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October 15, 2010

Newton giving back

Between the exhausting practices, film study sessions, team meetings, classes, study hall and countless interviews each week, it's a wonder how Cameron Newton finds time to do much else outside of school and football.

But he does.

In a town like Auburn that supports its college football team so emphatically, Newton wanted to find a way to give back to the community during his time on the Plains.

Newton, who has a goal of one day opening a day care center, wanted to do something that would allow him to work closely with local youth.

Before Auburn City Schools went into session in early August, Newton ventured over to Wrights Mill Road Elementary School. He met with principal Lynda Tremaine and told her that he wanted to make difference with the students.

Tremaine told Newton about the school's mentor program that allows adults to work with children who need extra encouragement, whether for academics or behavior. Newton was thrilled about the opportunity.

"I honestly had no idea who he was," Tremaine said. "I just knew he was an awfully big guy when he walked in."

But Tremaine had her doubts when Newton told her he was the starting quarterback for the Auburn University football team.

"I said, 'I know when football season starts you won't be able to make it," Tremaine said. "'But Cameron said, 'No ma'am, I'll work around football.' And thought, 'Ok, we'll see.'"

Tremaine had four fifth grade boys in mind that she believed Newton could help.

"We're all women at the school except for one male PE teacher," Tremaine said. "I thought these little boys could really benefit from having a strong male role model who could steer them in the right direction."

Newton usually visits the boys around lunchtime each Monday, the team's day off from practice.

"And you should see the smiles on these little boys' faces when they're waiting for Cameron to walk through the door," Tremaine said.

They all meet in Tremaine's office where the boys show him their schoolwork from the previous week. They also have a behavior sheet filled out by their teacher that shows Newton if they are staying on track in the classroom.

"And it is serious conversation," Tremaine said. "He goes through each page of their work and he'll say, "Mmhmm... 65? Not good. What happened here?"

Newton also talks with the boys about good behavior and doing the right thing.

"He holds them accountable too," Tremaine said. "He has been bringing little bags of goodies for them as a way to offer extra encouragement. He finds out what their favorite type of candy is. But he had to leave a bag this week because each of his boys had gotten a behavior check. He wouldn't give them their little reward. This is how seriously he's taking this."

Once the season began, Newton's performances on the field earned him Player of the Week honors from the Southeastern Conference and he is becoming a fixture in Heisman Trophy talk. The Tigers are now ranked seventh in the nation and each week the stakes are raised.

But Newton has stayed true to his word of visiting the school each week.

"If something comes up and he's going to be a little late, he'll call," Tremaine said. "If he's got to come on a different day, he'll let me know. I've been principal here for 14 years and have seen volunteers come and kind of fade away. But Cameron is taking this very seriously."

Even though Newton was initially going to work with just the four boys, he now lends his time to the entire school.

"We use him as a reward for the boys and girls who do something kind for somebody else, like showing great citizenship," Tremaine said. "He'll meet them and congratulate them. So he's been encouraging to those who have needed encouragement as well as those who are outstanding citizens as well."

Fifth-grade reporters recently interviewed Newton for the school's televised news broadcast, Wright News.

"We focus on good character traits," Tremaine said. "So he talked about doing the right thing and that we learn from our mistakes. He offered some real good advice."

According to the teachers of the boys that Newton mentors, their academic performance and behavior has improved tremendously since working with the quarterback.

"The teachers said they cannot believe the difference in their whole attitude," Tremaine said. "He was made-to-order for our program."

The students recently had a day off school on a Monday, Newton's usual day to visit. Tremaine said she was surprised that Newton's four boys were upset about the long weekend.

"On Tuesday they showed up and said, "It's not fair! It was Monday and we missed Cam!" Tremaine said.

Newton usually stays on campus for about an hour, but he offers to stay as long as the teachers and children need him.

"Sometimes he'll have to leave if something comes up," Tremaine said. "But he never makes like he's in a hurry. Teachers will come up to him and say, 'I've got someone you need to talk to, do you mind?' Without hesitation he says, "I'll be happy to." He makes time for all of these kids."

Two weeks ago the school held a pep rally to get the community fired up for the annual fund-raiser, Wright Run.

Aubie was in attendance as well as Newton.

"The children were of course excited to see Aubie," Tremaine said. "But when Cam came in, you would have thought it was a movie star. And Cameron was just grinning from ear to ear. I don't want to speak for him, but I truly believes that he enjoys what he is doing here."

But there was one little boy who wasn't so excited to see the Auburn mascot.

"I had a third grade little boy sitting in the office," Tremaine said. "I asked what was going on and he said, 'I am scared of Aubie.' Cameron happened to be coming in and he heard that and said, 'You're scared of Aubie?' He said, 'Yes sir, but I've got to ask you some questions.'

"Cam stayed in there and they had the most precious conversation. He asked, 'How do you throw that ball like you do?' So here he's telling him, 'When I was your age, I had to start practicing and I had to practice every day.' It's just fun listening to him talk to the students."

Even though Newton's publicity regarding football reaches new heights each week, he remains focused on his goal of helping the community. And he certainly isn't doing it for the attention.

"He is doing this, without a doubt, out of the kindness of his heart," Tremaine said. "He really wants to make a difference. He has told his boys, 'You know there were times that I was bad when I was about your age too,' but he lets them know that we learn from our mistakes.

"And he told me, 'If I can make a difference with any of these kids, nothing would thrill me more.' And you can see that he means that in his smile."


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