Auburn’s football fans are on a first-name basis with two of the school’s most prolific players: Bo and Cam.
So when running back Cameron Artis-Payne showed up on the Plains two years ago after taking a circuitous route to the SEC, the War Eagle faithful decided there could be only one Cam.
Artis-Payne became “Cap,” a nickname taken from his initials and one that stuck, even as he led the SEC in rushing last season and surpassed Panthers quarterback Cam Newton on the school’s single-season rushing list.
“People at Auburn are sensitive about their legends,” Artis-Payne said, “and Cam definitely qualifies in that category.”
Why does any of this matter?
Because after the Panthers drafted Artis-Payne in the fifth round last weekend, the two Cams from Auburn will be in the same meetings in the offensive team room at Bank of America Stadium.
And with all due respect to Newton, Artis-Payne wouldn’t mind getting his name back.
When Artis-Payne meets the Panthers’ four other draft picks, the 10 undrafted free agents and the tryout players this weekend at rookie minicamp, he plans to introduce himself as Cam.
“That’s what my mom calls me, that’s what everybody that knows me calls me,” he said. “I’m going to introduce myself as Cam, and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
Given Newton’s penchant for bestowing colorful nicknames on his teammates, Artis-Payne might not have a choice. But after making it to the NFL following a long haul that included two years away from football while he worked warehouse jobs in Pennsylvania, Artis-Payne isn’t likely to complain.
“It wasn’t that I had a problem with it (at Auburn). People had a problem with calling me Cam because they already had one,” Artis-Payne said. “So I said, ‘OK, that’s fine then, I’ll go by, I guess, Cap.’ And we went from there with it.”
‘Twist, turn, fight’
Artis-Payne only had to deal with Newton’s legend at Auburn. In high school in central Pennsylvania, he had a future NFL player ahead of him on the depth chart.
After sitting behind LeSean McCoy at Bishop McDevitt High, Artis-Payne transferred to Harrisburg High, where he was played for former Marshall and Navy coach George Chaump.
“He was a very productive running back,” Chaump said this week in a phone interview. “No blinding speed, but he’s got some elusiveness. He knows how to twist and turn and fight. He makes yardage, that’s all I can say.”
With a poor academic record, Artis-Payne didn’t draw much interest from college programs. So he spent a year at a prep school in central New York, then returned to Pennsylvania in what became a two-year break from football.
In addition to his warehouse jobs, Artis-Payne continued to work out in the hopes he might play again. He eventually landed at Allan Hancock College, a community college in southern California, where he spent two years and resurrected his career with a 2,000-yard rushing season in 2012.
Artis-Payne credits his hiatus with helping him refocus.
“Sitting out of football for two years was not something that I wanted to do, not something that I planned,” he said in a conference call last weekend. “But it helped me mature and grow as a man so that I can handle business and get myself to this point in my life. I guess everything happens for a reason, and I don’t think without that point in my life I would be here today.”
After two big seasons at Allan Hancock, Artis-Payne was the top-rated, junior college running back by 247Sports and had scholarship offers from nearly every Pac-12 school as well as some closer to his home in Pennsylvania.
But he wanted to play in the SEC and became the first player to sign with Gus Malzahn two weeks after Malzahn was hired at Auburn.
Getting his chance
Artis-Payne rushed for 610 yards and six touchdowns in 2013 while playing behind Tre Mason. After Mason was drafted by St. Louis in the third round last year, Artis-Payne finally was a starter for a FBS school – seven years after his last high school season.
Artis-Payne, 5-10 and 212 pounds, quickly took his place among Auburn’s top running backs. He rushed for 1,608 yards in 2014; only Mason (1,816) and Bo Jackson (1,786) had run for more in a single season for the Tigers.
Watching Auburn’s games on TV at his home, Chaump saw the same running style Artis-Payne had displayed on Friday nights for Harrisburg.
“Same old Cameron,” Chaump said. “It might not be an 80-yard run, but he’s going to make 7, 9, 20 and so forth, and he’s going to score.”
Artis-Payne’s longest carry was 37 yards, but he scored 13 touchdowns and led the SEC with 123.7 rushing yards a game.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera called Artis-Payne a between-the-tackles runner and referred to him as a “bowling ball,” the same analogy he has used to describe fullback Mike Tolbert.
“You watch him go inside the piles and really move people,” Rivera said. “He is low to the ground, he has great leverage. He’ll fit right in with our short running backs. He’s built a lot like them.”
Artis-Payne, who ran the 40 in 4.53 seconds at the combine, saw 14 running backs drafted ahead of him, including four from the SEC.
It’s more fuel for a player who has spent the past seven years trying to make a name for himself, even during one of the most productive rushing seasons at Auburn.
“I’ve always got a chip on my shoulder, just from me being who I am and how I worked to get here,” he said. “I really don’t feel like there are many people that have the drive or the desire that I do to be great and to get to this point.
“At the end of the day, whether I was a first-round draft pick or whether I was the 15th overall running back, I was going to come in there with a chip on my shoulder.”
Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson