September 5, 2008

Sexton likes being underestimated

Every so often, there is a player that seems to have been on campus since Teddy Roosevelt was charging up San Juan Hill.

There have been plenty of them in the Big 12. You know the guys. Jason White played in college for 34 years, for example. His backfield mate, Quentin Griffin, was around almost as long. Graham Harrell enters his 11th year of eligibility this season. Ell Roberson played at Kansas State back when no one new they had a program. And Oklahoma State fans can't forget Gabe Lindsay, who started play back in the mid-90s and has survived through three head coaches and two presidential administrations. And while Andre Sexton isn't quite to that point yet, he's in the fast lane to such status.

Don't believe it? Sexton has been with the program since 2005, when a preseason injury led to a redshirt year. And in the two seasons since then, the junior from Houston has started in 26 of a possible 27 games at Oklahoma State. And that's with the rest of this season and next to go.

Okay, so all that is a bit of an exaggeration. But the point here is that Sexton has been a part of the program for awhile now and is seen as one of the faces of the defense. This is a unit that has been much-maligned for years. But he says that's changing this season. And from what little proof we have so far, he could be onto something. Pitching a first-half shutout and allowing only 13 points against Washington State is definitely moving in the right direction for a unit which ranked 101st last year. Are these signs of actual hope and change or just gridiron platitudes?

"I definitely think we have a reason to be confident because we've built, from the bowl game through the spring, just continually tried to get better and not really worry about the buzz that we have changed, but we know we have changed," Sexton said. "And we're confident in that as a group, so we've been waiting for the opportunity to go out there and prove to the fans that we're a different defense. We're faster, more aggressive and ready to hit somebody."

But because of their reputation, the OSU defense doesn't really scare anybody - not even Perry High School. But that doesn't bother Sexton.

"Right now I'd love to be the snake in the grass," he said. "Everybody doubting us, not really taking us seriously. Then they come out there and see a totally different defense. 'Where did they come from? How are they stopping us?' It's the same people we've had here, it's just that everybody is more experienced and understands their role. As a group together, we're just totally different."

Besides an influx of new talent to that side of the ball, a mindset change between the ears of the returning players seems to be the most important change from last season. In the case of someone like Sexton, a player who immediately made an impact once he touched the field, it's just a matter of staying consistent. And being the experienced voice for others.

"I just continue to do what I've done since I've been here," he said. "Just try to lead by example and go play hard and practice hard and show the young guys what you have to do to try and be successful in this league. I think they've caught on really well and they understand now and everybody has bought into the program more what we're trying to do, so we'll be alright."

This year Sexton moves up a bit on the field. He takes over the hybrid linebacker/secondary position known as "star" that allows him to shift back and forth depending on the situation. He said he is used to the placing because of playing in nickel packages in the past, but enjoys knowing it's more permanent this season.

"It allows me to blitz more and I love blitzing," he said. "I love doing that and I feel comfortable doing that. I feel that the best way for me to help the defense is to put pressure on the quarterback and try to make tackles in the backfield.

"I think the position allows me a lot more freedom with a lot of things. I'm still a safety in a way but it's like a permanent move closer to linebacker. I mean, I think it's a great change for our defense as a whole."

The jury is still out if enough change was made. If the defense improves significantly, the verdict will be decided. And Sexton will have a lot to do with whatever improvement the Pokes see this season on defense.

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