BATON ROUGE — Even Cam Newton's most ill-advised pass was on target.
It was November of 2008 when Newton, Florida's Tim Tebow-sized redshirt freshman backup quarterback, was in his dormitory room when suddenly there was a knock on the door. A swarm of police officers on an obviously slow night in Gainesville were on the trail of a hot laptop computer that had been reported as stolen by a Florida student and traced to Newton because he had been using his Florida student account to log on.
According to the police report, the computer was found in Newton's room, but Newton avoided the rush by asking police if they could wait outside a moment while he called a local attorney. When police returned moments later, the laptop was gone and they were not happy. The authorities later found it behind a dumpster just outside of Newton's third-floor window.
Newton's toss was complete, but it got him arrested for buying stolen property and suspended from the football team.
"I believe that a person should not be thought of as a bad person because of some senseless mistake that they made," Newton, now Auburn's junior quarterback, said on a teleconference on Monday to preview Saturday's 2:30 p.m. undefeated matchup of No. 6 LSU and No. 4 Auburn at Auburn. "I think every person should have a second chance. If they blow that second chance, so be it for them."
Newton, who is three inches taller than Tebow at 6-foot-6 and 10 pounds heavier at 250 and faster, could have had his second chance at Florida. The charge was later dropped after Newton went through pre-trial diversion, and he could have returned to the Gators for the 2009 spring drills and season. But Newton, who was the No. 2 dual-threat quarterback in the nation out of Westlake High in Atlanta in 2007, and his father Cecil decided he had thrown his last pass at Florida after Tebow announced he was returning for his senior season in 2009.
"I wasn't playing when Tebow was a sophomore (in 2007) nor when he was a junior (in 2008)," Newton said. "So I felt like that if Tebow was coming back for his senior year, I really wasn't going to get a chance to play. That was going to be another year washed down the drain."
So Newton found himself Brenham, Texas, the home of Blue Bell ice cream and Blinn College 67 miles northwest of Houston last season.
"It was pretty easy to see him in Brenham — he's 6-6," said LSU quarterback and former Brenham High star Jarrett Lee, who will oppose Newton on Saturday with BCS points and the Southeastern Conference West lead on the line. "Brenham's not very big, and the campus isn't very big either. There's just one road going through campus. Can't miss him, I know that. I saw him on campus several times just walking from class to class while I was on break. Of course, he was kind of a big deal when he came there coming out of Florida."
Newton lived as large as he could in Brenham, passing for 2,833 yards and rushing for 655 and leading the Buccaneers to the national championship. After games, there was a new Wal-Mart.
"Coming from a big city and Gainesville, I think the culture shock was even worse for me," he said. "Because to see what college football's highest or elite level has to offer rather than just going to junior college right out of high school, it was a major step down. I'd seen what the elite schools were capable of having, and I knew that's what I wanted to have. Off the field in Brenham, there really wasn't much to do but just enjoy each other's company."
He missed the team tour of the Blue Bell factory the year before. Instead of sitting around watching paint dry, he had to help paint the stands at a small stadium where Blinn plays.
"That was also an experience," he said. "I go from the University of Florida, where you can get Gatorade at your beckon call, to a place where you have to paint your stadium in order for you to at least look like the program is up to some type of standard."
Basically, Newton painted his wagon at Blinn, and he is riding high at Auburn now as a legitimate Heisman candidate. The junior is second in the nation in passing efficiency at 180.5 on 80-of-122 passing for 1,378 yards and 13 touchdowns with five interceptions, and he leads the SEC in total offense with 305.4 yards a game and in rushing with 123 yards a game.
After rushing for 188 yards and three touchdowns and throwing for another 140 and a touchdown in Auburn's 65-43 win over Arkansas, he was named the Rivals.com national player of the week, the Walter Camp national offensive player of the week, the Davey O'Brien national quarterback of the week and the SEC's co-offensive player of the week.
"No. 2 is one spectacular football player," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. "Everybody in the world sees it."
Newton has accounted for 25 touchdowns — running or passing — and is just one off the school record of 26 set by Heisman-winning quarterback Pat Sullivan in 1970. He has rushed for at least 170 yards in his last three games — something Bo Jackson or any other Auburn player has ever done.
"Even when you have guys there, he breaks tackles. He's also fast," Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said.
Because of Newton, Auburn is No. 1 in the SEC in scoring (40.7 points a game), total offense (481 yards a game) and rushing offense (283.7 yards a game). Florida (4-3, 2-3 SEC) is No. 9 (27.6 points), No. 9 (329 yards a game) and No. 10 (142 yards a game) in those categories.
"It's unfortunate for them," Newton said. "I really keep up with those guys on a personal level. That's a good bunch of guys right there. The talent is not lacking on their end by no means. I wish them the best. We were in conversations with coach Meyer a number of times in my decision to transfer. I wanted to stay at Florida, but as far as how it turned out, I think I was left with no choice but to leave. I learned a lot during my tenure at Florida. I learned so much under Tim Tebow. I think the hardest part was to leave my friends. I have no regrets about the road I took."
Auburn quarterback Cam Newton is among the national leaders in rushing and passing efficiency.
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