How Panthers quarterback Cam Newton matured into the elite leader he is today

Cam NewtonStacy Revere/Getty ImagesCarolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.

At halftime in the NFC Championship game between the Carolina Panthers and the Arizona Cardinals on Jan. 24, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera was about to give a locker room speech to his team when quarterback Cam Newton told him, “I got this.”

Newton stood up in front of his team for only the second full-blown inspirational speech in his five-year NFL career.

The Panthers had dominated the first half, 27-0, but the week before they had reduced a 31-point lead to just seven points in the second half against the Seattle Seahawks.

Newton’s speech reminded his team that they had to continue playing like they knew they could and not let up. “Shoot, I got excited about it,” Rivera said the day after the game, ESPN’s David Newton reported.

As Newton and the Panthers head into tonight’s Super Bowl 50 matchup against the Denver Broncos, it’s clear that this season the 26-year-old has become a quarterback who could not only put up big numbers, but push his teammates to their best performances. It’s a significant evolution.

Long gone are the days when Newton would sulk on the sidelines during a losing game, towel covering his head. Just a few years ago, in the 2012 season, former Panthers wide receiver and captain Steve Smith dug into Newton during one of these episodes, telling his young quarterback that he was at a point in his career where he was setting himself up for failure or success.

Newton showed he was taking the advice to heart last season, when teammates noticed that despite ankle, rib, and back injuries, ankle surgery, and withstanding a car accident, Newton “never once complained about the beating he took,” Alex Marvez reported for Fox Sports.

When the Panthers showed up for the 2015 preseason, Newton’s development into a full-blown leader was readily apparent, Jonathan Jones wrote for the Charlotte Observer. Newton’s well-known fun-loving behaviour — which once caused critics to question his maturity as the head of a team — had become an asset to his teammates.

Cam newton coach riveraGrant Halverson/Getty ImagesCam Newton speaks with head coach Ron Rivera in a game against the Washington Redskins on Nov. 22, 2015.

In the preseason, Newton spent his own money on a two-week camp for him and his receivers and running backs, which became a bonding experience for both performing as a team and becoming friends.

Panthers trainer Nate Costa told the Charlotte Observer that in the preseason Newton would pump up his teammates and then goofily start rapping along to a song playing over speakers. “It’s really, really cool to see and it’s really natural,” Costa said. “I don’t know if it could be any other way, like let me put my leader hat on or my joking hat.”

Over this past year, Newton had an MVP season and became the head of the NFC’s best team, and depending on what happens tonight, possibly the league’s best team.

Following the NFC Championship win over the Cardinals, Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly told ESPN how cool it was to see Newton throw his body into the end zone, landing on his head and shoulders, for a third quarter touchdown. He and his teammates know their quarterback will be fighting for them out there.

“That’s why we love Cam — because every week, regardless of the situation, he’s going to go out there and give it his all,” Kuechly said.

PanthersGrant Halverson/Getty ImagesThe Carolina Panthers celebrate on field following their NFC Championship win over the Arizona Cardinals on Jan. 24, 2016.

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