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Former Florida Gators quarterback Cameron Newton has blossomed into a Heisman Trophy candidate at Auburn

There's an old saying that there are no eyes in the back of our heads because life is about living in the moment and looking back serves no purpose.

But for Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton, looking back once in a while helps him keep tabs on how far he has come in the past two years and serves as a constant reminder of how thankful he is now.

After spending two years as backup at Florida, along with current Gator John Brantley to Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, Newton transferred at the end of the 2008 fall semester, shortly after he was suspended after his arrest on a charge of buying a stolen laptop.

He settled his legal issues, went on to become an All-American at Blinn College in Brenham, Texas, and today is considered among the Heisman frontrunners as the starting quarterback at Auburn (7-0).

No. 5 Auburn hosts No. 6 LSU (7-0) in a battle for first in the SEC West on Saturday.

"I don't have any regrets about the road I took," Newton said this week. " … That just goes to show you how God has blessed me in my life, and I have some type of evidence to prove that."

Indeed he does.

At 6 feet 6, 250 pounds, Newton is the SEC's leading rusher (122.9 yards per game) and leads in passing efficiency (second nationally — 80-of-122 for 1,278 yards, 13 touchdowns, five interceptions) and total offense (2,138 total yards, 305.4 per game). Auburn is the league leader in scoring, rushing and total offense.

In last week's 65-43 victory over Arkansas, Newton accounted for 328 yards of total offense and four touchdowns. His 188 rushing yards helped him become the first Auburn player to rush for at least 170 yards in three consecutive SEC games.

"I think he brings so much to the table because he is not one-dimensional," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. "He throws a really, really nice ball. He makes really good decisions. He usually doesn't make the same mistake twice. Then we all know what he can do with his legs. He is a special guy."

With Florida in the midst of a three-game losing streak and its offense in disarray, many can't help but wonder what might have been if Newton had stuck around.

Newton isn't among them.

While the prevailing feeling has been that Newton left because of legal trouble, Newton said he left because he wanted to play.

"I felt (Tebow) was coming back for his senior year and I really wasn't going to get a chance to play, and that was going to be another year washed down the drain," he said. "It's no secret that people think what they want to think about what's the main reason I left Florida.

"I left Florida because I transferred. I finished the semester at Florida. But numerous times you hear people saying that you stole a laptop. I really didn't steal a laptop. I bought a laptop."

From there, the road to Auburn, Ala., was surreal.

A self-proclaimed big-city guy from College Park, Ga. (near Atlanta), Newton went into complete "culture shock" when he arrived at the tiny community college in Texas, chosen by his father, Cecil. Before the opener in 2009, Newton and other teammates gathered at Cub Stadium to paint the bleachers.

"That was a humbling experience," he said. "I go from the University of Florida where you can get Gatorade at your beck and call to a place where you have to paint your stadium in order for your program to at least look like it was up to some type of standard.

" … It was one of the most influential decisions in my life, hands down. Everybody has that turning point in their life that they can just pinpoint and say that, 'That's when I really decided to put everything together.' "

Newton said he learned a lot during his two years at Florida and those years were not a waste. He made lifelong friendships in Gainesville, which was the hardest part about leaving. Florida coach Urban Meyer said this year that he has watched Newton from afar and wishes him well. Brantley said the two remain in touch, mostly via e-mail. "We became great friends, and he's a great kid," Brantley said.

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said last week that if the Tigers keep winning, Newton could be a serious contender for the Heisman. But Newton, who said he'd be nothing without his teammates, insists he's letting the Heisman talk fall on deaf ears. At least most of the time.

"I'd be lying to you if I say I don't think about it sometimes," he said.

Mostly he thinks about where he is — and how far he has come.

"There's an old cliche that says hard work pays off, and with a little hard work and the man upstairs, anything is possible," Newton said.

Antonya English can be reached at english@sptimes.com.

Former Florida Gators quarterback Cameron Newton has blossomed into a Heisman Trophy candidate at Auburn 10/19/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 19, 2010 8:51pm]
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