ATHENS — Cam Newton was dominating discussion around the college football world Tuesday. It was no different around the team that will have to face the Heisman Trophy frontrunner this weekend.
The reasons weren't quite the same. Georgia players and coaches tread lightly around the issues swirling around the Auburn star quarterback.
But Newton was the main topic, revealing a few nuggets:
The Bulldogs did recruit Newton out of Atlanta's Westlake High School — but not as a quarterback.
"We actually had him pegged as more of a tight end prospect," head coach Mark Richt said. "A lot of it had to do with what we like to do offensively, more of a fit than any disrespect to his type of ability to play quarterback. He's proven to be pretty darn good, though."
Indeed he has. In his first season at Auburn, Newton has lifted the Tigers to a 10-0 record, a No. 2 ranking and a chance at the national championship.
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo recalled watching Newton play basketball at Westlake — when Bobo was there to watch Kiante Tripp, now a Georgia senior defensive lineman.
"(He) was just an impressive cat, how big he was, how graceful he moved, and how big his calves were," said Bobo, who then began laughing. "He was just a good-looking guy. I mean, he was a pretty dude." Richt said the Bulldogs didn't recruit Newton the second time he became available, earlier this year out of junior college, after he left Florida. That recruitment is the center of a reported NCAA investigation.
The Bulldogs also weren't buying the idea that all the stories would distract Newton.
"It didn't seem to bother him last week, so I doubt it," said Richt, alluding to Newton's four-touchdown performance against Chattanooga.
Quarterback Aaron Murray granted that Newton's troubles weren't "the greatest thing to deal with," but expected him to be fine.
"He's a great player, and he knows the difference between what's going on on the field and what's going on off the field," Murray said.
Murray had a few interactions with Newton when Murray was being recruiting by Florida, where Newton started his career.
"He's a nice kid. He was really nice to me every time I went up there," Murray said. "He met me, he met my father, my parents when they were up on the visit with me. Every time I met him, he was real nice and a pretty cool guy."
The one player who knows what Newton is going through is star receiver A.J. Green. The junior was suspended the first four games of this season by the NCAA, and he reiterated earlier comments that he sympathized with Newton's plight.
"I don't even think it's true," Green said. "I just think he's doing so well, and somebody's trying to haul him back. But I hope it's not true. He's a great player."
Georgia's defense is having to concoct a way to stop Newton. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said the team was spending more time this week talking about trying to bring down the 6-foot-6, 250-pound quarterback. Grantham compared Newton to Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in his ability to elude tacklers despite his size.
But the comparison that was most often mentioned was former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow. Richt cracked that "just when you thought Tebow had left, he comes back wearing another jersey."
Unless the NCAA acts before Friday, Newton's playing status will not be an issue.
Murray said that suited him just fine.
"Personally, I want to play them when they're at full strength," he said. "Because I feel we have a tremendous team. This entire year we've had a chance to win every game we've lost. We've lost every game by an average of seven points, I think. Every game, we've been in there. Change 10 or 15 plays, and we could be 10-0 right now. We feel like we could compete with any team in the nation, and we want to prove it."