Put Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton up against the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football, and he’ll lead with his skill and athleticism.
Put him in front of hundreds of middle-school students? He’ll lead with his charm and personality.
Just over a dozen hours after throwing a game-winning touchdown pass that created pandemonium at Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte’s most famous athlete did the same on Tuesday afternoon simply by walking into Collinswood Language Academy.
Newton was officially there to present three separate $25,000 donations from his Cam Newton Foundation to Collinswood, Reid Park Academy and Berryhill School as part of its School Pride Program. The money will be used for a variety of projects, from new fitness equipment at Collinswood to new recognition programs for Reid Park to new technology in Berryhill classrooms.
But basically, he was there to do what he does best these days: pump up the crowd.
The 24-year-old worked the stage like a cross between an emcee and a stand-up comedian, goading the roughly 90 students from each school into who-can-yell-the-loudest competitions, leading shout-outs for individual achievements (a 100 on an algebra test here, a qualifying time for a state swim meet there) and generally acting like the man in charge.
Newton’s forceful but playful command for students to “Sit on down, sit on down, sit sit sit sit sit on down” became a catchphrase he invoked numerous times during his 25 minutes on the stage.
He told principals Nicolette Grant (Collinswood), James Garvin (Reid Park) and Paul Pratt (Berryhill) to get up and dance; they got up and danced.
And he may be the only person who ever motivates Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Heath Morrison to get his groove on to The Sugarhill Gang’s “Jump On It!”
“Thank you so much for having me here today,” Morrison said as he prepared to present the checks to the three principals. “Before we get started –”
Newton interrupted: “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.” The star QB turned to the middle-schoolers. “If you want to see the superintendent ‘Jump On It!,’ let me get an, ‘Oh, yeah!’”
The “oh yeah” he got could probably be heard out on otherwise quiet Scaleybark Road a block away.
Morrison, dressed in business attire, boogeyed, then – without warning – attempted a split jump that might not be quite ready for prime-time. The kids roared as Newton doubled over.
“Anytime I get an opportunity to show who I really am, that’s what I try to portray,” Newton told reporters afterward. “This is the opportunity (for kids to) see me as the off-the-field, off-camera person, the excited person that is the kid at heart.”
This is the second year for the Cam Newton Foundation’s School Pride Program, which so far has committed $225,000 to middle and K-8 schools in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg system. Institutions submit applications and if selected become partners for the entire school year.
“The thing about Cam Newton that I’ve come to appreciate ... is what he does for this community,” Morrison said in his remarks to the representatives from the three partner schools for 2013-14. “He gives generously, he mentors students – that’s character.”
On the afternoon, Newton fumbled just once. As the assembly drew to a close, he told the students, “So, since I can’t just come out there ... what I’m gonna do, I’m gonna give you a cyberhug. You know what a cyberhug is?” They knew what was coming. They groaned.
“A cyberhug is, you just hug yourself, and squeeeeze real tight.” More groans.
“On the count of three?” Louder groans. They wanted real hugs. He waved it off. Morrison’s dancing and the check presentation created a distraction.
Then, with less than a minute to go, Newton asked one last time for a cyberhug. All the students squeezed themselves tight.
Score another victory for Cam.
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