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Ypsilanti – Mathew Sexton desperately wanted to play college football, so he went to 20 camps in a single month prior to his senior year at Clinton High School in hopes of catching the eye of a coach who might give him a scholarship offer.

Sexton received that offer, from a member of Eastern Michigan’s coaching staff, in late June 2015. He was an EMU commit two weeks later, then helped Clinton reach the Division 6 state championship game at Ford Field, rushing for 2,392 yards and 35 TDs his senior season.

While Sexton had an outstanding prep career as a running back, EMU wanted him for his route running and great hands.

Sexton has been an impact player for EMU, grabbing a 75-yard TD catch in last year’s thrilling 20-19 win at Purdue, giving the Eagles their second victory over a Big Ten opponent in as many years. They defeated Rutgers 16-13 in 2017; they had been 0-58 against Power Five opponents.

The Eagles can earn a third win over a Big Ten opponent when they play at Illinois Sept. 14, but it is a Mid-American West Division title and a shot at the MAC championship that Sexton desperately wants.

You see, Sexton was a part of the EMU team that ended the program’s 20-year run of consecutive non-winning seasons when he helped the Eagles earn a 7-6 record and bowl bid his freshman year in 2016.

Sexton said he wanted to help coach Chris Creighton change the football culture at EMU.

“It’s been a progression that we’ve had the last few years,” Sexton said.

The Eagles were 7-6 again last season, with another bowl trip.

Sexton knows that if the Eagles can turn their close losses of a year ago into wins this season, that MAC championship season could become reality. They lost three MAC games by seven points or less, including an 26-23 triple-OT loss to Northern Illinois, last year’s conference champion.

“If we would have beaten NIU (Northern Illinois) last year we would have been in the MAC championship game,” he said. “It’s just games like that we need to capitalize on, and we’re working hard to do it.”

If EMU would have converted on its field-goal try in the second OT, after recovering a Northern Illinois fumble, the Eagles would have finished the season with a 6-2 MAC West record and Northern Illinois would have finished at 5-3.

Sexton is proud to be a part of a receiving group that features several talented athletes, including senior Arthur Jackson (46 receptions, 592 yards, five TDs), Line Latu (22 receptions, 372 yards, three TDs) and sophomore Dylan Drummond (25 receptions, 245 yards).

“I love it here – the speed and the tempo is so much faster and I love that feeling,” said Sexton, who runs a 4.45 40. “We’ll be moving around a bit. I’ll be all over the place this year. I’d say the deep ball is my best route. If I get a free release I’m running fast and that’s tough to stop because I’m moving quick.”

Sexton had 26 receptions for 357 yards and two TDs his sophomore year, then 27 catches for 419 yards and three TDs last season.

“I want to produce more than last year, like receiving yards, yards after catch, lower drops,” he said. “As a team, end goal for everybody is to win the MAC championship. I just want to win.”

Sexton thinks the Eagles will be explosive offensively with quarterback Mike Glass III running the show. Glass shared duties last season with Tyler Wiegers, throwing for 1,024 yards and nine TDs while ranking second in the MAC in passing efficiency (158.7).

“I’m looking for him to come in and play a full game, because he can really throw the ball, so I’m excited for that,” said Sexton of Glass. “He’s good on his feet. Mike can run the ball and throw the ball. He can throw a mean deep ball, just really let it loose.”

“He’s sitting in the pocket really well this year, throughout camp, just really trusting the O-line. It’s going to be fun to watch him play full-time.”

In the bowl game loss to Georgia Southern, Glass completed 17-of-25 for 204 yards and three TDs.

Sexton and the Eagles will play their first three games on the road, and while the opener at Coastal Carolina Aug. 31 will be an important one, he can’t wait to experience the atmosphere in the Week 2 game at Kentucky Sept. 7.

“Kentucky my sophomore year was a blast, a good atmosphere, just real loud and I love games like that,” said Sexton of EMU’s 24-20 loss at Kentucky in 2017. “The Illinois game will probably be the same way, so I’m excited for both of those games.”

Eastern Michigan

Coach: Chris Creighton, sixth year, 22-40 (13-27 MAC)

Outlook: Creighton has set a solid foundation where the Eagles are now capable of contending for the MAC championship. They return 13 starters from last year’s team, which produced the program’s second winning season in the last three years. Mike Glass will be one of the most exciting quarterbacks in the conference. The Eagles have the top secondary in the MAC in seniors Kevin McGill, Vince Calhoun, Brody Hoying and Jalen Phelps, along with junior Freddie McGee II.

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