There are nicknames Caylin Newton likes just fine. Some people call him “Fig,” for obvious reasons. His football coaches call him “Crazy Legs” or “Wishbone” or “Newt-er.” Others go for “Gumby,” because of his rather vertical hair style.
Then there are the nicknames he’d prefer to avoid.
“Don’t call me ‘Lil’ Cam,'” Newton requested. “Don’t call me ‘Baby Cam.’ Some people even try to call me ‘Cam.’ I’m like, ‘C’mon now.’ They try. They try.”
How can you get away from those three letters when you’re a promising young quarterback who also happens to be Cam Newton’s younger brother? If you Google Caylin’s name, his listed title is not “freshman quarterback at Howard,” but “Cam Newton’s brother.” He showed up for a recent interview wearing an Under Armour T-shirt that had been created for his brother, and he casually quotes one of his brother’s sayings during the conversation. (“His motto is what, ‘I win my way?’ ” Caylin pointed out approvingly.) He looks strikingly similar to the former NFL MVP — when sitting down, at least. (Caylin is about half-a-foot shorter, which helps explain why he’s at an FCS school instead of in the Southeastern Conference.) He said he has been compared to Cam at “every stage, literally,” and his decision to attend Howard attracted just a bit more attention than the typical Bison recruiting win.
“A blessing and a curse,” said Newton, an 18-year-old one semester into college who speaks with the assurance of an NFL veteran. (He said this poise comes from sharing testimony in front of his church from the time he was in kindergarten, although having your brother give weekly news conferences probably doesn’t hurt.)
“I’m trying to make my own path. I’m trying to be a person that stands for who I am, but my last name is my last name,” Caylin Newton said, a week into Howard’s preseason camp. “I get it. I mean, he’s a big deal. NFL MVP. So I can’t be not owning who my brother is.”
Oldest brother Cecil Newton Jr., a former NFL center, is 32. Cam, one of the most famous football players in the world, is 28. Caylin showed up a decade later, which made him feel like “basically an only child.” But when he started playing sports, he had a fairly successful example living under the same roof. When he was just 9 or 10, he would do push-ups in the basement with Cam, and would run a four- or five-mile course with his older brother. Later, they did quarterback drills together. They also started playing “walking one-on-one,” a receiver-defender matchup with an all-time quarterback where the receiver is not allowed to run. They still do.
“You should see us together,” Caylin said. “People get confused with the size, they don’t think that I’m as athletic, but I’m telling you … I get physical. Cam’s walking around with the scratches, not me.”
Still, Cam is 6 feet 5 and 245 pounds, “a monster playing quarterback,” as his brother said. Caylin is 5 feet 11 and at least 60 pounds lighter, and he jokes about being bowlegged. He threw for 3,322 yards and 33 touchdowns as a senior at Grady High in Atlanta, ran for more than 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns, and was named his region’s offensive player of the year. None of that erases 5 feet 11.
“We ain’t gonna cry about all that,” said his father, Cecil Newton Sr. “I just think recruiters had their reservations. Everybody’s looking for the next prototypical Cam. Had he been 6-5, 6-6, yeah, we’d have been talking to Urban [Meyer]; we’d have been talking to Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney and Gus Malzahn. But that wasn’t the luck of the draw, so we accepted what we had.”
What they had was interest from mostly smaller programs. The family patriarch had gone to Savannah State, an HBCU. Cecil Jr. went to another HBCU in Tennessee State. Before Caylin’s senior year, his dad told him if he didn’t get the right offer, he would likely do the same. Cecil wanted his son to be at a school where the coach wasn’t looking for the next job. He wanted a school “that has a lot to offer outside the realm of just going to play college football.” He also wanted his son to be in an urban environment, “and I don’t mean that to be in a condescending way” Cecil said.
“Coming from a major city and going to [a rural school] somewhere doesn’t really make sense,” the father said. “That would be a regression of sorts from what he’s already been exposed to.”
They decided on Howard — Caylin said he was blown away by the school’s list of well-known alumni, “people that have made the world better” — and he announced his choice on social media in the first week of January. Coach Gary Harrell, who started Newton’s recruitment, had been fired in late November after a 2-9 season. Two days after Newton’s announcement, former Virginia coach Mike London was given the job. Caylin said he had never heard of London, but that he never reconsidered.
“It was a leap of faith. It was a trust walk,” Caylin said. “Me and my dad had a plan, and he said, ‘We’re gonna go anyways.’”
Caylin had visited his brother occasionally during his time at Auburn, where Cam won the Heisman Trophy, a national championship and eventually was honored with a statue. Now, after a modest recruiting process, the younger brother had landed at an FBS school with three victories over the past two seasons combined. He called it “a humbling experience.”
“My dad said don’t get caught up into the big, big schools, because they might not treat you the same. It’s a cutthroat system. You know, you do your time there and you’re gone,” Caylin said. “Coming to Howard, it’s not a football school right now. It will be, but it’s not right now. … I had to say, ‘You know what? This is my Auburn. This is my Alabama. It will get there.’”
Caylin graduated early from high school and enrolled at Howard for the spring semester, taking courses in African American Studies, African American History and Blacks in the Arts. He exited spring practices atop the team’s depth chart, although he’s in a three- or four-man competition for the starting job, according to London. Howard plans to run a spread, tempo offense this season; “by coincidence, it’s kind of the offense that Cam ran at Auburn,” London said.
See, it’s hard to get away from that name. Cam came to Howard’s spring game, although he tried to remain in the background and stayed away from the field. (“It’s been really neat just to kind of watch the dynamics of big brother understanding this is little brother’s time,” London said.) Cam and Caylin worked out together over the summer. Caylin plans on majoring in TV and film production with a minor in business marketing, and his father can envision a career for Caylin “working shoulder to shoulder with Cam on business ventures.”
Caylin told offensive coordinator he would be willing to switch positions if asked, but London said there’s been no thought yet of that. And his goal isn’t to build a college football résumé and then transfer to a bigger program; “we’re four years here,” Cecil Newton said. Just don’t think that means the family has modest football expectations.
“Again, if Caylin was 6-3, 6-4, 6-5 he would probably be a top, top, top recruit all over the country,” Cecil Newton said. “But he is going to be an impact player in college football, I’m pretty much sure about that.”
“Carson Wentz was from where, North Dakota State? I mean, c’mon son,” Cecil Newton said. “Talent is spread out all over the country.”
“Caylin can do everything Cam can do, and then some,” Cecil Newton said. “Quote me on that: Caylin can do everything Cam Newton can do.”
He can’t escape that last name, which doesn’t make him unique. Jordan Rodgers always will be Aaron’s little brother. Eli Manning always will be Peyton’s little brother, and he has won two Super Bowls.
“I used to look at it as, ‘Wow, am I just Cam’s brother? Is that my title? Is that who I am?'” Caylin said. “But I feel like I’m blessed. I’m not getting forgotten about. Somebody knows me for some reason. So it’s up to me what I’m gonna do with my opportunity.”
Just don’t call him Lil’ Cam.
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