INDIANAPOLIS -- Saturday at the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine was all about star power.
A handful of players expected to litter the top of teams' draft boards stepped to the podium, including Cam Newton, Da'Quan Bowers, Von Miller, Robert Quinn, Julio Jones, Marvin Austin and Marcell Dareus.
The biggest crowd of the day -- by far -- was for the Auburn signal caller Newton.
The 2010 Heisman Trophy winner, who led the Tigers to a National Championship, captivated the audience for the better part of 13 minutes. Reporters did their best to get his attention and get a question in, with the majority of folks wanting to know how the last year has been for him and how he has handled the highs of winning and the lows of NCAA scrutiny.
But before any questions were answered, Newton started his session with a statement addressing comments he made about being an "entertainer" and an "icon."
"First and foremost I understand that my obligation is to be the best possible football player that I can be," a humbled Newton said. "The recent comments were made during my recent endorsement partnership. I was making the point that I want to be the best possible ambassador for them, just like I want to be the best possible ambassador for whatever team I am lucky enough to play for."
The process to play on the next level starts at the combine and Newton said that and his competitive nature are the reasons why he is participating in all the drills.
"I'm a competitor," Newton said. "That's what I do. For anybody to know me, they know I like to compete. That's why I'm going to participate in all the activities tomorrow. Also, our Pro Day for Auburn is March 8. I will be participating in that also.
"Football is my No. 1 priority. I want to make that perfectly clear. But I'm just going to go into wherever organization that I'm picked up. I'm going to be lucky, I'm going to be happy because this is a dream that I've always envisioned myself doing. But at the same time, (the combine) is something I am looking forward to."
To watch Newton's entire session, click here.
OVERCOMING THE ODDS
Robert Quinn wasn't supposed to ever play sports again.
In fact, doctors told him he should have been brain dead.
In October of his senior year of high school, Quinn was walking into the bathroom to get ready for work when he had his third blackout spell of the past few months.
"That was the final straw for my parents," the defensive end said. "An hour or two later, I found out I had a brain tumor."
As he laid in the ambulance, he said he broke into tears along with his mother when the EMTs told him the "heartbreaking" news that his football career was most likely over.
"But it didn't slow me down," he said. "Four years later, I'm still going strong."
While it was certainly the biggest hurdle in Quinn's way on his road to the NFL, it's not the only adversity he faced.
His college career at the University of North Carolina ended prematurely after he was suspended for the 2010 season due to NCAA violations.
Despite that fact, Quinn put up impressive numbers in his first two years with the Tar Heels. He took over as a starter in the second game of his freshman year and never looked back. In his sophomore campaign, he earned First Team All-ACC honors and was named Second-Team All-America by CBSSports.com. He ranked first in the conference with 19 tackles for losses and was 16th in the nation in sacks with 11.
He said the suspension made him a more mature person, and he is careful to watch the people he surrounds himself with. And he doesn't believe missing a year will hurt him in his quest to get drafted by an NFL team.
"I think I've got pretty good football skills, and I don't think you can ever lose those unless you sit down and really do nothing," he said.
And that's certainly not what he did. As he finished out the semester at UNC, he continued to work out by himself, heading to a weight room in the university's indoor track for hours on end.
This October it will have been five years since his successful brain surgery, and the 6-foot-4, 265-pound lineman said he hasn't had a headache since the operation. He gets a checkup every six months, and doesn't believe it will cause him any trouble as he makes the transition to the professional ranks.
In the meantime, Quinn hopes to impress in what amounts to an NFL job interview. His Tar Heel teammate, quarterback T.J. Yates, said he expects the "extremely special talent" to open plenty of eyes this week.
"He's got measurables that are going to blow a lot of people away at the combine," Yates said. "He's going to test extremely well, wow everybody with his athleticism."
Quinn believes it's not out of the realm of possibility that those measurables along with his college tape could help him get picked as high as No. 1 overall.
"That's what I strive for," he said. "I'm here to compete, and hopefully if I compete well enough and perform well enough I can maybe jump up that high. I'm just here to compete and have fun. I guess on April 28, I'll let the drafters do their drafting."
One of the top defensive prospects at the combine this year, Quinn hesitates to compare himself to any current NFL players. He would rather make his own mark.
"People always tell me I'll maybe be the next Julius Peppers or DeMarcus Ware, but I always tell them, 'Why do I have to be the second of somebody else? Why can't I be the first Robert Quinn?'" he said. "I guess that's my mindset. But I guess being competitive ain't so bad."
Juniors who declare for the draft do so for different reasons. For some, their draft stock is skyrocketing and the wise move is to maximize their value. For others, family situations dictate that becoming a professional makes fiscal sense.
For Alabama defensive lineman Dareus, both situations are true.
Following a breakout sophomore campaign that culminated in an MVP performance in the BCS National Championship Game against Texas, all eyes were on Dareus as a junior. And he didn't disappoint, grabbing 11 tackles for a loss and 4 1/2 sacks on the way to being named All-SEC Football First Team despite drawing double teams on almost every play from opposing offenses.
"Playing with coach (Nick) Saban and playing a pro style defense, I'm ready for the league," Dareus said. "We did all the plays the NFL teams would do and did a lot of things that came with it -- a lot of stunts, a lot of things we had to learn, a lot of coverages and calls. I'm ready for all that, the training, all the way around."
But that wasn't the only reason Dareus declared following the 2010 season.
The second youngest of seven kids, Dareus' father passed away when he was young, forcing his mom to raise six boys and a girl on her own. Last Spring, his mom passed away and Dareus knew it was his turn to become the family provider.
"That's one of the reasons I wanted to come out, to really help my family," Dareus said. "We're all struggling in certain ways. It will be a big benefit to help my brothers and sisters to the point we can do something in life.
"We're real close. There's seven of us and my mom passed last May, so we really had to get tight. My oldest brother lives in California, he took my little brother out there so he could finish his high school diploma. We just tried to stay together and not lose contact with each other, stay on top of loving each other and being around each other, spend as much time as we can."
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
"If you see my film, I'm hitting people. I'm laying people out. There's sort of a switch. I still got the smile on, but it's all for a different motive. It will put the biggest smile on me to hit a quarterback and hear the wind come out of his chest. That pleases me the most."
-California defensive lineman Cameron Jordan, on how his happy demeanor off the field transfers to football games