Had he never played a down in the recent Football University All-American Bowl, Dante Sawyer still would have created a buzz with what he did off the field.
He and his teammates were spectators at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl combine when he found a wallet on the ground. It clearly belonged to a kid, with no ID and $360 in cash. As others around him urged him to pocket the money, the North Gwinnett Middle School eighth-grader resisted the peer pressure.
He did the right thing, when others his age may not have. He turned the wallet into his coach, who eventually got it back to the youngster who lost it.
"I didn't even want to open it," Sawyer said. "I already knew what would happen if I opened. I took it to my coach as soon as I found it."
"He's not only a great football player, but what a great kid," said Gwinnett Football League president Erik Richards, the national youth director of Football University. "He could have taken that money and nobody would have known."
Maybe the act was good karma. A high school player in the U.S. Army game gave Sawyer, whose size-14 shoes were tattered, a new pair of Nike Vapor cleats.
Sawyer then became just as well known for his on-field acts in the national showcase, which pits the nation's top eighth-graders in an all-star game. Some talk had the 6-foot-2-plus (doctors have predicted he could grow to 6-7), 220-pounder as the country's No. 2 eighth-grader behind consensus No. 1 Sony Michel, a stud running back from Miami.
Tall, fast and strong, Sawyer projects as a defensive end and wide receiver or tight end at the high school level. Though he attends North Gwinnett Middle, he said his family is moving into the Peachtree Ridge district.
"We had a hard time practicing because (Sawyer) was so disruptive," East head coach Rod Dollar said.
Sawyer leads an impressive class of Gwinnett eighth-graders, kids who represent the next generation of football talent in the area. He was joined in the national showcase by six other locals who shined, including defensive MVP Tony Bradford.
Bradford (Buford Middle) and fellow lineman Amari Barrett (Duluth Middle) also stood out, as did Buford-bound quarterback Taylor Mitchell, Mill Creek-bound teammates Carter Governale and Andrew Sciara and Trickum Middle's Deion King.
"I think we really stood out," Sawyer said of the Gwinnett eighth-graders. "I don't think they were used to how hard we hit. Us Gwinnett boys can hit."
Will Hammock can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Thursdays.