FSU's Sexton lives out his dream

College football: Wyatt Sexton has wanted to play for the Seminoles since he was a kid. Now, he's their starting QB.

College Football

October 28, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Joy Sexton can remember her middle child and oldest son Wyatt dressing up for Halloween at age 3 wearing a Florida State football uniform. It certainly made sense, since her husband, Billy, was an assistant coach on Bobby Bowden's staff.

Wyatt's dream of actually playing for the Seminoles came later.

"As soon as I became intelligent enough to realize that my dad was a coach at a prestigious college, I knew I wanted to be a part of something special like that," Sexton said earlier this week.

And when did that Seminole moment occur?

"I kind of knew, even when I was in kindergarten," said Sexton, now 20 and in his third year at Florida State. "I always felt like I had natural ability, so as long as I worked hard, my dreams would come true."

Sexton will be dressed in a Florida State uniform -- a real one with his name and number on the back -- when the No. 5 Seminoles visit Byrd Stadium on Saturday to play Maryland.

The 6-foot-3, 206-pound redshirt sophomore took over at quarterback when senior and longtime starter Chris Rix, already on shaky ground because of his poor play earlier in the season, limped off the field with a badly sprained ankle late in the first quarter against Clemson a month ago.

What Sexton has done in leading the Seminoles to four straight victories has even surprised Bowden.

"I didn't expect him to be ready to play this year," Bowden said yesterday on the ACC's weekly teleconference. "I didn't see anything in spring training or in the preseason to show me that he could win games. When he gets into a game, he seems more focused than he does in practice."

Sexton's childhood that included never missing a regular-season home game and going to bowl games every year -- including the two national championship games the Seminoles won -- helped prepare him for his current role.

It certainly showed in his best performance -- against then-No. 6 Virginia, Sexton led Florida State to a 36-3 romp by completing 20 of 26 passes for 275 yards and a touchdown -- as well as get him over some of the rough spots in a sloppy 17-13 win at Syracuse on Oct. 9 and last week in a 20-17 comeback win over Wake Forest.

"I hadn't been in big games, I had been at big games, so I know that environment," said Sexton, who has completed 95 of 157 passes for 1,040 yards, throwing seven touchdowns while being intercepted four times. "I definitely feel that it's helped me stay calm out there when things have gotten a little rocky."

Said Bowden: "He's learning every day. So far he hasn't failed. When he's started bad, he ends up doing something good."

That happened last week against the Demon Deacons. After one of his passes was intercepted and returned for a touchdown, helping Wake Forest to a 14-3 halftime lead, Sexton threw two touchdown passes in the second half, including a 46-yarder to Dominic Robinson, to give the Seminoles a 17-14 lead.

"That throw to [Robinson] was special," Sexton said. "I had never experienced anything like that before."

Sexton had long since proved to his teammates that he belonged at Florida State. The No. 1-ranked high school quarterback in the state as a senior and a 4.0 student, Sexton was recruited by several schools. He visited North Carolina and Illinois as well as Florida State. He even got a phone call from Florida.

But because of his longstanding relationship with Bowden and the coaching staff, Sexton did have to show that he was more than the typical scholarship player when he arrived as a freshman.

"It was kind of a concern with some of the guys, but once I got out there on the practice field and started throwing the ball around, I erased most of the doubts in my teammates," Sexton said.

The relationships he built with former Seminoles, particularly former quarterback Chris Weinke, have certainly helped in his development.

"He's called me a number of times. He was actually in town for one of those weeks and spoke to me to during practice a couple of times," Sexton said of Weinke. "He just told me to take what the defense was giving me and let the game come to me and not to force anything."

Having been around the program so long, Sexton came away from the narrow win over Wake Forest feeling a bit wary of what was to come.

"Being a Florida State quarterback, if you don't play perfect throughout the entire game, you're going to get criticized," he said. "That's been something to adjust to, but I enjoy the challenge. I haven't received anything [in terms of heavy criticism] yet. I haven't played that bad."

There were times during the Wake Forest game that one Florida State fan in particular found the quarterback's play less than satisfactory.

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