Early in his career at Florida State, quarterback Wyatt Sexton distinguished himself as a lot of things: a whip-smart student (he has a 3.7 GPA as a communication major), accomplished musician (on the piano and the guitar) and lifelong Seminoles fan (his father, Billy, is in his 28th season as a Florida State assistant). But the Seminoles' next great quarterback? "I really didn't see anything in practice to lead me to believe that," says coach Bobby Bowden.
Thrust into a starting role when starter Chris Rix went down with a sprained right ankle against Clemson on Sept. 25, the lanky, perpetually laid-back Sexton is quickly turning Bowden into a believer. The 6'3", 206-pound sophomore continued his steady play in last Saturday's 36--3 rout of No. 6 Virginia, earning his fourth straight win as well as a firm upper hand on the starting job. Although Rix had been cleared to play, Sexton's solid performance (20 of 26 for 275 yards and a touchdown) relegated the fifth-year senior to mopup duty against the Cavaliers.
"I couldn't ask for a better outing from Wyatt," said Bowden afterward. "He's gotten better every game. It's kind of too good to be true right now."
As recently as two months ago, few would have imagined that Sexton could outshine Rix this fall. While Rix entered the season needing just 2,315 yards to eclipse Chris Weinke as Florida State's alltime leading passer and had looked good in off-season scrimmages, his understudy had turned in what he describes as a "horrible" spring practice and wasn't much better in preseason camp. Sexton's easygoing attitude during practices, which he says he developed to counter anxiety during his junior season at Tallahassee's Leon High, was often perceived as a lack of intensity. Still, when Rix limped off the field in the first quarter against Clemson, coaches had little choice but to put their faith in the inexperienced sophomore. To their surprise, Sexton looked like a completely different player and flourished under pressure. The Seminoles trailed 7--3 when Sexton entered the game, and he led them to a 41--22 victory, connecting with senior wideout Chauncey Stovall on a 47-yard touchdown strike in the third quarter-- Florida State's first passing touchdown of the season. He finished 17 of 26, with no interceptions, and was similarly efficient in subsequent wins over North Carolina and Syracuse. Sexton's .661 completion percentage is not only better than Rix's (.515) but also better than that of any other sophomore quarterback in Florida State history.
The Virginia game, however, was Sexton's coming-out party. In front of the second-largest crowd ever at Doak Campbell Stadium (84,155), Sexton responded when Seminoles offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden--whose game plans had become conservative with the mistake-prone Rix at quarterback--sprinkled in some deeper throws. Sexton spread the ball around to 11 receivers and didn't commit a turnover. Thanks to an offensive line that reduced the Cavaliers' dangerous pass rush to a distant distraction and a defense that limited Virginia's rushing attack (ranked fifth in the nation, with 275.0 yards per game) to just 20 yards, Florida State turned in the dominating performance it had been looking for since a season-opening loss to Miami. "I'm doin' all right," said Sexton afterward, his face slowly stretching into a grin. "I was relaxed today because I've been coming to games in this stadium my whole life."
For the Seminoles this attitude has had only positive effects. When Sexton enters the huddle, he'll often deliver the play call in the voice of one of the coaches, which earns him laughs as well as confidence. "When a guy's just hanging out and dishing it out and not making bad decisions," says sophomore tailback Lorenzo Booker, "that can't help but relax the rest of us."