CHARLOTTE – When Ken Dorsey twice was named a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, Cam Newton was a kid just beginning to find his way in life.
But when Dorsey started three games in place of injured quarterback Derek Anderson for the Cleveland Browns in 2008, Newton was a college football player, one destined to become the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft.
"I kid with him all the time that he's not too far removed from being in the league himself," Newton said of Dorsey, the Panthers' first-year quarterbacks coach who last played in the NFL in 2008. "He understands a lot of the things we're feeling. Sometimes we're down, sometimes we're up, and he's the equalizer to help us focus and get the job done."
Dorsey is quick to point out that he didn't have nearly the success that Newton has enjoyed in the NFL, but as an NCAA champion like Newton and a five-year veteran of the NFL wars, Dorsey knows a thing or two about what it takes to succeed.
"It's great to have that experience that I can look back on to help understand what he's going through on the field," said Dorsey, who compiled a 38-2 record as starting quarterback at the University of Miami. "I understand what Cam is looking at and why he doesn't do something where some people might be asking, 'Well shoot, why didn't he just do this?' It's not always that easy.
"I understand that when you drop back and the bullets are flying, it's not always going to be pretty, but at the end of the day you've got to find a way to get the job done."
That's exactly what the 32-year-old Dorsey tried to do as a player and what he is now trying to do in his first full-fledged coaching role. He may officially be new to this, but in reality he's been preparing for this moment for years.
"When I was playing, I did a lot of work with the coaching staff," said Dorsey, whose playing days ended as a backup for the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League in 2010. "I was in the game-planning meetings with the coaches in Cleveland and Toronto, helping them out with breaking down defenses and things like that.
"I'm incredibly lucky because I can't see doing anything else. This to me, it's not a job. It's what I love to do."
Unlike seemingly so many in his shoes, Dorsey isn't the son of a football coach, but his father still played a big role in Dorsey working to get to where he is today. Tom Dorsey, who died at the age of 65 in February, was Ken's biggest fan.
The feeling was mutual.
"My dad wasn't a coach, but I took a ton away from him," Dorsey said. "He had to work two jobs a lot of times, but he never let us as kids really see when times were hard. He was the hardest worker for the betterment of his kids, and I couldn't have asked for anything more. That's the approach I take to coaching.
"My dad always dreamed of me coaching. Before he passed, I was able to see him in the hospital just after I had been promoted to quarterbacks coach. I was able to tell him, and he lit up. He was so excited."
Tom closely followed his youngest son's transition from player to coach. Ken worked with a couple of high school programs in Florida in 2011, and that same year he got an opportunity from former Panthers quarterback Chris Weinke to work with aspiring quarterbacks at IMG Academy in Bradenton. Dorsey worked primarily with high school athletes, though he did meet a college athlete training for the draft named Cam Newton.
Their relationship grew – as did Dorsey's understanding of coaching – when Dorsey spent the past two seasons as a pro scout for the Panthers. Dorsey spent significant time around the players and coaches in the role, relaying information about upcoming opponents.
"It helped a ton, just being around these guys. They know me, and I know them, so now it's not a complete stranger coming in," Dorsey said. "It's about building trust. Cam understands the time I put in the last two years to help this team win, and I understand the time and work he put in. Having that understanding makes all the difference in the world.
"My whole goal is to do everything I can to make him the best possible player and teammate he can be. Fortunately for me, he makes that job easy because of the amount of work he puts in and the dedication he has."