CHARLOTTE, N.C. (C Jackson Cowart | The Charlotte Observer) - For Cam Newton, football and success were the only options.
At his fifth annual 7-on-7 football tournament at Providence Day School on Saturday, the Carolina Panthers quarterback addressed 20 high school teams from North and South Carolina with a brief but pointed message: only those who constantly perfect themselves get what they deserve.
Of course, nobody is flawless – not even Newton. But the former No. 1 pick preached perfection, in the tournament and beyond. He compared little things on the field, like snapping the ball and catching a pass, to basic chores in the home. Only when commitment is universal, he said, will success follow.
Then, he put the pressure on himself.
"I'm looking at my life right now and I'm saying, 'I'm missing one thing: I want a Super Bowl,'" Newton said. "Yeah, but it's really certain things that you have to really fine-tune and say, 'Am I deserving to be a Super Bowl-winning quarterback? How can I push myself to be a better me?'"
Only a handful of the 400 players in the stands have prospects at the next level, let alone a Super Bowl in their sights. For many, football is a hobby. But Newton said there was no contingency plan in his life – it was football or bust.
"The only way I put myself in this situation to be successful was I didn't have no plan B …" Newton said. "I told myself, at the end of the day, I'm gonna be a football player and a football player only.
"And a lot of guys get it misconstrued because you're setting yourself up for failure; that's what some people think. But in myself I was thinking, 'I ain't got no other alternative. Either I'm gonna dominate this man in front of me or not.'"
Top prospect is awestruck
It's a message that resonated with Dax Hollifield, a four-star linebacker from Shelby. Hollifield grew up a Panthers fan – he said he went to games every weekend – and he said he's been to Newton's 7-on-7 tournament each of the past four years. This time, he's the top-rated prospect in attendance.
But he's no Cam Newton, at least not yet. And even at 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds, Hollifield is still awestruck by the 6-foot-5 Carolina quarterback.
"That man's the biggest person I've ever seen in my life," he said. "I go everywhere and he's still the biggest freak I've ever seen."
Like Newton before him, Hollifield has options ahead of him. As the state's third-ranked prospect in 2018, the 17-year-old has his eyes on the top programs in the region, including North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida State, but also Stanford. His top pick changes every day.
But for now, Hollifield is working on perfecting the little things – starting with his pass defense and ending, hopefully, with a full ride to a top collegiate program.
"(Newton) had choices when he was younger, and I have the same choices right now in my life …" Hollifield said. "He's a very successful guy, so I'm trying to be like him."
On Saturday, Hollifield and his team finished fourth in Newton's tournament. The Golden Lions doubled their tournament win total from last time, but the real prize awaits: a potential state championship once the high school season starts. Hollifield will be paramount to Shelby's quest for a fifth consecutive title after the Golden Lions' 16-0 season a year ago.
It's the same type of perfection that Newton preaches.