It was the worst-kept secret at Cam Newton’s fifth-annual Kicking It with Cam! celebrity kickball tournament Friday: The Carolina Panthers quarterback turns another year older Saturday.
Those rotations around the sun — a quarter of which he’s spent with the Panthers — have taught him several lessons, two of which came to mind on the eve of his 30th birthday.
Newton is who he is at this point, he said, but he can always be a better version of himself.
“I’m not changing. But I can get better, that’s one thing that I can do,” he said Friday. “I like that word — better. At this particular point, the things that make me me are still cemented in. It’s just up to me to take my game to the next level and kind of branch off and get better.”
There was no shortage of reminders at the tournament of the impending end of Newton’s 20s, from signs fans held high in the stands at Bank of America Stadium to a surprise shoutout from about 20 members of the Roaring Riot fan club.
That’s not counting the living, breathing reminders practicing on the soggy field outside the stadium — where Elijah Holyfield and Terry Godwin turned in their first day of rookie minicamp.
An undrafted free agent and seventh-round pick in 2019, respectively, Holyfield and Godwin have a closer relationship with Newton than most players on the practice field Friday. Before spending their collegiate careers at Georgia, both played for Newton’s 7-on-7 All-Star team as high schoolers in 2014.
Those All-Star teams routinely produce high-end collegiate players, but this is the first time any of his former players joined Newton’s professional team — a fact the quarterback appreciates as he approaches a decade in the NFL.
“It really hit home, the fact that I’ve seen these kids when they were 17 years old,” Newton said. “And now being on the same team as them, it’s just a surreal moment. I know that if I have any issues with Terry, I can call his momma. I know if I have any issues with Elijah, I can call his daddy.
“It’s also reciprocated with them knowing they’re in good hands.”
Elijah’s father, former heavyweight boxing champion and Atlanta Falcons fan Evander Holyfield, attended Friday’s kickball event, accepting an honorary Panthers jersey.
“Now you’ve got a reason to ditch that other team, now that you’ve got blood in the game,” Newton told him.
It was a fun moment in a career full of them.
As Newton concludes his third decade on the planet, he still takes the time to appreciate them all.
“For me to reflect on the good and bad I’ve seen in this league, it’s truly a blessing,” Newton said. “Looking at all the players that came out of our draft — the impactful draft we did have — and also the guys that didn’t kind of pan out. I’m one of the lucky few to be able to still be playing and still have a lot of life in my bones, as well.”