It’s not an easy assignment. There’s some personal history involved here.
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen helped recruit Newton to Florida three years ago when Mullen was the Gators’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
After a season at Florida, Newton transferred to Blinn Community College. Mullen went on to take the head coaching job at MSU prior to last season.
Newton became one of the hottest prospects in the nation last year after leading Blinn to the Junior College National Championship, and was recruited heavily by Mullen.
It came down to the wire between Mississippi State and Auburn before Newton eventually chose the Tigers, and his close relationship with Mullen made the decision particularly tough.
Although they will be on different sidelines Thursday, Newton admits his ties to Mullen remain strong.
“Just like any other game, I’m ready to play,” Newton said Monday. “As far as my relationship with coach Mullen, it’s a long one, far beyond football. I have so much respect for coach Mullen and what he’s doing at Mississippi State. As a team, we can’t wait to play our next opponent.”
However hard he tries to keep it between the lines, Newton can’t help revealing his feelings about Mullen.
College football recruiting is an intense process. Players often develop a relationship with the coaches who recruit them — even their families.
And so it was with Newton.
When he chose Auburn over Mississippi State, Newton said the hardest thing wasn’t telling Mullins, but telling Mullins’ wife.
“Probably one of the hardest decisions I’ve made in my recent life, honestly,” Newton said of choosing Auburn over Mississippi State. “Not just telling him, because we had a good relationship. Mrs. Megan, it was even harder. We had such a close relationship. This wasn’t just my decision. It wasn’t just how I feel. I’ve got to go through so many people to see what they think, my family, the people close to me. It just felt like my career should be played at Auburn.”
Even so, he admits a debt of gratitude to Mullen, especially in helping Newton mature as a person.
“I had a lot of things I needed to step up on and coach mullen always rode me about that,” Newton said. “I was too young and too naïve to notice it, but now that I look back on it the things I’ve done, I just laugh, really somewhat embarrassed.”
Mullen has a mutual respect for Newton, both as a person and a player.
“We recruited him hard and I know him, know his family,” Mullen said. “Obviously, we have a lot of respect for him as a football player. Knowing Cameron, I don’t know the weaknesses of Cam. I think he’s got a lot of strengths. Coming into a first SEC game, he has been around some big games before, so I don’t think any of that stuff gets to him. He has a great demeanor obviously. He just enjoys playing.”
Meanwhile Auburn coach Gene Chizik believes Newton will be able to put personal feelings aside when the Tigers and the Bulldogs collide Thursday night.
“Those things are in the past and all that,” Chizik said. “He’s got to go out and play football. We haven’t even talked about it. He’s focused on being a better teammate, a better football player and helping auburn win. I think all that other stuff is water under the bridge.”
Charles Bennett covers Auburn University sports for The Star.