CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Cam Newton settled into a couch in the lobby of his new place of employment, flashed his million-dollar smile and quickly offered a word of warning. "Don't believe what you've read," he said.
When the Carolina Panthers made Newton the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, they gave the quarterback the fresh start few realized he needed. The Panthers, meanwhile, hope Newton will be the charismatic fresh face of a franchise in dire need of some new energy.
A 2-14 season landed the Panthers the No. 1 pick in April's draft and led them to Newton, who is still adjusting to how quickly his life has changed.
He was in Brenham, Texas, two years ago, at Blinn College, where he quickly realized "you don't get no respect. You are already stereotyped as something happened, that's why you are in junior college."
Then it was on to one life-changing year at Auburn as Newton rocketed to stardom at the same time he was under constant scrutiny. He won a national championship, Auburn's first since 1957, and the Heisman Trophy all while the NCAA investigated his father for seeking money in a play-for-pay scandal. Newton was cleared by the NCAA of knowing about the scheme, but there's an obvious sense that the entire experience left him battle scarred.
"It got nasty real fast," he admitted.
Now he is in Charlotte, a city starving for its first superstar. Newton, with a billboard in Times Square even though he's yet to play a regular season game, might very well be the King that the Queen City has been courting since the NBA's Charlotte Hornets made it a pro city in 1988.
Although Newton knows how to turn on the charm -- as he left the field after a recent practice, he waved at a television camera and said 'Hi, mom!" in a way that created a usable clip on a day he declined interviews -- he insists he doesn't want to be in a constant spotlight.
"People read about me, they hear about me and they just think 'There's Cam, he's this individualistic person -- is that a word? -- but they think 'He's just to himself all the time,' "he said. "So I keep my circle very close because I don't want to feel like all eyes on me, unless it's out there on the field."
First-year coach Ron Rivera has not yet named the regular season starter but that shouldn't be too far off partly because Jimmy Clausen hasn't done anything to hold onto the job. Newton got his first start of the preseason in Thursday night's loss to Cincinnati. He was 6 for 19 for 75 yards in three quarters, but he did show some flash with a 16-yard touchdown scramble.
Newton must adjust to making his own decisions on the field. At Auburn, plays were signaled in from the sideline and Newton mostly took the snap from the shotgun. With the Panthers, the plays are being called in directly to him, and Newton now must process them, call them in the huddle, do a defensive read and call for the snap.
Newton has only ever known success. He couldn't think of a time he's ever played on a losing team. But Newton likes to believe attitude is just as important as efficiency. Although the Panthers haven't looked all that improved through three preseason games, Newton said it has never crossed his mind that this could be a long year of losing.
"That's the mentality you've got to have," he said. "If you go into the season thinking that, 'Man, it's going to be a long season,' well, I've never been on a losing team, and I think it's because of that mentality that you start the season with."