By Jeff Shearer
"I still remember when he came on his recruiting visiting," Zachery recalls. "I thought he was a defensive end. He's so big."
Kodi Burns knew Cam's correct position because three years earlier they were both heavily recruited high school quarterbacks.
"We played in the same All-American game together. I knew about his stature and his size," Burns says. "The ability to make plays and throw the football and everything else that comes with it. So when he came to Auburn's campus in 2010, we knew that he would be special from the get-go."
Newton enrolled at Auburn after leading Blinn (Texas) to the 2009 junior college national championship.
His season on the Plains was the stuff of which statues are made.
14-0. Heisman Trophy. Four comebacks from two-touchdown deficits. The greatest rushing season for a quarterback in SEC history.
Now, five years after leading Auburn to a 22-19 victory over Oregon in the 2011 BCS National Championship Game, Newton is one victory away from adding a Super Bowl championship to his resume.
It's fitting that Newton is playing in Super Bowl 50 - that's how many passing (38) and rushing (12) touchdowns Cam has contributed for Carolina in this MVP season and postseason.
Ironically, Newton also accounted for 50 passing (30) and rushing (20) touchdowns for the Tigers on his way to the 2010 Heisman.
Cam added one more TD in that magical season - a touchdown catch at Ole Miss on a pass thrown by Burns, a Wildcat formation quarterback.
Burns remembers (then Auburn offensive coordinator) Gus Malzahn's meticulous preparation, waiting for just the right time to call the special play.
"We practiced that play probably for two months straight every day," Burns says. "We practiced it over and over again, 10 times after practice every single day.
"And sure enough in the Ole Miss game, we dialed it up and executed the play."
Cam's catch on Auburn's opening series helped the Tigers improve to 9-0, beating the Rebels 51-31.
Now in his fifth season for the Carolina Panthers, every time Newton leaps into the end zone or throws a laser for a touchdown pass, you might hear talk about how Cam is revolutionizing his position in the NFL.
But no matter what Cam does in Super Bowl 50, there's one group of guys who will not be surprised.
His receiving corps at Auburn in 2010. They've seen it all before.
Emory Blake caught eight of Cam's 30 touchdown passes, including in the Iron Bowl and the BCS title game.
"I think that nothing fazes him. Everything he does, even though there's a lot of criticism that comes his way, he does it with a spirit of joy and gratitude," Blake says.
Darvin Adams was Cam's top target with 52 receptions for 963 yards and seven touchdowns.
"He's just being Cam," Adams says. "In college, we saw what he could do."
Zachery had the second-most receiving yards (605). His 70-yard touchdown catch on the second play of the second half against Alabama pulled Auburn with 10 points on the way to the largest comeback in Iron Bowl history.
"A lot of people are saying, 'We've never seen this before,'" Zachery says. "But we saw it five years ago. The exact same thing. He's having fun, and that's the most important thing. That's what I like to see. He's still the same Cam that I know."
Burns, after converting from quarterback to receiver, saved his only touchdown catch of the season for the right time, giving Auburn a first-half lead over Oregon.
"He was a man amongst boys, just the sheer size and athleticism that he brought to the team," Burns says. "And that's kind of what we needed. A shot in the arm to get us going for that national championship run."
That Time When
Despite being the top-ranked player in junior college, Newton was not named Auburn's starting quarterback until after spring practice.
"It took time," Zachery says. "Coach Malzahn did a lot of work with him in the spring. Coming out by himself. Working on timing. It was a long process. During the season, we all got it right."
"Spring ball he kind of struggled a little bit, but we knew he was still going to be the guy," Burns says. "We didn't know how good he would be."
For each Auburn receiver, one moment stands out when they realized their quarterback was in a class by himself.
For Adams, it occurred in practice.
"He did a lot of things that would make you say, 'Did he really do that?'" Adams says. "He did things that were crazy in practice. We had Nick Fairley, Mike Blanc, guys like that rushing the passer. Every throw just wasn't standing up in the pocket, just throwing the ball. He had different guys in his face like that. He was throwing off-balance. You'd watch on film, you'd say, 'Dang, that's a nice throw,' and he wasn't even planted."
Of course, throwing is only part of Cam's skill set. Since quarterbacks don't get hit in practice, the full extent of Newton's running ability was still somewhat of a mystery when the season began.
Then came Arkansas State. A five-touchdown debut.
"Really, until that first game, when I saw him take off and run against Arkansas State," Blake says. "He avoided multiple defenders, cutting back up the field and ended up taking off for a (71-yard) touchdown, diving into the end zone. That's when I knew Cam was the real deal."
Auburn's game a few weeks later, against South Carolina, stands out for Burns and Zachery.
"When he broke the long run and dove in the end zone," Zachery says. "Coach Malzahn kind of got on to him. 'We don't do things that way around here.' I knew at that moment. I said, 'He's going to be a different quarterback.'"
"I believe South Carolina was kind of his coming out party," Blake says. "We had a lot of close games that year. But we won the first couple, and then that South Carolina game he kind of came out of his shell and came into his own. At that point, we kind of knew, 'Hey, this dude is a little bit different than anybody else we'd really ever played with or seen.' From that point forward, he was the leader of that team and took it by the horns."
It was vintage Newton. Another five-TD masterpiece (three rushing, two passing). Auburn won 35-27. The words "Cam" and "Heisman" started sharing the same sentence. Cam raised the bar even higher when the Tigers and Gamecocks met again in December for the SEC Championship, accounting for six touchdowns in Auburn's 56-17 victory. A compelling closing argument for the Heisman he would receive one week later.
Looking back five years after winning it all, the former Auburn receivers cherish memories of that special season.
For Adams, it's a clutch catch in the fourth quarter of the Iron Bowl on the go-ahead drive.
"I would say at Alabama,'' Adams says. "It was 4th-and-3, they thought we were about to punt. And I ran a 10-yard stop on the sideline. Cam threw it to me. Kind of kept the drive moving. That was the same drive where Lutz caught the touchdown."
Five plays later, Newton's 7-yard pass to Philip Lutzenkirchen gave Auburn a 28-27 lead, completing the comeback from a 24-point deficit.
For Zachery, a senior in 2010, the enduring memory is his legacy of leadership.
"We had a lot of seniors on the team," Zachery says. "Just being one of the guys the young guys could look up to. Coming out every day, work hard. That was my job, just to be a leader to those young guys. Step up and make plays, whenever my number was called."
Blake's takeaway involves the feeling of invincibility the 2010 Tigers created.
"The confidence we had in each person as a team," Blake says. "When you have a championship team like that, you really feel unstoppable. And you're not fazed by anything. There are a lot of great memories in that season. Of course, winning it all tops everything else."
For Burns, the relationships stand out more than the receptions.
"My highlight was being able to play for Auburn and represent that program the way I did," Burns says. "Looking back on it, it was one of the better times in my life. You'll always remember that for the rest of your life. Just being able to play football at that level in the SEC for the Auburn Tigers was one of the highlights.
"The third-down catches I had against Alabama and the touchdown in the national championship game were all great, but I think at the end of the day, it's just being able to play for that AU and the brotherhood that we had, and the lifelong friends you make," he said.
Where are they now?
Burns is "living out of three suitcases," having just completed his first recruiting class for his new job as running backs coach at Arizona State.
Zachery is also a coach, working with receivers at his alma mater, Wadley High School.
Adams starred for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Canadian Football League in 2015, with 61 catches for 839 yards and five touchdowns. He's eyeing a return to the NFL when his contract expires after the 2016 season.
Blake is back at Auburn, completing his degree in public administration. He's still training, not ruling out a return to football.
They will all be watching their former teammate with great interest in Super Bowl 50.
But they won't all be pulling for the Panthers.
Ironically, Adams who was also Newton's teammate with the Panthers in their rookie season of 2011, will be rooting for the orange and blue of the Denver Broncos, his favorite team.
"My last name used to be Davis. When I was growing up, Terrell Davis was my favorite player," Adams says. "I always wanted to play running back. Once I saw Terrell Davis, how he used to run the ball, and break so many tackles, and then that was my last name, so my mom got me a jersey with 'Davis' on it. And I'm just thinking, 'I'm an NFL player,' so ever since then, I've just loved the Broncos.
"I'm rooting for Cam, most definitely, but I want the Broncos to win," he said.
Zachery and Blake are picking the Panthers.
"I think they'll win the Super Bowl," Zachery says. "That's my pick. I like the Broncos. I like Peyton Manning, but I've got to go with the Panthers."
"I'm definitely going to be rooting for Cam and Carolina," Blake says. "I think they're a team that has the championship quality about them. They started off 14-0 for a reason. They're playing with a lot of confidence. They have a great defense."
For Burns, it comes down to the quarterback.
"I would assume Carolina's going to win, just the way Cam's been playing," he said.
Blake, whose father, Jeff, played quarterback for 14 seasons in the NFL, says Cam's unflappable confidence is his greatest asset.
"Especially at the quarterback position. Nothing can faze you. I've been fortunate to be around people like my dad," Blake says. "They just have the confidence. When pressure comes their way, they're able to overcome and do it in a way where they're able to be successful. And that's the thing I'll take away from Cam."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: