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The Howard football program is leaning on junior quarterback Caylin Newton to lead the Bison to the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title. It helps that Newton is part of a family that includes Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.
The Howard football program is leaning on junior quarterback Caylin Newton to lead the Bison to the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title. It helps that Newton is part of a family that includes Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. (Howard Athletics)

Near-anonymity suits Caylin Newton well.

Despite being the starting quarterback for the Howard football team and the reigning Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year, Newton said he can walk around the university’s Washington campus with little fanfare. Much of that, he said, has to do with the number of celebrities who have swung by the school.

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Former MTV VJ Alani Nicole “La La” Anthony (née Vázquez) led the 2017 Homecoming Parade, rapper Snoop Dogg paid a visit last fall and actor/director Jordan Peele made an appearance in March for a private screening of “Us.”

“I would say that I’m blessed to go to a school like Howard because who knows who will be walking on campus?” said Newton, the younger brother of Carolina Panthers star quarterback Cam Newton. “I feel like this campus is pretty much accustomed to people of higher profile and celebrity status walking on campus, and for me, I’m just like everybody else. … So little old me is not too much of a big deal.”

In football circles, however, Newton’s reputation precedes him. As a freshman in 2017, he racked up 2,432 passing yards, 753 rushing yards and 25 total touchdowns en route to being named MEAC Rookie of the Year. Last fall, he totaled 2,629 passing yards, 504 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns to become a finalist for the 2018 Black College Football Player of the Year Award.

Last month, the 21-year-old Newton was chosen by the MEAC as its Preseason Player of the Year, but the 6-foot, 195-pound junior downplayed the “best player” label.

“It means a lot to me to be the Preseason Player of the Year, but as far as calling myself the best player in the MEAC, I wouldn’t call myself that,” Newton said.

The Bison open their season Saturday at noon at Maryland, and Terps coach Mike Locksley called Newton “a dynamic player” who “extends plays with his feet.”

“He can make plays with his arm,” Locksley said. “Has a lot of experience. ... We’ve got to do a good job of containing him, making him win in the pocket. I also know they’ve got great skill across the board on offense and defense. It’s a great challenge for us going into Week 1.”

Many people have been referring to Newton according to his sibling relationship with older brother Cam. Aside from their shared surname and position though, the brothers are separated by nine years, five inches and 50 pounds.

Caylin Newton acknowledged that when he was younger, he chafed at the comparisons with his older brother.

“I feel like there was a time in my life when I guess I was caught up in the hype, when he won the Heisman and life was good — until the time when I was ready to move on from middle school to high school and try to create my own name,” he said. “To this day, I feel like I will be [better than Cam] at some point. We always compete at everything.

“But there was a time when I was about 10 or 11 and I would tell everybody, ‘Yeah, I can throw better than Cam. Yeah, I can do this.’ And then he won the Heisman, and then he was the No. 1 draft pick, and then he broke records in the NFL, and then he went to the Super Bowl. Then I was like, ‘OK, let me just put my head down and start working.’ ”

Whether it’s maturity or appreciation, Newton said he now understands why he is peppered about his brother.

“It’s a blessing,” he said. “It’s like a blueprint for success to see what he does and learn from his mistakes and to learn what works for him and to see why he is so successful and to just do it. We’re two different people, but to learn from him and have a good relationship from an NFL MVP and to have an MVP quarterback as my sibling, it doesn’t really get any better than that.”

Howard’s first-year head coach Ron Prince said he first heard of the younger Newton through Howard graduate Pep Hamilton when they were members of Michigan’s coaching staff last season. Prince, who was hired Dec. 10, said he has been impressed with Newton’s desire to learn.

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“He is a very bright, engaged young man who’s very interested in being successful,” Prince said. “He has a real ‘Coach me, Coach’ mentality and attitude with seeking instruction, and that was really positive because at that position, the head coach and the quarterback spend a lot of time together. So I was very excited that he was so open to instruction.”

Newton said he has leaned on Prince — who has worked with quarterbacks such as former Indianapolis Colt Peyton Manning, current Detroit Lion Matthew Stafford and former Kansas State Wildcat Josh Freeman — to improve his accuracy, timing and ball protection.

Newton said he’s more concerned with lowering the 17 interceptions he threw a year ago than celebrating his lofty numbers.

“Last year is last year,” he said. “I just want to learn from last year because at the end of the day, we went 4-6, which was middle of the pack. So all of our individual accolades and achievements and awards mean nothing. So going into this year, there’s just one goal, and that’s winning the championship and that’s taking each game at a time — starting off with Maryland.”

Arizona Cardinals offensive tackle Joshua Miles (Morgan State) and Indianapolis Colts linebacker Darius Leonard are just the latest examples of MEAC players who have graduated to the NFL, but Newton said taking that next step is not a priority right now.

Prince said the success of the New Orleans Saints’ 6-foot Drew Brees has opened scouts’ eyes about quarterbacks without prototypical size.

“He’ll have an opportunity to say that he’s made all the throws that folks at that level would like to see him make, and he’s played against good competition, and he’s played with good players, and he’s played in a system that people in the NFL can look at and recognize,” Prince said.

“In my opinion, really successful quarterbacks who can throw the ball and operate from the pocket always get evaluated. And then if you have some mobility and some success, I think that adds extra sets of eyes to your game, and I think he will look forward to the opportunity.”

The Bison are 30-point underdogs against the Terps, who will be eager to kick off the Locksley era with a win. But Howard, with Newton under center, was a 45-point underdog before upsetting UNLV, 43-40, in the 2017 season opener.

“Over the past couple years, FCS schools have been competing [with] and sometimes upsetting the FBS schools,” Newton said. “So it’s very much possible, and that’s the mindset on this campus right now.

"We’ll be going to College Park to compete and look to win. We’re not going there to be a warmup game or anything of that nature. We’re preparing for this game to win, and obviously, I’m pretty sure Maryland’s doing the same thing.”

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Baltimore Sun reporter Don Markus contributed to this article.

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