June 21, 2005
TALLAHASSEE -- Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden didn't look at quarterback Wyatt Sexton as the answer to all of the Seminoles' problems. He did, however, like the fact that FSU likely would have a seasoned redshirt junior -- like Casey Weldon, Charlie Ward, Danny Kanell and Thad Busby -- back behind center entering the Sept. 5 season opener against Miami.
After four seasons of inconsistent, often erratic play at quarterback from Chris Rix, the cerebral Sexton -- an honors student and son of long-time FSU assistant Billy Sexton -- appeared the perfect fit to bridge the gap until either Xavier Lee or Drew Weatherford was ready for action. Though he hardly sparkled in the spring, when the Seminoles began to tweak their offense, Sexton had the benefit of a 5-2 record as a starter last season. That fact certainly helped him to retain the No. 1 spot heading into the summer.
Now Bowden and the Seminoles are back in the same position they faced in 2001. They'll likely head into the season with a redshirt freshman (Lee or Weatherford) starting under center.
FSU's prospects for a championship run took a hit before Sexton ended up hospitalized for an undisclosed health issue following a bizarre incident that led police to take him into custody under the Baker Act. Tallahassee police found Sexton shirtless and shoe-less, face down in the middle of a residential intersection. At various times, he identified himself as "God" and "Son of God" to authorities.
Sexton had just returned from a weekend music festival in Tennessee, where he had been partying with friends. Given his reputation, many suspected that Sexton's episode could have been drug-related. That suspicion was further heightened when FSU released that he had been suspended indefinitely on June 3 by Bowden for a "violation of team rules." That phrase is a common euphemism used by schools to protect an athlete's privacy for failing a drug test, or for failing to appear for one.
Several media outlets, including ESPN, reported that Sexton had failed to show up for a mandatory drug test. That can be interpreted as the equivalent of a positive test result.
Bowden was vacationing out of town at the time of the incident, and he has yet to comment on the situation publicly. Billy Sexton issued a release saying that doctors had told the family that his son's problems were not the result of drug abuse.
Sexton still was receiving medical treatment at an undisclosed facility days after the June 13 incident, and it now seems unlikely that he will be in position to reclaim the job he held onto tenuously through the spring.
While Sexton's health is clearly the focus of the family's attention, Bowden and his staff now face a dilemma. Do they proceed with the plan to spread the offense and utilize the short-to-medium passing game as their primary mode of operation? Or do they do what they've almost always done with a new starting quarterback, reel him in while putting more focus on the running game?
With tailbacks Leon Washington and Lorenzo Booker returning as one of the nation's top tandems, the latter would seem the most logical approach. However, the Seminoles are hardly stout on the offensive line, where three new starters will line up this fall. Furthermore, their predictability over the past few seasons, as they tried to reduce Rix's many mistakes, made it easy for teams to defend them.
Do they go with Lee, who is capable of making the big plays with his mobility and arm strength? Do they turn to Weatherford, an impressive physical specimen who was ahead of Lee on the depth chart last season but is recovering from May ankle surgery?
Those are very good questions. Bowden seems to have a lot of those these days.
Defense Taking Offseason Blows
FSU's potential problems actually began before Sexton's episode, with the news that junior defensive tackle Clifton Dickson, a dominant force throughout the spring and the heir apparent to first-round draft pick Travis Johnson, was declared academically ineligible.
Touted as a preseason All-ACC candidate, Dickson will try to regain his eligibility at Tallahassee Community College and re-enroll in January. Of course, even that will be too late to help a 2005 team that already has taken significant hits at that position.
Senior Brodrick Bunkley, FSU's most experienced interior lineman, is battling academic issues and the rehabilitation of a surgically repaired ankle. His status heading toward July remained unresolved.
That could leave sophomore Andre Fluellen as the most likely starter at one of the two inside spots, where he will be joined by freshmen Aaron Jones and Emmanuel Dunbar.
With 2005 signee Callahan Bright not qualifying, and sophomore Chris Bradwell dismissed from school this spring, the Seminoles are as thin as they have ever been at the position. So much so that Letroy Guion, a non-qualifier out of high school in 2004, was signed on June 19. Guion, however, still must upgrade his academic credentials to qualify.
The Seminoles also will be without defensive end signee Justin Mincey, a non-qualifier from Georgia who figured into the team's plans for this season.
To make matters worse, senior linebacker A.J. Nicholson was arrested for a second time in four months recently, this time for resisting arrest without violence following his eviction from a Tallahassee club for unruly behavior. That came just four months after receiving a DUI, a charge that was nearly resolved (with the charges reduced) prior to his recent run-in.
It's unlikely that Nicholson, the team's top returning tackler, can avoid Bowden-imposed penalties, possibly including a suspension for the all-important opener against Miami.
Johnson Contemplating Transfer
When sophomore basketball guard Von Wafer signed with an agent, despite very little (if any) interest from NBA teams, he effectively ended his Florida State career. Wafer's illogical departure, which was not even slightly disappointing to most of those close to the program for previously discussed reasons, apparently won't be the only surprise this summer.
Sophomore forward Alexander Johnson, another problem child whose controversial nature dates back to his prep career, quietly appears to be headed for a transfer. Johnson, reportedly unhappy about his playing time (even though he's started nearly every game over the past two seasons), was weighing his options at the end of the first summer semester.
FSU coach Leonard Hamilton likely will not stand in Johnson's way, in part because the big man has underachieved on the floor and lacked the mental toughness to push himself to improve. As with Wafer, talent definitely is not the problem.
The program previously had hung its hat on Wafer and Johnson, two key parts of one of the nation's most highly touted signing classes just three years ago.