Of all the places to begin Thursday, Cam Newton chose the “little nuggets.”
The tidbits, the notes, the truths unearthed while studying film at ungodly hours of the night that coalesce every week into a game plan. Almost a year removed from playing his last NFL game, Newton missed them most.
In an ongoing press conference, Newton had already declared his excitement for Sunday’s season opener against the Dolphins to be at level 1,000. Naturally, he listed all the reasons why. Nuggets were first.
Currently consumed with how to beat Miami, the Patriots have surrounded themselves with nuggets. Gathering and absorbing information is all that matters to their players and coaches until they can wield its power from a sideline on Sunday. Newton has one practice left until he meets the Dolphins and every reason to look ahead to playing, nudged by his excitement and imagination.
But instead, he is present, still and smiling.
“Right now where I’m at, I’m in a happy place. I feel motivated, I feel a lot of great emotions that are going on and not hindering me from becoming my best self,” Newton said. “Yet through it all, I like it most that I’m just a piece to a puzzle (in New England). I don’t want to be the puzzle.”
Newton is a piece at peace. He is whole again.
Voted a team captain and named the Pats’ starting quarterback last week, Newton has now accomplished everything he can without taking a regular-season snap. He’s changed an established locker room, while finding his place inside it. He’s earned the admiration of his coaches, who have allowed him to put his imprint on the playbook.
Newton’s place in New England has almost come to resemble the mantle he assumed in Carolina, where he walked in a legend and grew into an MVP. He’s about as far from his June days of quiet doubt as he can be; a time when not a single team called with an offer before the Patriots.
“I was at my house working out every single day just for a moment, and God’s put me in this position that I will not take for granted. I prayed countless nights, I meditated countless days, I had so much counsel from my supporting casts; from friends, family, loved ones who were like ‘Man, keep going, keep going,’” he said.
Newton’s next step comes Sunday, a day of football unknowns in a year of uncertainty. No preseason games means no clues for the regular season. It’s impossible to project how he will perform.
But if Newton believes his best self is now emerging in New England, it reasons the best quarterback in him could soon follow. Newton intimated as much Thursday.
“When it comes to the game of football, I want everybody to understand this: I am the ultimate pro. I let nothing get in the way of my preparation for the game of football,” he said. “So anything that you may see from me dancing, laughing, this, that, at the end of the day it’s all about being prepared. Now more than ever, I can say that I am prepared.”
That preparation is actively relieving any lingering pressure Newton might feel heading into the opener. Already an icon strong enough to shine in the shadow of Tom Brady, Newton is armed with the same nuggets that once gave Brady an edge, and he is free.
Free to prepare, free to play his best, free to be.
“He’s just been himself. It hasn’t changed,” Pats safety Devin McCourty said. “His energy hasn’t changed. It’s what he’s brought every day.”
To Newton, any real pressure is now behind him. Playing Sunday, he said — in the truest Patriot fashion possible — will simply come down to doing a job.
“Pressure is when you’re looking at your children and you’re 31, and you don’t know – you’re not ready to retire but nobody is calling your phone. That’s pressure,” he said. “When you don’t have control of your destiny.”
As much as a quarterback can, Newton has destiny in his grasp this week. He’s won over the team, the job, the spotlight. And he chooses to be head down and happy; working instead of waiting for the first of many more Sundays when he can show the world who he is again.
“I’ve got to do right by this opportunity,” Newton said. “I’ve got to do right by my community, I’ve got to do right by my children, I’ve got to do right by the black man that sees me that I’ll never meet, but I’ve also got to do right by the white man that sees me that I’ll never meet to but looks up to me and thinks so highly of me. So throughout it all man, that’s me. And I’m going to make the most of it.”