Since we’re at the time of year when ambiguous suggestions of “character concerns” get tossed around a lot, it’s probably worth noting that the concept of maturity is not static.
Players can, sometimes, possibly, acquire it over time. You know, as they mature.
Perhaps no player was questioned so vigorously in recent pre-draft run-ups as Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, but his college coach said he’s been impressed with what Newton has done on and off the field since leaving college.
“I think he understands there’s no other way to survive and be good at your craft without really growing up,” former Auburn coach Gene Chizik said, via Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer. “I know he’s a guy that’s going to come in early and be one of the last ones to leave. I know that. We talked about that, him coming in early during the season and being one of the last ones to leave. That’s what he needs to do to be great, and he’ll do whatever he has to do to be great.
“As far as being able to handle pressure situations and all outside interference, he was the best I’ve ever been around in terms of eliminating distractions. So in that regard, he was probably wise beyond his years. But as a football player in terms of maturing and in conversations I’ve had with him, I think he’s a different player because he knows what it takes at that level to excel.”
Chizik, now the defensive coordinator at North Carolina, was Newton’s coach during a national championship run at Auburn. So he obviously has a soft spot for a guy who helped him win a trophy. But Chizik said Newton’s leadership traits were apparent then.
“He would call the wideouts on Saturday mornings and get them out of bed and say we need to go throw,” Chizik said. “At first they were a little bit resistant to it, and he was very adamant and persistent to make sure they were spending the extra time to do it. They hadn’t done a whole lot of that. He was the guy who rallied the troops and said, ‘Meet me over there. I’m going to be there whether you are or not.’ And they started to do that.”
That might surprise some. At least those who bought into the “fake smile” narrative, or discount the fact that sometimes college kids actually grow up.