Cameron Newton Says “I’m Going To Be A Gator”

The first time that Cameron Newton met Tim Tebow, he felt there was a real connection. It probably has to do something with the fact that the two quarterbacks were linebackers at one time, and maybe it also has something to do with the fact that they both play quarterback with somewhat of a linebacker mentality even today. Given a chance, they’ll both go out of their way to hit somebody.

Tebow took his all-around quarterbacking game and linebacker mentality to the University of Florida where he’s now Chris Leak’s backup as a true freshman. Cameron Newton decided Thursday that he’ll not only be taking his quarterbacking game and linebacker mentality to the University of Florida, but he’ll be joining forces with Tim Tebow.

“I’m going to be a Gator,” said Newton, a 6-6, 225-pounder from Atlanta’s Westlake High School. Newton selected Florida Thursday in a press conference at Westlake High School, choosing the Gators over Oklahoma and Mississippi State. Altogether, he had more than 40 scholarship offers.

In selecting the Gators, Newton said, “I love the University of Florida. I think that it’s the best place for me to develop as a quarterback and I think my talents fit that system better than any other out there.”

While Newton said that he’s quite content he’s made the best choice, he added that he is most appreciative of the attention Oklahoma and Mississippi State paid to him.

“You can only make one choice so I have to make the one I think is best and that’s Florida,” he said. “I wouldn’t have gone wrong with Oklahoma or Mississippi State, though. Those are great schools with great coaches and I wish them the best.”

Newton, rated four stars by, has been a rising presence on the nation’s quarterback charts after a spectacular summer of camps and combines. He lit things up at the Florida Friday Night Lights Camp back in July with a performance that really caught the attention of the entire Florida coaching staff.

Still, Florida already has Tebow, who is just a freshman. Many of the nation’s top quarterback prospects saw Tebow’s presence at Florida as a detriment. Newton believes that he and Tebow can work together to make each other better players all the while helping the Florida Gators win football games.

“Why would I be afraid of competing with Tim Tebow?” Newton asked. “He’s a great quarterback and he’ll make me better and I’ll compete with him and work hard and make him better. If one of us goes down, we’ll have the other one. The way I look at it, it’s win-win for both of us and the University of Florida.”

Newton met up with Tebow on visits to Florida. He described the encounters as “really good … a couple of guys that just hit it off from the beginning. He’s a great guy and he’s a tremendous competitor. When we met we talked about adapting from college to high school. He came to Florida early entry in January and I’m going to be doing the same thing. I gained a lot of respect for him the way we talked about things. Some guys in his position wouldn’t even give you the time of day. They’d see you as someone who is a threat but not Tim. We want the same thing. We want to win and now we’re going to help the University of Florida win. We’re going to have that same goal of winning a national championship and we’re going to work together to get that for the Gators.”

Another factor that tipped the scales in favor of the Gators was Florida’s starting quarterback, senior Chris Leak.

“One of the big reasons I’m going to be a Gator is Chris Leak,” said Newton. “Since I was 13 years old, he’s been my role model. He’s a great guy, a great student, a great quarterback. He is a Gator and I’ll be a Gator too.”

Newton grew up wanting to play football in the state of Florida. He’s been watching Florida, Florida State and Miami on television since he first got interested in football and he knew from the time he put on the pads for the first time that one of those three would be his dream school.

“I guess you could say I’ve been a Florida boy all my life,” he said. “When I was six or seven, I would watch the bowl games on New Year’s Day and my favorite games were always the ones with Florida, FSU or Miami. I promised myself a few years ago that if it was at all possible, one day I would play for one of them.”

As he became more and more familiar with Coach Urban Meyer, he felt that Florida would be the best fit. Newton, who is an A-B student who already has a qualifying SAT score, appreciates the way Meyer goes about discipline and team building.

“I like the way Coach Meyer does things,” he said. “He’s not just interested in you for football. When I talk to him, we talk about a lot of stuff and football’s just one of the things we talk about. He sees you as someone who’s important and you can tell that his players are all important to him. He talks about working with you to make sure you get a degree and you get prepared for life.

“I’d be lying if I said I don’t think about playing in the NFL someday. Every kid that gets recruited to a top Division I program thinks about that but not everybody has a chance to make it to that level. A lot of things can happen along the way. You can get hurt, for example. So, you have to have a plan for the rest of your life. I think one of the things that really sold me on Coach Meyer and Florida was that he really had a plan to help me figure out what I’ll do with the rest of my life.”

Newton also likes the recruiting classes that Meyer is putting together. The Gators had what many consider to be the top recruiting class in the nation this past February, a class made even better by the fact that all 26 of the Gators qualified and made it into school. The Gators are off to another bright start on the recruiting trail with 15 other commitments including six from the nation’s top ranked Lakeland Dreadnaughts.

Newton says he can’t wait to become a recruiting asset for the Gators just like Tebow.

“Tim Tebow and I are already good friends,” said Newton. “He’s a big asset to Florida and a great recruiter for Florida. I’m going to be like that too. I’m going to be a great recruiter for Florida.”

He said his first target to help the Gators finish up with another top ranked recruiting class is wide receiver Terrance Tolliver of Hempstead, Texas, the third-ranked wide receiver in the nation.

“I’m already working on my boy Terrance Tolliver,” said Newton. “I’m telling him we’ve got me, Joe Haden, Chris Rainey, Paul Wilson … we’ve got Mike and Maurkice Pouncey and Ahmad Black and Steve Wilks from Lakeland … Aaron Hernandez … what are you waiting for dude?”

And once he gets to Florida, he said Gator fans can expect a right handed version of what they see with Tim Tebow.

“I was sitting in Coach Meyer’s office with my dad and he asked me a question,” Newton recalled. “He said ‘It’s fourth and two in The Swamp … we’re playing Florida State … just a few seconds left on the clock and we need a touchdown to win … what are you going to do?’

“I told him, Coach, whatever in life it takes to score that touchdown, I’m going to score it. They’ll have to kill me to stop me from getting in the end zone.”

It’s that old linebacker mentality.

“I never lost that linebacker mentality,” he said. “Just because I’ve got the ball in my hands doesn’t mean I’m not going to get my lick in. The way I look at it, if I deliver the blow, I’ve got the advantage. You got a left handed linebacker mentality at quarterback in Tebow. Now you’ve got a right handed linebacker mentality, too. I think this is a good fit for me and a good fit for the Gators.”

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.