Caylin Newton isn’t your average freshman. The Howard quarterback has quickly turned into the big man on campus in the nation’s capital, and is the focal point of what’s being considered the rebirth of Howard football.
Led by Newton, the Bison (2-2, 1-0) pulled off a huge college football upset when they defeated UNLV 43-40 on opening weekend, despite being 45-point underdogs. Newton also has that famous older brother who plays down the road in Charlotte as the starting quarterback for the Carolina Panthers.
But when North Carolina Central (3-1, 2-0) takes on Howard on Saturday (1 pm, NCCUEaglePride.com), they will be worried about containing the younger Newton, who isn’t as big as his brother Cam – only 5’11, 195 pounds – but causes enough problems with his legs to remind Eagles’ head coach Jerry Mack of another headache he had to prepare for.
“It’s almost like defending Tarik Cohen playing quarterback,” Mack said.
Cohen is the former North Carolina A&T running back, who is the MEAC’s all-time leading rusher, now a rookie with the Chicago Bears. How, exactly, does the 5-6 Cohen, nicknamed by some as ‘The Human Joystick’ compare to Caylin Newton at quarterback?
“Very dynamic,” Mack said. “You never know exactly where Caylin’s going to be, he’s very creative, he can make plays with his legs, he can make plays with his arm. Right now he’s just the total package quarterback.”
Newton’s number’s back up that statement. The Atlanta native leads the MEAC in scoring (11 ppg) and touchdowns (7). He’s second in total offense (273.3) and rushing (388 yards) and fourth in passing, averaging 176.2 yards through the air.
He’s considerably smaller than his 6’5, 245 pound brother, who recently became the first NFL quarterback to rush for 50 touchdowns, but does pack a punch when he runs, according to Mack.
“That’s one thing you see with Caylin, he bounces off tackles a lot, he drops his shoulder, he delivers a blow,” Mack said. “A lot of times people think because you’re a little bit undersized you’re not going to have much fight or be as strong, but he is powerful. You have to wrap him up, you have to tackle him if you’re going to bring him down. Just delivering a blow or a hit is not going to be good enough.”
Drawing the assignment of imitating Newton in practice has been N.C. Central redshirt freshman Dominique Shoffner, who played quarterback at Middle Creek High School in Apex. Shoffner (6-0, 205) is a bit bigger than Newton, and is a powerful runner, according to Mack. That has given the Eagles’ defense a good idea of what to expect when they come up against the real thing.
Mack has his own freshman quarterback in Chauncey Caldwell (6-2, 225) who, like Newton, doesn’t mind making plays with his legs, but can get it done throwing the ball as well (third in the MEAC in passing efficiency). This first showdown between the rookie signal-callers could be the first of what might be a nice one-on-one rivalry game for the next three years. In fact, Newton was on Mack’s radar coming out of Grady High School.
“We evaluated him. We had already made a commitment to Chauncey Caldwell,” Mack said. “We could only take one, so we decided to take a local guy who we feel very confident about.”
Confidence, Mack said, has been the main ingredient in Mike London’s ability to breath new life into the Howard program. The former University of Virginia head coach has already created a buzz in D.C. since taking over at Howard. Along with Newton, the Bison are playing at a high level, and Mack realizes the Eagles, who have a five-game win streak over Howard, shouldn’t take this group lightly.
“Mike London has the guys playing with a lot of energy,” Mack said. “He’s changed the scheme on offense and defense which is a big thing, and he’s been able to add more guys to the roster who weren’t there last year. That’s the biggest thing along with the chemistry and energy going on, and they have momentum now. They upset UNLV, they were able to beat Bethune-Cookman, another perennial power in our league, if you can do that it’s all about confidence.”