The younger brother of Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton also threw for 2,629 yards and 22 touchdowns to claim his second straight conference passing title and become a finalist for Black College Football player of the year.
But as Newton readies to open his junior season Saturday afternoon against Maryland in College Park, the number that most concerns him is 17 — his interception total last fall.
Newton and first-year coach Ron Prince, who takes over for Mike London, indicated that for the Bison to contend for their first MEAC championship since 1993, ball security must become a higher priority.
“Just learning what causes interceptions,” Newton said. “People say less turnovers, less interceptions, less fumbles, but Coach Prince really breaks it down to where, ‘This is what causes turnovers.’ He simplifies it to show everybody’s responsibilities. Everybody is responsible for the ball and keeping the ball safe at all times.”
Newton had 29 interceptions over his first two seasons as the starter, but his dynamic playmaking ability along with that of senior wide receivers Jequez Ezzard and Kyle Anthony have the Bison seeking a turnaround from last year’s 4-6 record that included four losses by six points or fewer.
Ezzard led FCS with an average of 26.6 yards per reception. His 12 touchdown catches led the MEAC and were twice as many as Anthony in second place. He set a school record with 223 receiving yards in last season’s opener, a 38-32 loss to Ohio.
His career-long 94-yard touchdown reception as a sophomore, on a pass from Newton, is the second-longest play from scrimmage in school history.
“Those are pretty gaudy numbers,” Prince said. “I’m not sure about more explosive. That would be hard to do. We are aspiring for some balance. We are aspiring not only to have balance between run and pass, that’s what most people think of, but also between the various targets.”
Anthony finished first in the MEAC in receptions (53) last year. He was the only player in the conference to catch at least 50 passes, and although he may be headed for fewer receptions this season, the offense, according to Prince, will be more diversified with the addition of a tight end, providing another option for Newton.
Prince’s background in the NFL and with major college football programs, including stints as head coach at Kansas State and offensive coordinator at Virginia and Rutgers, has been a steadying influence as the Bison make final preparations this week to face Maryland.
Last year Prince served as an offensive analyst at Michigan, helping with the game plan in the Wolverines’ 42-21 win against Maryland on Oct. 6 in Ann Arbor, Mich.
“I would say we’re very explosive, but most importantly, I feel like with Coach Prince and his offensive mentality, he’s given me better insight on the game,” Newton said, “where I’ll be more precise, more efficient with my passes. That’s what I’m most excited about under Coach Prince.”
A handful of significant contributors from the team that recorded the greatest point spread upset in the sport’s history remains at Howard, providing the Bison with another blueprint heading into their showdown with the Terrapins.
In 2017, the Bison traveled to play UNLV in the season opener and won, 43-40, after oddsmakers installed them as 45-point underdogs. It was the first victory in program history for Howard against a major college opponent, with Newton amassing 330 yards of total offense and accounting for three touchdowns.
He rushed for 190 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries, directing an offense that logged 449 total yards.
Anthony added four receptions for 30 yards and one touchdown in a game Bison players have been using as inspiration to stage what would be another highly improbable outcome, this time also for bragging rights in the Washington region.
“Heck no, it’s not business as usual,” Prince said of playing Maryland. “This will be a big deal for us. We’ll hope to have a lot of fun with it. There’s no pressure on us. It’s one of those things where if we go there and play well, and the ball bounces our way a little bit, who knows?”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed Newton as a senior.