By John Zenor, AP Sports Writer
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton now has a huge statue of himself to go along with his Heisman Trophy and AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award. He also has outsized expectations for Year Two.
"With reviewing all the games from last year, I feel that the improvement is through the roof for me," said Newton, a few hours after Auburn unveiled statues of him and fellow Tigers Heisman Trophy winners Bo Jackson and Pat Sullivan.
"I've had the whole offseason to work on the things that I feel like I need to get better at (and that) will come into fruition. With the upcoming OTAs, I feel like that's another time for me to get better."
Newton thrived as a rookie despite taking a crash course in mastering an NFL offense after a lockout wiped out most of the offseason.
Now, he's also got the security of having Steve Smith around for at least three more years after the wide receiver signed a contract extension on Tuesday.
"Having him back is a big thing for not only me as my whole evolution is going to change — to have his leadership there — but for the whole team," Newton said. "We need Smitty not for what he does at the receiver position but for the leader that he is, how much he holds everybody accountable.
"I'm excited for him."
Newton got an enthusiastic reception from fans before the Tigers' spring game, blowing a kiss to the crowd. He only spent one season at Auburn but led the team to the 2010 national title and won the Heisman.
Jackson captured the trophy in 1985 and Sullivan in 1971. Both have long been Auburn icons, but Newton got his own statue less than 28 months after signing to play for the Tigers.
"God works in mysterious ways," Newton said.
His 1,900-pound bronze statue features him running with the ball tucked into his right arm, a sign of his versatility as a quarterback. Newton said he still has "a warmth in my heart" for Auburn despite his relatively short stay.
"Every Saturday I was in that team hotel glued to the tube, trying to find out what in the world we were doing so I could have bragging rights," he said of last fall.
Newton's lone season was marred by an investigation into a pay-for-play scheme, but the NCAA has since cleared both him and Auburn. He even wrote a poem for the ceremony that read in part:
"My road to the top had a couple pit stops, but during my time at Auburn,
"The love of the Auburn family would not let my morale drop.
"Greatness was what I strived for, and greatness was what I got."
Newton and Jackson, a former NFL and Major League Baseball player, playfully dodged any debate about who is Auburn's greatest athlete.
"I think..." began Newton, getting interrupted by Jackson.
"To be honest with you, the best athlete to ever come out of Auburn University is Charles Barkley," Jackson said.
Countered Newton: "Uncross your fingers."
The university also erected a bust of John Heisman since Auburn was the only school he coached that has produced a winner of the award that bears his name.
"It's a unique club," Jackson said. "There's only been 76 of those trophies handed out over the years, and we have three of them. It's almost like, wow. It's almost like finding a rare coin that doesn't exist anymore and you come across it. And we have three right here in Auburn."