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Panthers quarterback Cam Newton enters opener against Tampa Bay Bucs saying he's striving for greatness

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton goes over the pile for a touchdown during a game last season at Raymond James Stadium, one of the then-rookie’s NFL quarterback record 14 rushing scores. Newton accounted for eight TDs in two games against the Bucs.

DANIEL WALLACE Times (2011)

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton goes over the pile for a touchdown during a game last season at Raymond James Stadium, one of the then-rookie’s NFL quarterback record 14 rushing scores. Newton accounted for eight TDs in two games against the Bucs.

BRADENTON — Cam Newton's boyish, seemingly permanent grin is the most disarming part of the package.

And seeing him grace the pages of this month's GQ magazine modeling a cardigan, J.Crew button-down shirt and Banana Republic shoes only reinforces the image that has made him a darling of Madison Avenue.

It's almost easy to forget there's another, distinctly different side to this star quarterback: The one who wants to be great. That's the side, as the Bucs can attest, that wants to shred opponents on the way to the record books.

Newton, whose Carolina Panthers open the season against the Bucs on Sunday, seamlessly blends the two, joyously throwing and running for touchdowns, always with a smile, always having a blast.

"I think you just get one (side) with the other," said Newton, known for his end zone Superman poses. "When you play this game long enough, you have to get some kind of edge. I think my edge is coming out and continuously, every single day, considering this a blessing.

"A lot of guys don't get the opportunity to play in the NFL. Every single chance I get, I'm going to do it with a smile on my face. But at the same time, (I do it) respecting the game enough to want to be the best. There's greatness out there that I have to strive to get."

Newton and the Panthers have moved their team south ahead of this weekend, displaced from their downtown Charlotte facility by the Democratic National Convention. They're practicing at IMG Academy, the same place Newton has spent the past two offseasons chasing greatness.

If Newton begins 2012 the way he kicked off his offensive rookie of the year campaign last season, the Bucs will regret it. He threw for 854 yards in his first two games and didn't let up later against Tampa Bay. He accounted for eight touchdowns in two meetings against the Bucs, rushing for three scores in one game and throwing for three in the other.

"If you look at his stat line last year, not many have stopped him," Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. "Anytime we play great players, it isn't really (about) stopping them because they're going to get their plays. You try to limit them."

Those aren't words that describe a player who isn't serious about his craft, even if it isn't obvious.

"You haven't seen him after a (loss)," Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. "He puts so much pressure on himself to be great.

"But he does enjoy playing. He enjoys everything about sports. When we're having meals and we have the TV on sports, his seat is always right in the front. … He loves to compete. I think that's a great thing. I think it permeates throughout our team. It's an infectious thing. He's serious enough when he has to be, but he enjoys himself when he wants to."

Newton is nothing if not driven. He's a regular at IMG because of his coach-student relationship with former Panthers and Florida State quarterback Chris Weinke, director of the facility's football program.

Weinke, knowing only what he saw from afar, initially wondered about Newton's makeup.

"From the outside looking in, people that don't know him wonder," Weinke said. "I learned he's one of the most competitive guys I've ever been around.

"What I found from Day 1 is that he didn't just want to be good, he wanted to be great. He didn't just want to be just another guy. He wanted to be the guy. He used the naysayers as motivation. He came to me and said, 'I want to be a big-time NFL quarterback.' "

After throwing for a rookie record 4,051 yards and establishing an all-time quarterback record with 14 rushing touchdowns, that mission's accomplished.

But how does a player who has so much on his shoulders — living up to his status as a No. 1 draft pick, the hopes of an entire franchise, not to mention the fates of fantasy football players everywhere — deal with it with a smile?

"So many people have expectations and feel a certain way about me, but I don't think any of them will ever be as high as mine," Newton said. "I've said it once and I'll say it again: I'm not surprised by anything that I do. The only thing that surprises me is when I do not play to my potential. Nothing has changed from a year ago.

"There's no pressure on me nor is there any pressure on anybody else, especially if your personal expectations are high."

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton enters opener against Tampa Bay Bucs saying he's striving for greatness 09/05/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 5, 2012 10:28pm]
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