Carolina Panthers

Panthers’ Cam Newton grateful for health after last year’s string of ailments

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton dances with middle- school students Friday at Memorial Stadium. About 800 students from more than 40 middle schools and academies attended Cam Newton's School Pride Day.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton dances with middle- school students Friday at Memorial Stadium. About 800 students from more than 40 middle schools and academies attended Cam Newton's School Pride Day. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

Cam Newton received a text from Panthers head athletic trainer Ryan Vermillion on Easter Sunday showing him what his ankle looked like on Easter of 2014.

Newton, now healthy as the Panthers finish their first week of voluntary offseason workouts, saw pictures of his ankle swollen, and he was still in a walking boot following surgery. The text messages gave Newton some perspective.

“You know we all need that remembrance,” said Newton, speaking Friday at his foundation’s annual School Pride Day at Memorial Stadium. “And it’s not much for me to look back and have things to be motivated for or be grateful about, especially with the year that I had, but it still puts a lot of things into perspective, a lot of purpose for me to be out here today.”

Last year, Newton went through offseason ankle surgery, suffered broken ribs in the preseason and sustained fractures to his lower back after a two-car collision in December. Friday, just two weeks away from graduating with a sociology degree from Auburn , he was all smiles in front of nearly 800 middle schoolers, teachers and chaperones from 44 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

The Cam Newton Foundation’s annual event brings in Charlotte-area children who had no in-school or out-of-school suspensions, no Ds or Fs and no more than one unexcused absence this school year.

The third annual event also happened to fall just as Newton prepares to make his decision whether to walk at Auburn’s spring commencement. Newton has spent the offseason—like the previous two—at Auburn working to finish his degree. Those close to him say he’s weighing the decision to walk because he doesn’t want to steal attention from other students in the Class of 2015.

“We’re down to the last couple of days. It’s been that anticipation to get done. The last couple of papers are done and they just have to be submitted,” Newton said. “For me to have the support of the Auburn family and Auburn nation, it’s just great.”

Admitting that his legs were heavy on his first few runs at workouts this week, Newton has worked with Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman and coach Ron Rivera to skip only the workouts he must miss for academic reasons as he commutes from Charlotte to Auburn.

But he hasn’t kept his head in textbooks all offseason. Newton paid close attention to what the Panthers did in free agency by signing offensive tackles Michael Oher and Jonathan Martin, as well as bringing back receiver Ted Ginn Jr.

Last year, Byron Bell and Nate Chandler ranked as one of the worst tackle duos in the NFL. And the Panthers started eight different offensive-line combinations throughout the season, including five different configurations in consecutive games.

“I was looking at the offensive line and we have possibly eight to nine potential starters, and that’s good for us as a Panthers franchise to have options,” Newton said. “And not just options where you’re plugging guys in in need. These are guys who actually are talented, as well as the receiver position, and everyone being in cahoots with each other. It’s going to be fun to see how it plays out.”

Newton spent the day going around to all 11 recreation and academic-related stations at Memorial Stadium. He joined students in school chants, helped solve math problems and cheered during relay events.

“For me to do something like this, it gives them hope that it’s possible for them to do anything they want to do, especially if they’re doing it the right way,” Newton said. “When you see them having fun and competing on this beautiful day, it works wonders not only for myself, but when you see the volunteers who come out and they’re appreciative.

“When you see the teachers come out and they’re appreciative, it just makes everything all right.”

Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9

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