North Gwinnett's Dante Sawyer (Staff Photo : Brendan Sullivan)
Football Super Six - North Gwinnett's Dante Sawyer
North Gwinnett's Dante Sawyer has been selected as one of the Daily Post's football Super Six.
- Use #GDPsupersix
- Follow us @GDPsports
THE SAWYER FILE
Name: Dante Sawyer
School: North Gwinnett
Position: Defensive end
Weight: 250 pounds
College choices: Auburn, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee
Place of birth: Atlanta
Role model: Grandfather
Favorite restaurant: Chipotle
Favorite store: Dick’s Sporting Goods
Favorite teacher: McCall Grosso
Favorite subject: Science
Text messages I send in a month: At least 2,000
Twitter handle: @SavageTaee_
Superstitions: No splitting poles and never leave a hat lying on the bed
Funniest teammate: Nate Brown
Life’s dream: Not letting my mom pay another bill
Info file: A difference-maker at defensive end, Sawyer began his North Gwinnett career as a running back but made his mark on defense last season. He had 83 tackles, seven sacks and two interceptions as a junior, including a highlight game in a playoff victory over Grayson. In that win, he caused and recovered a fumble on the game’s opening drive and intercepted a pass to set up North’s final touchdown. A four-star recruit by all three major services, he also is the No. 40 overall prospect on the national ESPN 300 and the No. 4 prospect in Georgia according to ESPN.
Coach Bob Sphire’s take: “He’s athletic, he’s explosive and he’s really strong. It’s not just upper or lower body strength, he’s got a mixture. He’s a lot of fun to coach, too. He’s an up-tempo, fun-loving, high-energy guy. Our team kind of feeds off that. And he’s competitive. He wants the team to be first and he wants the team to win.”
Editor's Note: This is the first of the GDP football Super Six. We'll run them in six consecutive print edition's of the newspaper.
Hype followed Dante Sawyer to North Gwinnett.
An eighth-grade All-American, he arrived at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, “physically advanced for a freshman” as Bulldog head coach Bob Sphire put it. He was good enough to be on the varsity football field, so the coaches used him at running back to help the team, well aware that he wasn’t going to stay there for much of his high school career.
He contributed at running back, but truly started living up to the expectations and projections when he became a full-time defensive end as a sophomore. A 30-pound weight gain fueled that transition into one of the nation’s best at his position, a consensus four-star recruit and the No. 40 prospect on the national ESPN 300.
“I figured all along defensive end was probably his primary position,” Sphire said. “I thought he could have been a tight end or flex receiver if we had gone that route. But good defensive linemen, they’re a premium. They can be difference-makers, more so than a tight end. Not to downplay that position, but those guys that can rush the passer and create havoc for the offensive line can be difference-makers.
“He’s a really good athlete. A kid that can come in as a freshman and play running back speaks volumes about the type of athlete he is. Obviously he’s gotten bigger. He can carry 255, 260 pounds and look like he’s 240. And he won’t lose his speed or explosiveness.”
Sawyer has embraced a defensive mentality, too.
He rarely misses carrying the football, instead relishing his chances to disrupt opposing offenses.
“I’ve always loved defense,” said Sawyer, who has accepted an offer to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl after the season. “They took me in as D-end and that’s what I’ve worked on. Defense wins championships. But every now and then I try to get my hand on the ball on defense.”
“That’s one of his strengths,” Sphire said.
The athletic end has a knack for making big plays, none bigger than last year’s playoff win over defending state champion Grayson. He made impact plays from the start, causing and recovering a fumble on the Rams’ opening possession. He later intercepted a pass to set up a North touchdown.
The Bulldog coaches have become accustomed to those types of plays in recent seasons. Now they want them to happen more frequently.
“The No. 1 thing I want to say is I’d like to see him continue to be more consistent,” Sphire said. “But boy, he has the ability to rise to the occasion. It’s like he sniffs out the key times to make plays to help our football team. You look back to last season and there were significant moments where he changed games with individual plays.
“Now I thought there were some games where he kind of went off and hid a little bit, maybe in an immature way he didn’t think that game was as critical and just didn’t have the dial turned up all the way. That’s something I’m looking for this year, where the motor never stops. It’s constantly running on high. Boy, when it is, he makes game-changing plays.”
As he made one of those plays vs. Grayson, he suffered a shoulder injury that mucked up his offseason plans. He dove through the line and stripped the ball from a Grayson player, but landed awkwardly on his shoulder.
He finished his junior season with the shoulder wrapped up the following week against Lovejoy and assumed the injury would heal over time. It was more serious than initially thought, however, so Sawyer had shoulder surgery to repair labrum and rotator cuff damage. The surgery wasn’t done until March 22.
“A lot of rehab,” Sawyer said of the spring and summer. “I feel fine now. I got cleared (in late July). My strength’s not there yet, but it’s getting close. … I don’t want anyone to have to go what I went through. It was miserable. I had the big sling. It was hard to sleep. Not a fun offseason.”
While the injury slowed him down on the field, it didn’t ease up on the constant attention from recruiters. He lists his favorites, in no particular order, as Auburn, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama and Tennessee — the Volunteers signaled their interest by sending him 110 pieces of mail in one day a few months ago.
Those schools know the shoulder should heal well, so Sawyer can return his lifts to their pre-surgery levels: 320 pounds in bench press, 320 in power clean and 510 in squad. He also has run as low as 4.67 seconds in the 40-yard dash, so some colleges like him as a stand-up linebacker, too.
He will take one official visit when North has a bye week, but said his other visits will be after the high school season.
“I’m not trying to push it or anything,” Sawyer said of his college decision timetable. “I’m still trying to take my time, talk to my parents about how they feel about it. I’m just trying to keep it open, focus on the season and focus on getting my work done in the classroom.”
Now that it’s mid-August, Sawyer doesn’t mind shelving the recruiting thoughts for awhile. It’s time for North football, a life he’s embraced since moving into that community — he began his youth football at Collins Hill, then played later at Peachtree Ridge, so he has friends at all three rival schools.
“There’s a bunch of smack talking going on all the time (between the schools),” Sawyer said. “It’s all out of love, though.”
The three-year starter also has embraced the high expectations within the Bulldog program, which has won 10 or more games for seven straight seasons.
“He’s improved in a lot of ways, maturing as an individual, melding within the team framework,” Sphire said of Sawyer. “All you want your top players to be is not just be the top player, but also a player your teammates feed off of and trust. I think he’s really matured a lot as a person and as a team member. I think that makes him a better player, too.
“I see him now coaching a lot of younger guys when he has the opportunity during drill work and other things. He’s internalizing the program and becoming a part of the development of the program. That’s always neat to see. When you see that, you see him getting that “it” factor in terms of what it means to be a teammate.”
Sawyer has experienced that growth with his team, while also reaching some of the lofty goals he had following a big eighth-grade season. One of those was to finish his high school career as an All-American, matching the feat he accomplished as an eighth-grader.
He reached that earlier this year when he committed to the U.S. Army showcase.
“(Sawyer) might be the most versatile guy on the East roster this year,” said U.S. Army All-American Bowl national recruiting director Erik Richards, who also is president of the Gwinnett Football League. “You remember he started out as a tailback at North and did a pretty good job as a freshman. He was one of the best tight ends to ever play in the GFL, super soft hands. With a little work, he could stand up and is a Jarvis Jones-type of player.”
Click here to view the video
Click here to see the SPOTTED fan photos