words & interview // Nick DePaula
as published in Sole Collector iPad Issue 15
When Under Armour signed Cam Newton during the summer of 2011, “it was a game changer,” UA Footwear Creative Director Dave Dombrow flatly and instantly says.
For many in the brand, the partnership with Cam not only made things official with the NFL's #1 draft pick fresh off of a national championship run with UA-sponsored powerhouse Auburn, but it also could allow them to enter new ground when it came to footwear, training and lifestyle.
They've never quite had anyone like Cam that could be the face of broad campaigns, and when it came time to begin the groundwork for his very first signature shoe, Dombrow and the team knew they could take advantage of a clean slate to try and move the brand to a new place.
For Newton's sake, he was just as excited to get the process underway, and as we found out during this exclusive interview, he made sure to be as hands-on on as possible during the year and a half timeline of working on his first shoe, the Cam Highlight Trainer.
Hear firsthand from Cam ahead as he talks about the colors and style he wanted to see in the shoe, along with the performance needs that his unique blend of size, power and speed demanded of the shoe.
You can check out the full Cam collection on UA.com.
Nick DePaula: What were some of your favorite memories from when you were at Auburn?
Cam Newton: Just the atmosphere man. Playing professional ball is kind of different, and from the collegiate spirit of the game and the nuances of it, the Tiger Walk, everything. The night before your game, having fans going crazy at your hotel, because we stayed at the same place every time and they knew where we were going to be. The fan support and the college atmosphere is just like no other. Especially being at a powerhouse like an Auburn, at a top tier Division 1 school. You get flashes of it in the NFL, but the NFL is different because you're playing with people that haven't played in college in fifteen years.
NDP: When you turned pro, what were some of the factors that made you want to sign with Under Armour?
CN: Honestly, and this has nothing to do with the product, it just had more to do with the people that are inside at Under Armour. Going through that process of who I was going to sign with, I felt like it was more of a family with the core guys that were at the top tier of Under Armour, and that made my decision very easy.
NDP: When you were at Auburn, you were the first guy to wear the CompFit sleeve and Highlight cleat. How big of a deal was that for you and what'd you like most about them?
CN: Oh yeah, that was a big deal. [laughs] Every person that has the swag or some type of pride about themselves, they want to be the only one to wear it. For me to be the first one to wear the CompFit sleeve, it was a big deal for me. Me wearing it in college and having the success that I did, just turning the leaf from there and then being able to wear it in the NFL has been great.
NDP: What'd you think when they first approached you about working on your own shoe, and what were some of the first things that you were looking for?
CN: I was blown away! When they brought it to my attention that we were going to go in this direction, I was just speechless. Why, cause I think back to when I was in grade school. The first day of school, you would go and look in the mirror and put your shoes on, and say, “Man, these are the so and so's!” You'd look at them and figure out how you were going to wear them and what not, and now, instead of people, or even myself, putting on another person's shoe, they're putting on my shoe.
The whole process of making the shoe, you know, I lived it firsthand. Of course, I was biting at the bit to say, “Man I want this and I want that.” Then, I was saying, “Well I want it to be a high-top, or maybe I want it to be a low-top, well actually, I don't know. Maybe I want it to be a mid.” [laughs] I really didn't know. [laughs] I wanted to work out in it, but I also wanted to wear it with jeans. It was so many ideas that were coming across, and honestly, for the first look, it really wasn't on me. There were a lot of guys that came to my house and sat down and asked me the things that I liked, things that were totally off topic to even making a shoe. They came and looked in my closet and saw the things that I liked, and they felt as if they could build a shoe around all of that.
NDP: And was there anything in particular in terms of materials or cushioning that you wanted?
CN: Well that was the thing, I really didn't know the verbiage of the shoes yet. They were asking me if I liked this or that, and the one thing was, I know that I like to wear a lot of low tops. I got a big foot, and I try to keep a fresh look with the low-tops. There was just so much being thrown at me, that I really wasn't prepared for everything being that this was the first one. They were asking me about materials, colors and everything, but luckily, there's a lot of guys that get paid to do just exactly that, and they all helped to make the whole process even easier for me.
NDP: What are some things that you really need in a shoe from a performance standpoint?
CN: Well, in my case, it's rather unique. I try to portray speed, but also just being big and fast as well. That's kind of different, because when I was playing and growing up, size forced me to wear what big guys wore. Well I didn't want to wear that, I wanted to wear speed cleats and I wanted to wear things that fast guys wore. Cause I consider myself fast, even though I wasn't fast then. [laughs] Being able to cut with so much force, some low cut shoes can't sustain that much force, and they tend to bend and get out of shape. I think they wanted to structure a shoe that tackles every sense of my body and having it be protective for any step, cut or wherever I go.
NDP: What's your day-to-day training like. What kinds of things are you doing in the shoe?
CN: Well, I really like to change things up. That's very important to me. If I know that every morning when I wake up, I'm going to do 100 situps, 30 pushups and run 4 miles right away every day, I wouldn't be juiced and eager to do that. By day four, I'd probably be lax about it. But I have a lot of guys family-wise that push me, and I have an unbelievable trainer that changes things up. It's always uptempo and gets my juices flowing and it's fun. When I work out, it's not something that's like, “Oh man, I gotta go work out.” It's more like, “Boom! Lets wake up, lets go work out!” Then, “Lets go work out again!” I know what the cause is for, and I see the light at the end of the tunnel. I know that light is not going to come if I just continue to stay in the same position, so I know I have to continue to get better.
NDP: What'd you think when you first put the shoe on and how does the Micro G platform feel?
CN: It's real good, and I have the shoe on right now. I was kind of curious to see, of course, “Am I going to like it? Is it going to feel good?” This is my first shoe, you know? [laughs] How's it going to feel on my feet, and I can go to sleep in 'em. I can literally go in bed, kick my feet up, and go to sleep. [laughs] They're very comfortable, and it does it even better justice knowing that I'm a guy 6'5” and 250 (pounds). On the charts, when you talk about what guys can wear and can't wear, I'm not supposed to be able to work out in these types of shoes. Well, they protect for every single circumstance that I'm training in.
NDP: The CompFit sleeve is something you've been wearing on your cleats, but what's it like to be wearing it while you're training.
CN: It's comfort. It's just straight comfort. When people see it, they ask, “Well is it an ankle brace? What is it?” I think it gives more support for the ankle, but it's more about just comfort too. It's very comfortable, and at the same time, it brings on an element of the shoe that's just different, and that people have not really seen yet.
NDP: You mentioned how it was important that you could train in these but also just wear them around. How do you usally rock them?
CN: Well, I'm a big casual person. [laughs] You may see me with some gym shorts on and the low-top shoe, or some jeans and a t-shirt with the highs. I think that's what makes it very unique. You can wear it on and off the field.
NDP: Were there any specific colors or themes you wanted to see on your first shoe?
CN: Oh yeah. Of course, with me being with the Carolina Panthers, that had to be the base shoe. You'll see the Carolina blue and black, and I'm a big fan of black. You can't go wrong with black. Also, just with my antics on the field, you'll see the “Superman” shoe come out, and that one is unbelievable with the mix of red, yellow and blue. Over time and in different seasons, we'll have different ones coming out, and that just gets me even more pumped up.
NDP: Being that it was your first shoe, just looking back on it now, what was that whole process like for you? How involved were you along the way, and what kinds of specific touches or things did you suggest along the way? I heard that the logo on the tongue was something that you called out so that you could see it when people wore the shoe with jeans.
CN: I think the team that went about getting my feedback and changing things on the shoe was very helpful and very productive. You hear so many stories about guys that have a shoe and they're not even really involved or aware of it all, but I was very hands on with everything that went into the shoe. Because at the end of the day, when it goes up in stores, it's not this person's shoe and it's not just an Under Armour shoe, it's Cam Newton's shoe. I wanted to put as much of my touch on the shoe as possible. With that logo on the tongue, I wanted that to be a little spice of mine.
NDP: What kind of feedback have you heard from teammates and people that've seen you wearing it?
CN: You know what, it's different. Last year with me being the first one to wear the Highlight, it caught a lot of guys off guard. They all said, “Man, what is that cleat? What do you got on? What are you wearing?” They saw the big UA logo on it and people noticed it, and as the year progressed, they started growing on everyone. Now, when you look at this season, everyone is wearing the UA Highlight boot. With my shoe, everyone is saying, “Man, that's different, but I like it.” It's gotta grow on people, but everyone likes it, and I love the shoe. I'm not just saying that because it is my shoe, but I am saying that cause it is my shoe, if you know what I mean. [laughs] I love it.
NDP: I'm sure you were focused on your game on that Sunday, but what was it like during the launch weekend in December when they dropped that first Saturday?
CN: You know what caught me off-guard. I knew it was coming out on the 8th, but the so real moment was when my cousin went to Foot Locker and he took a picture and sent it to me. He had both of the shoes on. He had the red one and the black one on, and he said, “Which one should I get?” Boom! I was just speechless, because here I am, and when people see you on TV so much, they forget that you're human as well. This is something that I've dreamed about and can only imagine for such a long time, and for it to finally come true, it's unbelievable. I just can't stop here though, and I've gotta continually progress.
NDP: So which one did your cousin get – red or black?
CN: Both of 'em! He better. [laughs] He better get both of them. He better support the movement. [laughs]