- Associated Press - Sunday, January 31, 2016

BRENHAM, Texas (AP) - In this quaint little town where the national ice cream of Texas only recently came off probation, it should be noted that its second-most famous export got a second chance here, too.

Cam Newton arrived at Blinn College in 2009 with more than just the usual student’s baggage. He’d left Florida, where he backed up Tim Tebow, amid charges he’d stolen a laptop. Rumors of academic fraud at Florida followed shortly. The narrative was just as ugly on his return to the SEC, what with allegations that his considerable football skills had been for sale.

Whatever really happened in Florida or Alabama or Mississippi that helped shape a life that has led the Carolina Panthers’ quarterback to the Super Bowl, Newton’s brief interlude in Central Texas was anything but controversial.

Transformational, actually, which is what once prompted Newton to say, on camera, no less, “My fondest memories had to come from junior college.”

Of course, Blinn got a nice little bump out of it as well. Every time Newton’s story comes up, which is frequently these days, it bears the Blinn College tag. They weren’t anticipating that kind of return on the investment. This picturesque, 133-year-old junior college simply couldn’t have afforded such evergreen marketing. Certainly helps recruiting. Consider that, because of Newton, Joe Montana and his wife and son gave Blinn a look.

From a strictly historical aspect, visitors of that stature are usually looking for the Blue Bell plant.

The way Jeff Tilley remembers it, Blinn’s football coach at the time, Brad Franchione, gave him a heads-up about a quarterback they were getting from Florida. That in itself was a little unusual. Most of the 2,400 students on campus hail from the surrounding area. The circle expands for athletes. Most of the latter either didn’t qualify academically for four-year schools or came up short athletically, and they don’t hang around long. The rosters at junior colleges churn like a hamster wheel.

Still, Tilley, Blinn’s marketing and communications director, told The Dallas Morning News (https://bit.ly/1ntE00f) that he won’t forget the first time he saw Cam Newton in person.

“Coach,” he told Franchione, “I thought you were bringing in a quarterback, not a defensive lineman.”

At 6-5, 240 pounds in the spring of 2009, Newton was as imposing then as he remains now. But there was something missing from that first impression.

“That’s the one and only time I’ve ever been around him that he was without that million-dollar smile,” Tilley said.

Newton was a long way from his Georgia roots. He’d gone to Texas, he told Alabama reporters, because that’s what his father told him to do. Cecil Newton was in charge of his son’s relocation. Franchione, whose father, Dennis, had been head coach at TCU, Alabama and Texas A&M;, did his recruiting over the phone with Cam’s father.

In a Sports Illustrated story, Cecil called Blinn “a remote rehab process” and the site of his son’s “resurrection.”

The latter description certainly fit, given the location of the football dorms on the southeast corner of campus, next to a cemetery. Newton would testify for an Under Armour short film that, in his first semester at Blinn, he was lost. Didn’t know if “this football thing” was for him. On top of all that, he didn’t have a car. No TV, either. And in Brenham, there’s no such thing as night life.

If not working out or in meetings, Newton generally could be found in class or his dorm room.

Sat on the second row, left side, of Amy Winningham’s English composition class in the Academic Building. Showed up every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning, 8 o’clock sharp.

“One time he was late because of practice, and a coach walked in with him to explain why he was late and to tell me it would not happen again,” Winningham said. “He apologized and the coach apologized.”

She paused, then smiled.

“It was a nice show of respect from both of them.”

Newton’s recovery effort sometimes caught Blinn officials by surprise. One of the lessons Franchione suggested was a book, Leadership Is an Art, by Max De Pree. Newton took it to heart. His second day on campus, he knocked on Franchione’s office door, plopped in a chair and proclaimed himself ready for his leadership session.

Franchione gulped, then started on a lesson plan.

Coach and quarterback grew together over their two semesters together, as Franchione likes to tell it. He could be tough. One of his team assignments that summer involved painting the ancient wooden bleachers of Spencer Stadium, across the street from lovely Old Main. This provided yet another culture shock for Newton. Back in Gainesville, workouts didn’t include maintenance on the Swamp.

On the other hand, football is football, and the Buccaneers went 11-1 in the fall of 2009. Even as Newton attempts to join Joe Namath and Joe Montana as the only quarterbacks to win both a national title and a Super Bowl, he already holds this distinction from those Joes: He owns a national junior college title, too. Led the Bucs to a 31-24 win over Fort Scott (Kan.), when one of his best friends, Chad Froechtenicht, returned a punt 84 yards for a touchdown in the game’s last minute to give Blinn its fourth national championship.

For the record: Newton didn’t break out his Superman at Blinn. No dabbing, either. He was all business. Passed for 2,833 yards and 22 touchdowns and ran for 655 and another 16 touchdowns. The man who would win the Heisman the next season at Auburn was first-team quarterback in the Southwest Junior College Football Conference, but he didn’t make league MVP.

Chase Ford, a tight end who didn’t catch a single pass for Baltimore this season, can tell his grandkids about that one.

For the Under Armour shoot in ‘14, Newton can be seen speaking to a room full of young men, framing his famous fall in blunt terms. “I done blew my opportunity,” he tells them. “Blew it.” He’s also said on other occasions that he has no regrets, because his mistakes led him to Blinn, which helped him grow up.

Anyway, in another scene, the camera follows him up a few steps and onto the playing surface of Spencer Stadium.

What the camera doesn’t record as Newton pans the field is a question he asks no one in particular:

“Where’s my bleachers?”

Basically, they were deemed unsafe after Newton’s championship season and unceremoniously removed. Stadium looks like it’s been scalped. The Buccaneers play their home games these days at a local high school field, though officials hold out hope that, with help from a certain famous alumnus, football might yet return to campus.

Newton has helped in other cases. When Montana’s son, Nick, was leaving the University of Washington, he called Newton to ask about his Blinn experience. Cam sold him, apparently. Nick’s boxes arrived on campus, at least, before a change of heart led him to stay in California.

More than 40 Blinn exes have gone on to play in the NFL. The Miami Heat’s Chris Andersen - Birdman - was a Buccaneer. But for now and no doubt the next 133 years, too, Cam Newton will remain head and shoulders above them all.

Even teenagers, who, as a general rule, have no sense of history, grasp the significance. Keith Thomas, coming off his second year as head coach at Blinn, made sure of the connection when he hosted recruits on campus last week. One of them was Ralphlauren McCauley, a Grapevine receiver who’d already been informed by his father that Blinn “is where Cam Newton came from.”

Ralphlauren - who naturally answers to “Polo” - said Newton’s story inspires him. As for whether it’s enough to sway his vote, it’s down to Blinn or Trinity Valley.

Any Trinity Valley guys playing in the Super Bowl, Polo?

“Great question!” Thomas said, slapping me on the back.

Thomas met Newton when he came through for the Under Armour special a couple of summers ago. His impression was the same as the one you get watching him on TV: “He’s a wide-open, happy-go-lucky guy.”

Cam gives little ol’ Blinn the credit for giving him his swag back. And in just one year, at that. Imagine what it could have done with two.


Information from: The Dallas Morning News, https://www.dallasnews.com

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