The first puzzled face matches the last.
Ask Kansas State football players to compare Curry Sexton to another receiver, and you will encounter silence.
Defensive back Morgan Burns ponders the question for 10 seconds and gives up. No one comes to mind, he says. Quarterback Jake Waters shrugs and names NFL receivers Wes Welker and Julian Edelman as ballpark matches, but admits “they are different players.” Even Sexton, himself, seems unable to provide an answer, saying he has never modeled his playing style after a particular player.
Finally, Tyler Lockett thinks he knows the perfect comparison: Mitch Running, a former K-State receiver that piled up 1,821 yards alongside Lockett’s father in the 1990s.
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Perhaps it is a valid match. Perhaps it is not. Point is, Sexton has unique skills. The 5-foot-11, 183-pound Abilene native isn’t blessed with overpowering size or speed, and he long ago gave up on the dream of playing in the NFL, but he is intelligent enough and persistent enough to routinely find open space and catch passes like a sure-handed pro.
As a senior, Sexton has notched 40 catches for 450 yards and two touchdowns, emerging as K-State’s clear No. 2 receiver behind Lockett. His highlights include 11 catches for 121 yards against Auburn and a leaping grab against Texas Tech that went down as the national play of the day, punctuating a game in which he had nine catches for 128 yards and two scores. Since arriving with little fanfare in 2011 — turning down appointments to Harvard, Columbia and Princeton to play for the team he grew up supporting — he has molded himself into a dependable target with big-play upside. On Saturday, he became the 28th member of K-State’s 1,000-yard receiving club.
He got there his own way.
“I don’t ever think I am going to beat my defender to the end zone,” Sexton said, “but I always think I am going to beat him to a spot and I am going to get open. No matter who I line up against, I am confident enough in my abilities to think whatever we run, I am going to beat this guy. Knowledge is huge for me. Knowing the defense, knowing their coverages, knowing how they are going to re-route you and knowing how to find holes in the zone … That’s what I do best. All that stuff goes back to intelligence. That’s very important to me.”
Sexton’s brain has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.
His teammates call him Google. His father, Ted, can’t remember a time Sexton wasn’t bombarding him with questions.
Specifically, he recalls a young Sexton accompanying him in his combine. While father harvested crops on the family farm, son asked about every lever and button inside the vehicle until he could drive it himself.
He was the same way with football. While others watched the quarterback, Sexton saw everything. He studied formations and memorized stats. He knew so much about the game by the age of 10 that his uncle, John Dorsey (the Kansas City Chiefs’ general manager), was hesitant to talk business around him. Every time he tried, Sexton made Dorsey feel silly.
“I will never forget the day Curry’s uncle, working as a head scout for the Green Bay Packers, said he liked a player from Florida State,” Ted Sexton said. “We were in the front yard at Curry’s grandparents’ house, and Curry starts rattling off everything there is to know about the player. John looked at him in amazement and said, ‘You know more about this kid than I do, and this is my job.’ He has always been a sponge, soaking up every bit of knowledge around him.”
No wonder he spent the summer interning under K-State athletic director John Currie, learning about the business side of athletics. No wonder he dreams of being a coach or a general manager.
That drive helps on the football field, where Sexton can take one look at a defense and accurately predict what it is going to do.
He shares an apartment with Waters, and they constantly study football. Together, they come up with contingency plans for future games. They want a Plan B for every Plan A. Their rapport is so strong that Waters doesn’t need to audible to change Sexton’s route. They look at a defense and simply know what to run.
“It helps with our chemistry and just knowing what we are going to do,” Sexton said. “There are certain times when things don’t work out the way we draw them up, but because we are on the same page, we still manage to make a play. That has happened plenty of times this year.”
K-State coaches saw that potential in Sexton.
“After Curry signed, Del Miller (K-State’s co-offensive coordinator) told me, ‘I don’t get a player like this very often, but it’s fun when I do,’” Ted Sexton said. “He loved the way Curry sees the whole defense and instantly knows where the holes are going to be. That was when he was 18. He knows so much more now.”
Some will say Sexton is a different player now than he was coming out of Abilene High. They will look at his statistics and the pressure he has taken off Lockett and say he is having a breakout year.
But Sexton doesn’t like that term. Yes, his catches are up and strangers notice him on campus, but Sexton has happily blocked and plugged away on special teams throughout his career. He remains happy today.
“I’m not big into that personal stuff,” Sexton said. “But it has been fun to see that all the hard work has paid off and the progression over the years has gotten to the point where I am a contributor and an important part of the team.”
K-State coach Bill Snyder doesn’t see a changed player, either. He recruited Sexton because he was a smart player with good hands and a strong work ethic. Same as now.
“He is just kind of better at it,” Snyder said, “… I don’t think he is dramatically different other than that he is better at each one of those skills.”
So what changed? Perhaps the answer lies in the leadership department. Though Sexton is not a captain, his recent surge has made him one of the most respected players in the locker room. When he speaks, others listen.
“He is just so reliable,” Burns said. “I don’t think I have ever seen him drop a ball.”
“His best asset is being dependable,” Lockett added. “He understands what he has to do and where has to be. He is always there.”
He got there his own way.