As a young quarterback, the Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton emulated Michael Vick, who turned 34 on Thursday.
That’s old in quarterback years, but Vick, a backup for the New York Jets, has a legacy that lives on among a young crop of dual-threat NFL quarterbacks.
Thursday, at his foundation’s 7-on-7 passing tournament at Hough High, Newton, 25, saw a number of teenage quarterbacks who emulate him the same way he patterned his game after Vick’s.
“(Newton) definitely set the standard for players like me growing up,” Butler senior quarterback Anthony Ratliff said. “Watching him has definitely been a changing experience for me and knowing that guys (with) my style of quarterback can make it in the NFL and break records. It’s something to look up to and reach for.”
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Growing up in Atlanta, Newton styled his game after Vick, then a rocket-armed quarterback for the Falcons who could beat defenses with his feet as well. Now Newton is among a group of young, dual-threat quarterbacks, along with the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson and the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick, who hope to change the way the position is played.
Newton doesn’t want to just shape teenage quarterbacks by his play on Sundays, though. He’s been active this summer with 7-on-7 camps in Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina, trying to be approachable to young players.
“I think it’s even more important to be accessible,” Newton said. “To be touched and looked at and talked to. Some of these kids are screaming for help by the attitudes and their personas. They may not know how to ask, ‘Hey Cam, how do you feel about this?’ But for me being around them, they may feel more comfortable to ask questions.”
Some of those questions, Newton said, are things like how he picked Florida coming out of Westlake High School, or what it felt like to jump from Florida to junior college to Auburn.
But he knows those questions sometimes don’t come on the first day star-struck kids meet an NFL superstar.
“The more these kids see me and are comfortable with me, that’s what matters,” Newton said.
Ratliff, a North Carolina commitment who had not met Newton before Thursday, already had a question lined up. He wanted to know when Newton knew he would devote his life to football, because Ratliff has known since he was 10, he said.
As Butler’s quarterback, Ratliff completed 151 of his 253 passes last season for 2,558 yards. He threw for 34 touchdowns and had seven interceptions. On the ground, Ratliff led Butler in rushing with 1,655 yards on 195 carries and scored 20 touchdowns.
Ratliff can rattle off the accomplishments of dual-threat quarterbacks, like when Newton broke Peyton Manning’s record for most passing yards as a rookie, or Kaepernick going to back-to-back conference championships.
“You definitely have to study the guys who make it because you want to be in their shoes one day,” said Ratliff.
Butler coach Brian Hales calls Ratliff, who stands at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, a football junkie. He said he knew Ratliff was the Bulldogs’ quarterback of the future when Ratliff was a freshman.
Playing behind Christian LeMay and Riley Ferguson during his first two years, Ratliff became the full-time starter in 2013. That’s when Hales added more zone-read plays into his spread offense.
“You can see everybody change the way they started to run their offense,” Hales said of the influx of athletic quarterbacks. “And then it started to create a lot of opportunities for athletes like that who could also throw the ball. Now you’re looking at it from a defensive perspective, it gives you so much more that you have to worry about and prepare for. It’s been great for the game.”
Along with his 7-on-7 tournaments, Newton also formed a 7-on-7 team to compete in the IMG Academy 7-on-7 tournament in Bradenton, Fla., earlier this month. Instead of flying down and meeting the team, he rode the bus with kids and stopped at a Shoney’s and gas stations along the way.
Newton said interacting with kids offers him a diversion from the offseason scrutiny and drives him to be a better role model.
“They’re looking to see why I do it,” Newton said. “‘Why does he keep wearing a smile? Is it a fake smile? Is it something that’s genuine?’ For me to be around these kids, it puts it all into perspective for me.
“This is why I work out. This is why I always try to keep my image as flawless as possible. Because for those kids, I go from a hero to a guy where they can say, ‘Oh Cam, he’s just like us.’ ”