ATLANTA — The video was everywhere.
There was Caylin Newton, in the first game of his junior season at Grady High School (Atlanta), sprinting up the right hash marks, stopping so suddenly with so little regard for inertia that the camera almost loses track of him, then spinning to the right, free for 20 more yards. There is the defender, first breaking down for an easy tackle, then falling on his face, arms grasping fruitlessly at air.
There is the title of the video, right there on the NFL’s website: “Cam Newton’s younger brother has devastating spin move.”
There’s no avoiding it, so let’s get it out of the way here. Yes, Caylin Newton’s older brother is Cam Newton. Yes, that Cam Newton, the franchise quarterback of the Carolina Panthers, the Heisman Trophy- and national championship-winning Auburn superstar. The legend — as much myth as man — that stands so tall and casts a shadow so wide that his 17-year-old brother can’t see where it ends.
Yes, Caylin looks like his brother. Yes, he plays quarterback like his brother. No, he is not his brother.
Cam stands a menacing 6-foot-5, 250 pounds. Caylin is 5-foot-11 (“Soon to be six-foot,” his father says), 180 pounds.
The size will come (Cecil Newton, Jr., the oldest of the three sons, was 6-2, 300 pounds in his NFL days). But the expectations? They’re already here.
“There’s something in the back of my mind asking me, ‘Why am I getting this?’” Caylin says. “My last name, it’s an advantage and a disadvantage.
“Wherever I go, his name is going to be there. There’s nothing I can do about it.”
Caylin doesn’t see the association as a curse or a burden. He loves his brother, he’s proud of his success. But there are times when you couldn’t blame him for wishing that he wasn’t related to the No. 1 overall pick in 2011, the highest paid player in Panthers history. Because that’s what Caylin is known as — Cam’s brother — an unjustly unnuanced description of a kid who is so much more.
For starters, it doesn’t even tell his entire genealogy.
“I am Cam’s brother,” Caylin said. “I’m also Cecil Newton, Jr.’s brother too.”
And he is also Cecil Newton, Sr.’s son. Of those four men in that one family, three have played in the NFL.
One is in high school, just trying to figure out what’s next.
One week had passed since his Internet spotlights and, more importantly, a week since Grady’s 40-14 win highlighted by three touchdowns scored from Caylin’s cannon. It was a warm Friday night in September and the sun was just starting to set, the lights at Grady Stadium stepping in. It was the perfect stage for a night Caylin had been anxiously awaiting.
“All during warmups, I’m like, man, this night is about to be the night,” he said. “I can’t wait to show out. This is my opportunity. This is my showcase.”
The stands were overflowing, but the real excitement came not from the fans, but when a coach pulled him aside during warmups and told him: There were scouts in the stands. They were here to see him.
As he trotted out to the field on Grady’s opening drive against Carver High School, Caylin allowed himself to savor the moment. He was coming off of the best game he’d played in his career, but tonight and the rest of his junior season were going to put last week’s game in perspective. It was no fluke, no peak of his career, simply the start of something great.
“The sky was the limit, and I was in the sky,” he said. “I couldn’t wait. I could not wait.”
Neither could his coach from Grady, Earthwind Moreland.
“We had basically just tapped into what we had,” said Moreland, who played cornerback at Grady before heading to a six-year NFL career in the early 2000s.
As he lined up, Caylin glanced at the defense, then unleashed his booming voice.
Caylin doesn’t exactly remember what happened next. Moreland does. He saw his quarterback get sandwiched, hard, by two linemen. Caylin popped up, but immediately came to the sideline, holding his left arm gingerly.
Cecil Sr., who helps out on the sidelines during Grady games, found his son with the team doctor. Caylin wanted to get his arm taped up so he could head back onto the field. Then he looked down. There was a dent in his left wrist.
“Am I going to be able to play next week?” asked Caylin, knowing what the answer would be but holding out hope anyway.
“No,” said the doctor.
Caylin covered his wrist in a towel so nobody would see how broken he was. Not his friends, not any kids in the stands and definitely not the scouts.
That night, the night Caylin had been waiting for, his night, ended in a hospital room. The night that was supposed to bring on the attention and the recognition only brought more than a month of rehab. His left wrist (non-throwing) was broken. He missed the showcase game with the scouts in the stands and he was going to miss a handful more in the most important season of his life.
This was not how any of it was supposed to happen.
Caylin received a text from Cam the next day. There were no condolences, just advice: Whatever it took, Caylin needed to get back on the field as soon as possible.
Cam has played through a plethora of injuries in college and the NFL. Cam was also the second-ranked quarterback in the country coming out of high school. Who better to relay the importance of a junior season and how hard Caylin needed to work in order to salvage what was left of it?
For three more games, Caylin stood on the sideline, a hard cast over his left wrist. Then, finally, mercifully, just more than a month after leaving Grady Stadium in an ambulance, he stood on its field in uniform.
Grady’s offensive coordinator couldn’t make the game — he had a death in the family — so the wide receivers coach stepped up to call plays. But he was hesitant to call for passing plays. He didn’t want to push Caylin, didn’t want to test his potentially stale arm.
Midway through a frustrating first quarter, Caylin found the wide receivers coach on the sideline.
“I’m good,” he said — part plea, part reassurance. “Let’s go out there and start throwing the ball.”
So they did. And then they won, 32-0. And then they won again … and again. The Knights finished the season winning four of their final five games and ended with a 6-4 record, just sneaking into the playoffs. In the four games Caylin sat out, Grady averaged 10 points per game and went 1-3. In the six regular season games with him under center, the Knights averaged 30.3 points per game and were 5-1.
But it wasn’t enough. The expectations didn’t change. The prefix lingered.
“People look at me expecting this 6-foot-5, 6-6 guy,” Caylin said. “‘Oh, he’s Cam’s brother. He’s beasting. I know he’s going to be bigger than everybody.’”
He isn’t. But size is about the only thing the two don’t share.
You can see the resemblance in the face right away. The eyes, the ears, the smile — there’s no denying the similarities. The sense of humor is certainly present. (“I think he’s the comedian of the family,” his mom, Jackie, says. “All of my boys are comedians, but Caylin keeps us rolling in such subtle ways.”)
And that’s all before you watch him play.
Caylin is more nimble than the majority of would-be tacklers he faces, deftly avoiding sacks by taking off upfield or rolling out of the pocket where he is just as comfortable throwing against his body as he is with it. He avoids hits with spin moves or stiff arms when he can, but welcomes them with a lowered shoulder when necessary. He has the arm strength to rocket a ball 50 yards downfield on target and the clutch gene to extend a play and the game when called upon.
On a fourth-and-1 in the third quarter of Grady’s second playoff game this season, Caylin stepped up in the pocket, then around an offensive lineman. A loose defender gave chase, so Caylin juked one way, then the other, then launched a 34-yard strike into the end zone. Touchdown. It was his second touchdown throw on fourth down during the game.
Plays like that reveal the prominent parallels to Cam that have manifested in Caylin’s game, and it’s no accident. During the offseason, the pair practice together whenever they can. It’s a cherished time for the brothers to bond, but it’s still work.
“We’re not playing,” Caylin said. “We both have to get better.”
If in executing a drill, Cam doesn’t perform perfectly, he’ll force himself to go again until there are no slip-ups, no miscues, nothing but perfection. Caylin holds himself to the same standards.
Occasionally, Cam will show up to Grady practices and games. He’ll stand on the sideline, away from the players and watch, silently. He never interrupts, Moreland says, but when practice is over, Caylin will jog over to his brother, eager to soak in any suggestions.
“I think that’s why he works so hard, he’s trying to get out of the shadow of his brother,” Moreland said. “It’s going to be tough, especially the way his brother is playing right now. But that’s why he’s trying to just carve his own little niche in the football game. That’s why I think he works so hard. So he can just do his thing so everybody will know him as just Caylin Newton, and not Cam’s brother.
“Over here, he’s just Caylin.”
It’s hard to get the entire Newton family together for extended periods, but holidays are sacred. A few years ago, the family rented a house for two weeks over Christmas when, on Dec. 26 — a day with a high of 47 degrees — Cecil looked out to the backyard.
“Cam and Caylin are out there splashing in the pool like they’re crazy,” he remembers with a laugh. “And as a result of that, 14 other people wound up in the pool. Including myself.”
Cecil said his two youngest sons have a fantastic relationship. They goof off together, play video games against each other and, of course, participate in the family religion: They watch sports together. But though they play the same position in the same sport with the same dream, their personalities could hardly differ more.
When asked to describe Cam, Cecil’s choice of adjectives isn’t surprising. Loud. Erratic. Yelling.
His youngest son? Not so much. Reserved. Quiet. Keeps to himself.
“It’s kind of hard to read Caylin,” his father said. “I just think he wants his own identity and I try to give him that by not being overshadowing.
“He wants his day in the sun.”
His mother wants nothing more than for Caylin to get that, but she knows the expectations — from outside and within — keep pushing that finish line further and further away.
“I think from his perspective, he wants to earn a title, not be given it because he’s Cam’s brother,” Jackie says. “It puts a lot of pressure on him to excel, and when he doesn’t, people look at him (and say), ‘Well, you need to be like Cam,’ or, ‘I thought you were going to be like Cam,’ or, ‘You ain’t nothing.’”
This isn’t the first time Jackie has dealt with emotions and expectations like this. Cam and Cecil Jr. both went to Westlake High School, just outside the Atlanta city limits. Jackie says Cam used to come home, exasperated, tired of people telling him he needed to be like Cecil — three years his elder — tired of being called Cecil’s little brother.
“People would always compare Cam with his older brother,” she says. “I understand now — because I’ve been through that before — having your own identity. It’s just a lot of pressure on the sibling carving out his identity.”
With Cam, that pressure forged him, like a diamond from coal. But it didn’t happen overnight. Now the family waits again, to see how Caylin will emerge from under the weight of the Newton name. Regardless of the result, Jackie will be happy so long as Caylin is.
“We tell (our children), ‘Be you,’” she says. “We will support you if you were a violin player, or if you played another sport. We will support you. You don’t have to play football.”
But when asked if any of her kids ever doubted that football was their calling, the mother stifles a laugh.
“I am well convinced that my boys love the game of football,” she says. “Nothing I can say will stop it.”
Two months after Caylin broke his wrist, the junior was starting his first playoff game in two years (Because of alleged ongoing recruiting violations by the Knights’ head coach of 13 years, Ronnie Millen, Grady was banned from the 2014 postseason and Millen was relocated). Grady held on against Northwest Whitfield, 28-27, in a game where Caylin threw for three touchdowns and 198 yards and rushed for 113 more.
But those 311 yards weren’t enough to distance him from the ever-looming shadow of his brother.
“Starting at the Grady 2 after the kickoff was caught on the sideline, Knights junior quarterback Caylin Newton, Cam’s little brother, began to take over,” wrote Lindsey Young of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “He completed a 48-yard pass to 6-foot-7 receiver Kemari Averett, then ripped off a 42-yard run before hitting Averett with a 1-yard touchdown pass.”
For Grady’s second game of the postseason, in Thomson, Ga., Cam flew in. When the opening kick was in the air, he was on the sideline — loud, erratic, yelling, cheering on Grady.
Caylin found the endzone three times with his arm, but Grady’s defense was gashed for more than 300 yards and three touchdowns rushing. Midway through the first quarter, the Knights found themselves in a hole that kept growing deeper. Thomson ran away with the game, ending the Knights’ season with a 44-21 loss.
Throughout the night, Cecil’s descriptions of his children proved prescient. Whether he threw a touchdown on fourth down or was sacked two times in a row, Caylin’s expressions rarely changed. Outwardly, he never appeared flustered nor exuberant. His demeanor was eternally stoic.
On the sideline, Cam was anything but. When Caylin was sacked for a safety, his brother threw his hands in the air and screamed, then buckled over in despair. When Caylin avoided a sack and threw a touchdown on fourth down, his brother sprinted halfway up the sideline, gathering high-fives from players and coaches, imitated Caylin’s juke move, then pulled out his now-signature dance move, the Dab.
It’s a celebration that, for some reason, has been a catalyst of controversy for the NFL star. And as with most things related to Cam, Caylin has been roped in. People Tweet at the younger Newton, or comment on pictures he posts online telling Caylin to get his brother in line. The dancing is too much, they say. It doesn’t surprise Caylin.
“When somebody is so good and there’s nothing you can do about it, you have to say something,” he said. “You have to be mad. Because he’s not on your team, and he’s having fun.”
But no matter how often he wants to, Caylin never engages.
“It’s hard, too,” he said. “Because this is my brother. You’re cursing my brother out on social media. I’m reading some of the comments that they comment on his pictures and it’s hard not to respond because we have such a deep relationship.”
But controversies like this don’t contain themselves to social media. In recent weeks, the Dab has caught on as a touchdown dance with high school players across the country. So when a Thomson player found paydirt late in the blowout against Grady and followed it up with Cam’s celebration, was it a teenager imitating his idol, or mocking his opponent?
Thomson fans cheered regardless. They cheered some more whenever Caylin was sacked, hit or when he threw an incomplete pass. They booed when he threw a touchdown. Then the news started spreading. That was Cam Newton’s brother they were booing, Cam Newton’s brother their team was beating.
“I wonder if Cam showed up?” one fan asked another eagerly before pointing to the Grady sideline, ignoring the play on the field. “Do you think that’s him?”
When the final horn sounded, Caylin walked across the field towards the locker room as the Bulldogs public announcer cut his microphone on one final time.
“Ladies and gentlemen, your Thomson Bulldogs defeated Grady 44-21 and are headed to the third round of the state playoffs!”
Then the excitement in his voice ratcheted up a notch.
“And welcome to the field, Carolina Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton!”
The stands exploded with cheers, and someone opened a gate near the corner of the field, releasing a small group of children and a few adults tripping over themselves to get at the older brother of the quarterback they had jeered for the past two hours.
Caylin Newton sat in the locker room in the bowels of Thomson’s stadium, surrounded by bowed heads and red eyes, listening to the last postgame speech of his junior season.
Cam Newton walked across Thomson’s field, surrounded by friends, security guards and strangers, listening to the cries of fans and critics.
“Cam! Sign this for me Cam!”
“Cam! Can we get a picture?”
“You ain’t s***, Cam!”
Caylin Newton hopped on a bus and, at 11 p.m, began the silent, two-hour drive back to Atlanta. He had the next week off for Thanksgiving break, then it was back to 11th grade at a school of 1,400 students.
Cam Newton got in a blacked-out SUV and peeled out of Thomson’s parking lot, heading to the airport for the trip back to Charlotte. The Panthers had practice that weekend, then it was off to Dallas to play in a Thanksgiving Day game watched by 32 million viewers.
The brothers didn’t talk at all during Caylin’s playoff game. They didn’t talk after it either. It wasn’t until a few days later — when Caylin and his family flew to Dallas to watch the Thanksgiving Day matchup — that they even mentioned the game. Caylin had watched the film on his own and was disgusted with how he played. He could see what he did wrong, but a second opinion from an NFL superstar never hurts.
That game was a milestone for Caylin, though he never intended it to be. There were almost six months until school lets out for the summer, but in Caylin’s mind, he’s already a senior.
He remembers last summer, when Grady played in a 7-on-7 tournament — run by Cam of course — and the seniors on the team lamented the fact that they would never play in another high school 7-on-7. This was it for them. In the locker room after his final game as a junior, that feeling engulfed Caylin. He’s only got one more year. Only one more season to prove himself.
Caylin isn’t ranked on Rivals.com, and has no public offers at the moment. But that isn’t discouraging the Newton family.
“I put two sons through school,” Cecil said. “I understand the whole recruiting process.” Star ratings are far from a collegiate crystal ball.
In fact, Cecil said, if you look solely at the brothers’ skill levels, Caylin is more advanced than Cam was as a junior. He doesn’t have the monumental size to fall back on, so he’s developed other avenues to success. Still, the similarities outweigh the differences.
“(Each of them is) aggressive on the field, has a tenaciousness, a drive to win, works hard during the offseason,” Cecil said.
Then there are the ties to a certain SEC school.
Last year, Caylin went to a camp at Auburn, but when asked if he would suit up for the Tigers if given a chance, he didn’t answer directly.
“It’s hard visiting a college where my brother has a statue,” he said, referencing the 10-foot bronze memorial to his brother outside of Jordan-Hare Stadium. “What can I do differently?”
That’s hard to answer. When you have two brothers and a father who played in the NFL, when one of them is immortalized in a form historically reserved for gods and emperors, what constitutes success? How do you stand out?
Cecil doesn’t want his youngest son to worry about any of that.
“Play to represent your first name,” Cecil tells him. “Don’t worry about your last name.”
Above all, his mother says, be yourself. She’ll never ask for more than that. But she knows how much her son asks of himself, how high he’s set the bar, how hard it will be to reach.
“I’m not sure what men go through when they don’t succeed, I can only imagine, but I hope he would see that there’s more to life than just football,” she says. “As a mom, I’m trying to keep him well-rounded and focused on just living the best life that you can. Things happen out of our control. Football is not everything, it’s just something that you want to do.”
Caylin knows he will never be able to escape Cam’s legend, never not be compared to his family. But maybe, just maybe, a day in the not-so-distant future will find him out from underneath that omnipresent shadow and the prefix will fade from his name.
There’s a long way to go before Caylin Newton is satisfied with himself, but carving his own path, forging his own name? That would be a wonderful start.
“I’m just waiting on that day where I work hard enough,” he said. “that my name can be in a sentence by itself.”