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Music for the Mind: Panthers quarterback Cam Newton tunes in

Newton grew up singing in church and at a school choir in Atlanta, and music now motivates him through workouts and games.

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Cam Newton has a Heisman Trophy, an NFL MVP award, multiple Pro Bowl appearances and just led his team to Super Bowl 50. But there’s one more bauble he wants. “If there was an award for singing in a vehicle, I would probably win, if I say so myself,” Newton declares. “I mean, if you could hear me in the car ...”

Newton, 26, is a massive music fan, tracing to his days singing in church and the school choir in Atlanta. On a recent Sunday, Newton has just left services and his vocal chords are warm enough to launch into a rendition of Calvin Harris’s 2011 hit, “Feel So Close,” with a sweetness that belies his 6'5", 250-pound frame.

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“It’s like a force field,’” croons Newton, quoting the song. Then he added, “I’m always trying to find what artists are really saying. It’s great to be challenged by artists, figuring out what the artist meant by something that they said. You can tell the mood the artist was in while doing a certain album. That’s something I love about music.”

Newton’s own moods dictate what he listens to, and his life has a soundtrack from the moment he wakes to the moment he falls asleep to a mix of white noise and raindrops. (“Stuff that makes you feel like you’re floating in a galaxy,” as he says.) Music plays a huge role on game day and training day. “There’s a song for every situation,” Newton says. “Going to the stadium, I listen to gospel. It’s my calm before the storm.” For the pregame hours, Newton creates a playlist for each stage of preparation, usually uptempo, upbeat songs meant to get his adrenaline going. “I go from playlist to playlist,” he says, “and each time get in a different mode and feel completely different.”

Newton’s wide musical appetite includes hip-hop, country, techno, ambient, rock and pop, and the music doesn’t stop once Newton takes the field; he even programs the in-game soundtrack. “I’ll say you need to play this song, or this is a hot song the players are liking,” says Newton. “Over the years I’ve had more responsibility, inspiring the DJ to play more of my music. When we’re on the field, we’re not deaf to the music the crowd hears—we hear everything.”

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Studies show that music can have a significant impact on physical training, helping to motivate performance and to ease pain. So it’s no surprise that Newton does his weightlifting with headphones on, listening to a playlist timed to his workout. “I’m all about having a musical drive that’s going to keep me going and keep me from realizing, Man, I’m tired!” says Newton. “I feel the rhythm and the beat. It inspires me when I train.”

Indeed, finding inspiration plays a big part in Newton’s musical choices. He draws a direct line from the artists he appreciates to his performance in the gym and on the field. “I’m a fan of greatness,” says Newton, “If you’re playing football, or if you’re rapping—If you’re great at it, I draw inspiration from what you do.”