August 16, 2006

Newton showing flashes of his old self

Last Saturday's scrimmage contained numerous moments to cherish but possibly none more so than when Syvelle Newton took a shotgun snap and ran 16 yards over the right side with the ball.

After being tackled, he quickly jumped to his feet as a way to show the estimated 4,500 fans in attendance he was okay.

For Newton it was a significant moment because the last time he had carried the ball at Williams-Brice Stadium he didn't get up and had to be carried off the field.

A torn Achilles tendon on a fourth quarter touchdown run against Vanderbilt forced Newton to miss the final five games of the 2005 season, and required nine months of rehabilitation.

Now he's back and ready to show Gamecock supporters he's prepared to return to the Syvelle Newton of old.

"The last time I went down it was after a great run where the whole stands were filled," Newton said. "I went down and couldn't get up. Now I feel like whenever I make a run or a good play I have to hop up and let (the fans) know I'm all right."

Newton's run produced one of the loudest cheers of the two-hour scrimmage. The crowd clearly understood the significance of the moment.

"It felt good to know the fans still appreciate me," Newton said. "I went down in front of them. Just to go back in and get a chance to be in front of them and show them that the hard work paid off and all the treatment and rehab over the summer was basically for them. I wanted to play one more season for the Gamecock fans."

On the following play after his 16-yard scamper, the offense crossed up the defense by giving the ball to Bobby Wallace for a nine-yard touchdown run.

"You could hear the whole defense saying watch the run, Syvelle was going to run the ball. That's what's it all about," Newton said. "Sometimes I'm back there as a decoy, sometimes I'm back there to show what I can do. I told coach I'm willing to do anything to help the team out."

Although he saw limited action in the scrimmage, trying to outfox live defenders marked another milestone in Newton's comeback.

"It felt great to get back into the swing of things," Newton said. "I wasn't nervous. I've been practicing the whole time. I'm been running all summer. I just wanted the chance to put pads on and go out and show I can play football a little bit."

Newton has passed for 1,158 yards, rushed for 456 yards and caught 49 passes in his first three years in a Gamecock uniform after graduating from Marlboro County High School.

Newton - who said he currently weighs 215 pounds - has worked at multiple positions this fall, including wide receiver, running back and shotgun quarterback. In the last couple of 11-on-11 drills that the media was able to watch, Newton took several snaps at quarterback in the red zone.

"Coach told me he wanted me to be flexible this year, that he was going to use me in the same positions as the Vanderbilt game," Newton said. We got a little bit of that started today. We just put that (play) in."

The next step for Newton will be to throw a pass against a live defense. He acknowledges his throwing skills are a little rusty right now.

"I haven't really been working on throwing the ball so that will really be new to me," Newton said. "Coach has told me to get ready because you really can't be one dimensional back there or teams will just key on you running the ball."

Newton weighed about 230 pounds when he suffered the season-ending injury against Vanderbilt. Newton has lost 15 pounds during his rehab and plans to shed more weight.

"I've lost a lot of weight. I've slimmed down," Newton said. "I'm still trying to get slimmer. I'm trying to get down to 205. If I get down to 205 I feel I can make a lot more moves the way I did last year. I want to be quicker."

One of the most-often asked questions in fall camp has been how close Newton is to being 100 percent healthy. Right now, he's close but not quite there yet.

"I'm between 90 and 100 percent," Newton said. "Some days I feel below 90 (percent). But I'm really anxious to get back for the 2006 season. I'm willing to do anything to help this team compete strongly. As long as my teammates see I'm working hard, everything will be working smoothly and I'll be back in the groove of things."

With the foursome of Mike Davis, Cory Boyd, Bobby Wallace and Taylor Rank in place, Newton doesn't expect to see much action at running back.

"We've got four great running back this year that can go out and play," Newton said. "As long as we have those guys, there's no need for me to be in the backfield."

One position you won't see Newton at this season is defensive back. He flirted with the idea of moving over to the defense in the spring - and even attended several position meetings with the defensive backs - but is now committed 100 percent to the offense.

"That was something in the spring when I felt I wasn't going to be able to do the things I did last year on offense," Newton said. "So I thought about defense and thought it might be a good move. But as I went along in my rehab I saw I was able to do some things I did last year so I went back to offense."

If Newton is able to become the player he was last season, he will join Sidney Rice, Kenny McKinley, Davis, Boyd and quarterback Blake Mitchell as the cornerstones of a potentially high-scoring offense.

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