North Carolina quarterback Cameron Sexton says he'll never forget throwing the go-ahead touchdown pass to Brooks Foster at Miami last season or hurdling into the end zone for a touchdown against Notre Dame.
Those memories make his decision to spend his final year of eligibility playing at a yet-to-be-determined Division II school so bittersweet.
"I just want to compete, and I want to play, first and foremost," the redshirt junior from Laurinburg said Wednesday. "I felt like in order for me to do that, in order for me to get the best opportunity to do that, we felt like it was the best thing for me to graduate in May and go play somewhere else next year."
The mobile athlete was a part-time starter as a redshirt freshman under then-coach John Bunting. But as a sophomore under new coach Butch Davis, Sexton backed up T.J. Yates before falling to third-string behind Yates and Mike Paulus to begin the 2008 season.
But after Yates broke an ankle in a loss to Virginia Tech and Paulus was ineffective, Sexton came off the sideline to lead UNC to a comeback victory at Miami. The Tar Heels, who finished 8-5, went 5-2 with Sexton under center. But after he struggled during a loss at Maryland, Yates returned to the starting lineup Nov. 22 against N.C. State.
Sexton said the decision to reinsert Yates "was just a small piece of a much bigger puzzle" in his choice to leave UNC. The coaches tried to convince him to stay and told him there would be competition at the quarterback position, Sexton said.
"But I felt like, based on how things have gone, that maybe it was still best for me to go compete somewhere else," he said.
Sexton, who hopes to play professionally one day, said he has not begun the process of deciding where he will play next year. Under NCAA rules, a player with only one year of eligibility remaining cannot transfer to another Division I or I-AA school. He said he will go the Division II route and that Davis has offered to help.
"Cam was an inspiration to our football team for his perseverance and determination," Davis said in a prepared statement. "He gave everything he had to this program, and Carolina fans will always remember the highlights he provided in 2008 as he helped this program to a bowl game."
Sexton's decision to graduate leaves Carolina with little game experience behind Yates; Paulus has completed just four of 13 passes with two interceptions in his career. However, Sexton's departure does open up a much-needed scholarship slot for Davis, who has oral commitments from 27 players. That is two above the maximum number he can sign, and UNC does not have that many open scholarship spots.
In all, Sexton completed 94 of 168 pass attempts with nine touchdowns and six interceptions in 2008. He leaves Carolina after completing 152 of 305 attempts for 2,110 yards, 13 touchdowns and 14 interceptions for his career.
He said he has no regrets about choosing Carolina.
"This year was probably the best year of my life so far, to go out and finally achieve some of the things I set out to achieve, to play well -- especially to play well at home a couple of times in front of our fans," he said. "... This year meant a lot for me, and a lot of those moments, I'll never forget the rest of my life."
email@example.com or 919-829-8944