September 9, 2010 8:21:00 AM
Cameron Newton called it "probably one of the hardest decisions I''ve made in my recent life."
It went beyond telling one of his closest mentors since high school, Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, that he would sign with Auburn University instead of MSU this past winter.
He also had to break the news to "Miss Megan," Mullen''s wife, whom he grew close to while playing at the University of Florida and, again, during his recruitment between junior college and his return to the SEC.
"That was one of the hardest things," Newton said. "We had such a close relationship."
Newton said his decision to play at Auburn, a late development during his recruitment from Blinn (Texas) Community College, wasn''t all his. That made it even tougher to deliver the news to Mullen, who recruited him as a quarterback out of Westlake High School in Atlanta while a number of other schools wanted him to play tight end or on defense.
"I had to clear it with the whole nine yards not just with how I feel," Newton said. "I had to go through so many people to see what they think, whether my family or the closest people toward me. It felt best that my career would be played in Auburn."
That was where it ended in January.
Newton went on to win the starting job within months of arriving at Auburn, and then blew away his lofty expectations by totaling 357 yards offense and five touchdowns Saturday in a season-opening victory against Arkansas State.
Mullen and MSU have moved on, as dual-threat Chris Relf and redshirt freshman Tyler Russell, a prototypical pocket passer, ran Mullen''s versatile, spread offense Saturday in an easy victory against Memphis.
There will be two collisions today. One will be between Auburn and MSU''s high-powered offenses. The other will involve Newton and a volatile, cowbell-ringing MSU fanbase at Davis Wade Stadium.
Asked if he expected an unpleasant reaction from fans he spurned to play at Auburn, Newton smiled and shrugged his shoulders.
"I hope not," he said. "We''re just going to go out there and do what we signed up to do, play football."
The storyline looms large over tonight''s game (6:30, ESPN) game, but it hasn''t been buzzing at the Auburn Athletic Complex.
On Sunday, tailback Mario Fannin was asked about how Newton''s connections to Mullen and MSU would affect his preparations. A puzzled look came over Fannin''s face.
"I don''t really know the story," Fannin said. "I will say Cam will be prepared. He''s a guy who''s going to work hard and he''s a guy that''s going to put in everything he can for us to win the game. We''re backing him 100 percent, and we have total faith in him."
Auburn coach Gene Chizik said the topic hadn''t come up in his meetings with Newton since the game against Arkansas State.
"Those things are in the past, and he has to go out and play football," Chizik said. "He''s focused on being a better teammate, a better football player, and helping Auburn win. I think all that other stuff is water under the bridge."
Newton wants to win and move on to the next game, another big, ESPN primetime matchup against Clemson. There might be just a little part of him, though, that wants to show Mullen how much he has matured and improved since the 2008 season.
"I had a lot of mature things I needed to step up on and coach Mullen always rode me about that," he said. "I was too young and naive to notice it, but now I look back on the things I have done and I just laugh about it and am really somewhat embarrassed.
"Our relationship is a long one and goes far beyond just football."