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Newton stands alone but not apart

Posted Aug 21, 2012

Between his continually running TV ads for Gatorade and Under Armour and now his appearance on the cover of the September issue of GQ, it seems like Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is everywhere.

In reality, Newton's world often is limited to a square mile of uptown Charlotte, with most of his time spent at his condo and his home away from home – the locker room, meeting rooms and practice fields at Bank of America Stadium.

Newton has quickly become the biggest celebrity the Panthers organization has ever known, but his teammates say his head hasn't grown in proportion to his fame.

"He's just one of the guys," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "We've never had a guy that gets as much attention in the media as he does since I've been on the team. A lot of times that can put some distance between you and your teammates, but Cam fits in great."

Just one year into his NFL career, Newton already has reached the rare status of being on a first-name basis with the entire country. Simply say "Cam" in conversation, and almost everybody knows who you're talking about (except that girl I went to high school with a few miles from Chapel Hill who claimed she had never heard of Michael Jordan).

Rarer still is how Newton has remained the same person in the Panthers locker room through it all.

"He's a mega superstar already," linebacker Jon Beason said. "During my career, there's been one Gatorade guy. That was Peyton Manning. Who's Gatorade now? Cam Newton, all by himself.

"But I'm impressed with how he deals with the fame, staying grounded and knowing he still needs to work and prepare to be better."

If anything, Newton has become an even better teammate as his profile has risen. Gross is among those to note Newton's maturation as he has embraced the leadership role expected of NFL quarterbacks.

"There are certain positions in this league where you know leadership comes with the price of admission," Newton said. "There are going to be good days and there are going to be bad days, but lucky for me I've got guys like Ryan Kalil, Jordan Gross, Jon Beason, Steve Smith - guys that have made their mark in this league. I don't know all the answers, but at least I've got guys like that who I can go to and talk about it."

The Panthers knew Newton was going to be the talk of the town – and well beyond – once his 2011 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year season concluded and he had some time to pursue opportunities beyond football.

They trusted him, however, to never truly put football on the backburner, and he responded in kind.

"We talked about that in late February, early March about what he was going to be doing. He was very forthright about it, and we have no issue," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. "The biggest thing is that he understands that once we're in season, it's time for him to work, and his focus and attention is about what we're doing."

That's been the case to the nth degree. When a reporter asked Newton early in training camp what he thought of all the attention he received during the offseason, Newton didn't even want to talk about it.

"It was alright," he muttered. "Just trying to focus on football right now."

And football is focusing on Newton, using his image nationally to draw in viewers or readers.

SportsCenter recently teased a Panthers-related story by mentioning Newton multiple times over the course of 100 minutes, and then the piece ended up being nothing more than a 10-second answer to a Twitter question that barely related to Newton. On the print side, a recent Monday Morning Quarterback feature on SI.com used a photo of Newton at the top, then proceeded to only make a one-paragraph mention of the Panthers – on the fourth page of the article.

Without a doubt, Newton has become a hot commodity along Madison Avenue. That's fine with the Panthers, as long as he's excelling at his day job on the corner of Mint and Morehead.

"Anytime you back it up on the field, it's all good with me," defensive end Charles Johnson said. "He's the face of this team because he's a monster on the field. I'm just glad he's on our team instead of someone else's."