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Strelow column: Sexton received plenty of support in debut

RALEIGH ó Cam Sexton awoke from a morning nap as Catawba’s team bus, rolling east on Interstate 40, passed the Highway 54 exit in Chapel Hill. N.C. State’s Carter-Finley Stadium came into view shortly after the bus merged onto Wade Avenue.
Sexton turned on his “game-day iPod” and listened to some of the same songs that comforted him during his time as a Division I quarterback at North Carolina. Included on the playlist:
“I’m Me” from Lil Wayne.
“Bittersweet Symphony” by The Verve.
“Time to Say Goodbye” with Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli.
The titles, coincidentally, shed some light on how Sexton ended up at Broughton High School for a Division II opener Saturday afternoon. He threw for 336 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in his first game with Catawba, which won 25-7 against St. Augustine’s.
Sexton took a few moments to reflect on his college career during the road trip to Raleigh.
“It’s like, here I am again, I’m on a bus, I feel like it’s all the same memories,” Sexton said. “Especially when you hear music, it reminds you of things.
“Then we pass Carter-Finley. I’m thinking, ‘Who has a better job in the world.’ I’m playing football and having a blast. I couldn’t be more excited. If I stayed at Carolina, maybe I didn’t play, and I’m out here playing.”
Sexton, heavily recruited out of Scotland County High School, persevered through an unyielding run of ups and downs at North Carolina.
He started six games last season as a redshirt junior before T.J. Yates regained the first-team position, and Sexton opted to use his final year of eligibility elsewhere.
Officially a graduate student at Catawba, he had plenty of backers in the visiting bleachers at Broughton.
About a dozen former UNC football teammates, including Yates, were among the crowd of approximately 2,500 fans. Marcus Ginyard, Deon Thompson and Marc Campbell ó all current or former North Carolina basketball players ó sat in the stands behind Catawba’s sideline. Even UNC football coach Butch Davis’ teenage son Drew was in attendance.
Sexton admitted that the show of support made him emotional.
“For me it means everything,” he said. “It hasn’t always been easy, but they’ve always been there 100 percent. It’s never been anything but positive from them. I look around and I’ve got 50 of my best friends standing here. That’s what makes it worthwhile because they’re there when nobody else is.”
Campbell, sporting a No. 11 road jersey from Sexton’s years at UNC, showed up with Thompson well before the 1:30 p.m. kickoff.
Ginyard wore a white T-shirt with the phrase “SEXTON SELLS” in Carolina blue. Russell Dean, Sexton’s roommate in Chapel Hill, hatched the idea to have shirts printed a few years ago.
“We’re just happy for him and are out here trying to support him the best we can,” Ginyard said. “I’ve gotten a good amount of compliments on the shirt.”
The late Darris Morris played in No. 11 as a Catawba linebacker and Sexton switched to the No. 12 his younger sister Caroline, now a freshman at North Carolina, wore in high school soccer. The digits combine the UNC jersey numbers of Ginyard (1) and Campbell (2).
Ginyard greeted Sexton with a hug as other well-wishers encircled them following Saturday’s game.
“Everybody loves Cam,” Yates said. “Nobody wanted to see him go, but we’ll all support him in everything he does.
“Same old Cam. Still throws the ball very well.”
One of Yates’ strengths is an accurate deep ball, and Sexton often excelled at UNC when he threw on the run. Catawba wants him to act as more of a pocket passer.
Sexton struggled to perfect timing with his new receivers in the early going and eventually connected with Gerron Bryant for a 51-yard gain.
That play set up a 29-yard field goal, and Catawba took a 9-0 lead on Sexton’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Bunn.
“Once we got a little rhythm going and started seeing some flashes of what we have the potential to do, then it got fun,” Sexton said.
St. Aug’s intercepted Sexton in the second half and trailed 18-7 midway through the fourth quarter. Travis Landrum sprinted past the secondary and hauled in a 39-yard toss from Sexton for the clinching touchdown with 3:16 remaining.
Sexton, who had behaved in a subdued manner after his first touchdown, pumped his right fist toward Catawba’s bench and bumped shoulders with an airborne Bryant.
Sexton didn’t know what to anticipate heading into his Division II debut, but the final throw drew a standing ovation from the blue-clad section of Chapel Hill-based friends.
“I watched my high school team play before I got to high school; I watched Carolina play before I got there,” Sexton said. “I had never seen a D-II game, never played a D-II game. I honestly had no idea what to expect.
“I’m glad to get one under my belt because I wasn’t sure. It’s going to be a challenge. There’s challenges everywhere.”

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