SPARTANBURG, S.C. – When he entered the league as the No.1 overall pick, Cam Newton talked about the leadership requirements of a quarterback. And he talked about how daunting it is to lead a new group of teammates when you are fresh out of college in an NFL locker room that is filled with grown men supporting families with jobs constantly on the line.
Now that several years have passed, it's clear Newton is more comfortable in his role and all that it requires of him.
"I'm that vet now, huh?," Newton said hours prior to the first practice of his fifth training camp. "You see it all in my facial hair."
We see the growth elsewhere. We see it in the way he conducts himself. We see it in the words he chooses.
Newton said "the vibe in the locker room is changing in a good way," but so is he.
"It just comes with it," Newton said. "Time cures a lot of things. For me to be here for so long, I'd be a fool if I hadn't grown."
In addition to his growth as a football player, he's had some life-changing experiences in the past year. The hospital band from his recovery following a violent car crash remains on his wrist as a reminder of what he went through and what nearly took away everything.
"I talk to kids across America and just try to get through to them – just love what you do, man," Newton said. "I just want people to admire my love for life above everything."
Newton has gained valuable perspective and life experience. He's learned. He's also proven himself as a tough, dependable quarterback. And it's made his role as the leader of the Panthers more comfortable, more real.
"I'm supposed to be that guy. That's by default. When people think about quarterback, that's probably the only position in all of sports that has that default, 'You are a leader' whether you want it or not," Newton said. "I'm not flipping a switch on and saying, 'I have to go into leader Cam or now I have to go into playful Cam.'"
He has to be a leader but he has to be himself, and that comes naturally now more than ever.
"I don't have to do it alone," Newton said. "I respect and have admiration for a lot of guys on the team that makes my job easy."