunnel, waiting for his name to be called as the fog enveloped him; fans anxiously waiting to see him emerge.
But this time there weren't any plays to run once he was introduced. No defenders to avoid, no passes to complete.
Newton grabbed a microphone, rallied the students, and was his charismatic self as he expressed the importance of school pride and education.
"I'm kind of hoarse," Newton said afterwards with a smile. "It was a lot of fun."
The Cam Newton Foundation – partnered with EA Sports and the Carolina Panthers – launched its School Pride Program by donating $150,000 to three Charlotte middle schools. Bradley, Randolph and Thomasboro Academy received $50,000 each to enhance their learning environments.
"We feel absolutely privileged to be a part of this. I can't even explain the excitement. I've never seen this many zeros on a check," Thomasboro Academy Principal Janette McIver said. "(Cam Newton) is one of the biggest names right now for any of the kids. Even the 4-year-olds know who he is. To see him as a role model off of the field and in the spotlight for doing something in our community is awesome."
With select students from all three schools in attendance, Newton talked about his own favorite subjects and teachers before posing the questions to those he called down from the stands.
Newton explained how important school pride was and is to him, and how he hopes the program will inspire school spirit.
He asked the quarterback of the Randolph football team what makes his school different.
"We've got swag," he answered.
Newton could hardly contain his excitement. That's what he wants to hear.
"When my family was in school, we took pride in being a part of a school, wearing the lettermen jackets or being a part of a club. We represented our school," he said. "Now you kind of see that veering off. We want to the kids to want to go to school."
And as a result of their school pride, Newton hopes to see that translate into academic achievement.
"I believe students will perform better when they are proud of their schools, and ultimately, that helps our whole community," he said. "Education and the outlets it has given me made me very fortunate and very blessed with the position that I am in right now."