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January 15, 2013

Finishing the task

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"I believe in education, which gives me the knowledge to work wisely and trains my mind and my hands to work skillfully."
The Auburn Creed as written by George Petrie, 1945.

AUBURN -- Cam Newton is back.

The Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback has returned to campus in an effort to make good on a promise he made years ago to his mother. Jackie Newton encouraged her son's athletic career -- for very good reason -- yet insisted that a college degree was the most important part of playing college ball.

He's here to make good.

For the first time since early October 2010, Newton isn't in the national spotlight. He's simply trying to ease into the university system as anonymously as possible. He's a student taking courses, not the millionaire quarterback who's become a fixture on ESPN and the NFL Network.

It's surely not easy.

Twitter was flooded with reconnaissance photos Tuesday afternoon of Newton in class. He wore a black toboggan hat, black sweatpants, red Beats headphones. If he wasn't 6-foot-5 and owner of perhaps the most recognizable face in the history of Auburn football, Cam Newton might not even be noticed.

Then again, how many students can pass their own statue on the way to class?

Auburn fans never will forget the salvos lobbed at their school and their football program during the final months of 2010. Many pundits, some published and some not, concurrently reached the conclusion that Newton shouldn't be playing college football. Despite a lack of meaningful evidence, they assumed that Newton had been paid to play at Auburn.

He wasn't paid anything. Nor was his father.

That's an objective statement now, of course, since the NCAA long ago abandoned its investigation into Newton's recruitment. Investigators found nothing. No bag man. No bag. Not even a trumped-up secondary violation to justify all the hubbub.

When Newton left school and entered the NFL Draft in 2011, many assumed he'd never return. The quarterback used Auburn, they postulated, and would toss aside all allegiances once the Carolina Panthers picked him No. 1 overall.

Guess what? Newton returned last spring to watch his statue unveiled along the east side of Jordan-Hare Stadium. In September, he shuttled himself to Atlanta and addressed the Tigers prior to their season-opening game against Clemson.

Now this. Newton has dumped his playbook for a notebook. He's back on campus yet again to finish what he started in the classroom three years ago. And he doesn't have to be here.

Newton already is worth at least $22 million via his guaranteed contract with the Panthers. Terms of his apparel deal with Under Armour are elusive, though it's reasonable to assume that agreement yields at least another $1 million per year.

If Newton wanted to sit at home idly, nobody would fault him.

Instead, he's making good on a promise.

That requires work. Hard work. Still, this task ultimately may be the most fulfilling of Newton's life.



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