CHARLOTTE – Shortly after Cam Newton began a group interview Friday night, he was interrupted. A handful of folks from Panthers fan group Roaring Riot had a message for Carolina's quarterback:
It's almost hard to believe Newton turns 30 on Saturday. Time sure has flown since the Panthers took the 21-year-old with the top pick of the 2011 NFL Draft. But while Newton has in some ways matured, he also still acts like a big kid. Depending on which side of the lightning rod you're on, that's one of his endearing qualities. And it'd be silly to expect him to be different now that he has a '3' in front of his age.
"One thing: I'm not changing. I'm too old to change," Newton said when asked if he's reflected on turning 30. "But I can get better. That's one thing that I can do."
The Panthers obviously need him to feel better than he did at the end of his injury-shortened 2018 season. After undergoing his second shoulder procedure in three years, Newton is spending the spring rehabbing instead of working on the field with teammates. But he remains on pace to return for training camp.
In the nine years since he came to Carolina, Newton has won a Rookie of the Year award and an MVP. He's also had a fair share of disappointments. But almost every player in the league experiences some good and bad. That's certainly how his draft class panned out nine years later. Just look at the top 15 picks:
1) Carolina - Cam Newton
2) Denver - Von Miller
3) Buffalo - Marcell Dareus
4) Cincinnati - A.J. Green
5) Arizona - Patrick Peterson
6) Atlanta - Julio Jones
7) San Francisco - Aldon Smith
8) Tennessee - Jake Locker
9) Dallas - Tyron Smith
10) Blaine Gabbert
11) Houston - J.J. Watt
12) Minnesota - Christian Ponder
13) Detroit - Nick Fairley
14) St. Louis - Robert Quinn
15.) Miami - Mike Pouncey
"Looking at all the players that came out of our draft," Newton said, "the impactful draft that we did have and also the guys that didn't pan out. I'm just one of the lucky few to still be playing and still have a lot of life in my bones as well."
For some, 30 is the hardest birthday. At least you can try to pretend you're not yet a full-time adult when you're in your 20s.
Thirty is different. So is Newton – still.
"At this particular point, the things that make me me are still cemented in," he said. "It's just up to me to take my game to the next level and branch off, and like I said, get better."