Auburn football's TJ Finley got a call from Cam Newton. What they discussed 'came to fruition'
AUBURN — The first time Cam Newton called, quarterback T.J. Finley didn't recognize the number. The area code was enough to convince him to pick up the phone.
Newton, Auburn's 2010 Heisman Trophy winner and national champion, was calling to congratulate Finley after a clutch performance off the bench against Georgia State. They had met at a 7-on-7 event when Finley was a high schooler committed to LSU — "I think I was already taller than him, so I stood out above everybody; he came and introduced himself to me," Finley said — but they had no connection at that point.
"When he called me, it was an Atlanta number, so I answered and picked up and it was him," Finley said. "I was like, 'Wow, I can’t believe this is happening.'"
They talked again a few weeks later and had a devotional. Little did Finley know at the time that he would be Auburn's starting quarterback for the final two weeks of the season due to a Bo Nix injury. Newton had already become a role model to the Auburn backup.
"I don't want to say the things that he told me, but there was a lot of stuff that we talked about," Finley said. "I know I could get emotional about it right now because the things we talked about came to fruition."
Newton reflects just some of the resounding support Finley has received this week as he prepares to start for Auburn (6-4, 3-3 SEC) at South Carolina (5-5, 2-5) on Saturday (6 p.m., ESPN). The LSU transfer was candid Wednesday about suddenly taking on a role in which he is expected to lead the offense through the end of the season.
"I’ve been doing my best to be a leader since I got here," Finley said. "I know I’m young. I’m only 19 years old, but when people see you doing the right thing, they want to follow you. So I’ve been focusing on that, and those guys have been rallying behind me this week. And they’re supporting me as we go throughout this stage of not having our starting quarterback. They’re helping me, they’re lifting me up, giving me confidence and things of the nature."
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There's no lack of respect for Finley from the other side: South Carolina coach Shane Beamer called the quarterback's arm "a rocket" Wednesday. Finley made his college debut against South Carolina last season (against a different coaching staff) and completed 17 of 21 passes in an LSU win.
"The size and the arm strength (stand out)," Beamer said. "If there's a quarterback in the country with a stronger arm than this guy, I'd like to see it."
Finley pointed out that South Carolina likes to play a lot of physical man coverage on the outside, and that the Gamecocks aren't afraid to send pressure. There might be more of that Saturday as South Carolina hopes to rattle a first-time Tigers starter. Auburn center Nick Brahms said the offense hasn't had any issues adjusting to Finley under center, though, because his rhythm and cadence are similar to Nix's.
"He claps loud; he's got big hands," Brahms said of the 6-foot-7 quarterback. "He can clap pretty loud. So should be good there."
For Finley, that confidence as a sudden leader was aided by Newton's guidance.
"He’s one of the most inspirational people in my life," Finley said. "I have looked up to him since I was a little kid. To say that he’s reached out to me as a little brother and is helping me throughout my path of college football, it means a lot to me."