CORNELIUS – “To the 40, to the 40, to the 40,” Carolina Panthers Quarterback Cam Newton shouted, increasing in volume, encouraging a North Mecklenburg High School student to finish a punt return contest with his best effort.
The contest was a side activity to the Cam Newtown Foundation’s Charlotte 7v7 High School Football Tournament held June 28 and 29 at Hough High School. Sixteen teams from the Carolinas – including one from North Meck, one from Hopewell and two from Hough – competed.
For Newton, the tournament is a chance for him to give back to the community, a main focus of his foundation.
“I just wanted to give back and especially so my face is out here,” he said. “This is my event. I want people to know that I’m out here from start to end. It’s not something you just keep dumping money into just for things to give away.”
It also provides an opportunity for him to be available to younger players.
“If someone gets an interception, someone throws a touchdown, I’m asking for some depth, I’m asking for some fire, I’m asking for a chest bump,” he said. “It’s exciting for them to be out here competing, and it’s exciting for me to see them, as well.”
Newton roamed the fields during the half-hour games, occasionally offering words of encouragement or critique and stepping in when games got chippy.
In between games, Newton joined teams for stretches and jumped in line for pat-and-go drills.
Hough High senior quarterback Josh Stilley was one player that threw to him.
“It was cool,” Stilley said. “He kind of just jogged off, but I threw it a little further, make him run for it.”
Newton’s presence enhanced the tournament, Stilley said, but overall, the experience was good for his team.
“It’s getting us a lot of reps as far as our passing game,” he said. “It’s good having everyone else out here so they all know who we are. We’re trying to make a name for ourselves this year.”
Hough High Head Football Coach Bobby Collins said he saw both the junior varsity and varsity players improve as the tournament went on and that it was beneficial for them to interact with Newton.
“It makes you work that much harder,” he said. “Once (Newton) tells them his story and how he worked hard to get where he is now, I think that inspires kids.”
Hough High A team beat Forestview High of Gastonia in the championship game and won $2,500 for football gear. Forestview High received $1,500 for gear.
Newton said he hopes the high school athletes take away three lessons from the tournament: competition, respect for the game and sportsmanship.
“We will hope each and every team will win every single game. At the same time, we already know there’s a winner and a loser each and every game,” he said. “Whether you win, lose or draw, being able to look the man in his eye, your opponent, and shake their hand.”