Sept. 19, 2012
By Lauren McMillin
Ole Miss Athletics Media Relations
Maurice Flanagan once said, “Some are born leaders, some achieve leadership, and some have leadership thrust upon them.” For Charles Sawyer, achieving leadership has been a work in progress since his first day as a Rebel.
As an underclassman, this talented defensive back looked up to older players. Now as a junior, Sawyer finds himself in a leadership role for the young Rebel defense. Just as former players encouraged him, Sawyer now relishes the role of encouraging his teammates through example. For him, it’s all about having a positive attitude and never giving up.
From his early days as an athlete, Sawyer looked up to role models for leadership and inspiration. “I started playing football at the age of six,” Sawyer said. “My dad inspired me to play. It wasn’t really a love for me at first, then I started getting into it, and I fell in love with it. From then until now, it’s just been a big part of me.”
Ole Miss gave Sawyer that first step toward success. “Out of all of the schools, Ole Miss was probably the closest,” said Sawyer, who comes from Miami, Fla. “Everywhere else was all these cold, far places. Ole Miss is still pretty far, but it’s the atmosphere and the people here. It just felt like home.”
Sawyer saw drastic differences between the big city and the charming size of Oxford.
“They’re totally different,” he said. “The tradition here is different. Miami doesn’t have a lot of tradition.” While he misses family and friends back home, the University’s ongoing tradition and Southern hospitality convinced Sawyer that Ole Miss was the right choice. “I like how small it is and how everybody knows you,” he said. “People are so nice. I guess that everybody wants you to know that they are a fan. It’s pretty cool.”
Having supportive fans is a major part of achieving greatness, and Sawyer believes that Ole Miss has that. “We’ve always had a fan base, but since Coach Freeze came, and since all the players are starting to gel together, it seems like the fans are doing the same thing, every single one,” Sawyer said. “I thought it would be too late to realize that, but everything’s happening for a reason. Everything’s happening at the right time.”
In 2011 Sawyer was selected as a finalist for the Conerly Trophy, an award that goes to the top football player in the state of Mississippi. “It meant a lot,” he said. “I’m not even from here and for them to want me to represent Mississippi as one of its best players, it was a big honor, and I loved it.”
Sawyer’s talent also got him noticed on a national level. Named All-American honorable mention in 2011, Sawyer started all 12 games, finishing third in the SEC with 13 passes defended. In addition, he tied for 23rd in the nation and sixth in the SEC with four interceptions. Sawyer finished the 2011 season second on the team with 70 tackles.
Success has inspired Sawyer to keep moving forward and improve. His goals are simple. “I want to be an all around good football player,” he said. “I want to be a team player and to do better than I did last year, always progressing to be better. I know not to be satisfied with what I’ve done and to go far and beyond what I’ve done.”
Sawyer encourages his teammates to strive for greatness, as well. “Compete for 60 minutes and never give up. Give back to the fans, to Ole Miss, and what they’ve done for us,” he said.
Adjusting to the role of a leader has allowed Sawyer to discover his gift for guiding others and to embrace the responsibility that comes along with it.
“It feels good. It takes a lot of responsibility, but once you take that role, you can’t back away from it. You have to keep going and lead by example, show everybody the right way and show everybody that if we’re down one game, don’t give up.”
Knowing the importance of perseverance is a valuable asset that Sawyer holds as he faces the future. Just as he pushes his teammates to never give up in a game, Sawyer hopes to keep playing football for awhile. “I love playing ball,” he said. “I love seeing little kids with my jersey on. I love seeing all the fans and my family in the stands. I love doing it.”
Having such a strong passion for the game and a positive outlook are qualities that Sawyer believes other athletes should have, as well. “Enjoy the game,” he said. “It’s not a job if you love it, and if you love it, then you just do it. Always stay positive, and always look forward. Never look at what happened in the past, just look forward and do the best you can do all the time.”
Whether looking ahead to the next game or the next year, Sawyer’s optimistic perspective will surely lead him toward greatness. Just as he looked up to the players before him, Sawyer has earned his place as a leader among his teammates, driving them to persevere, no matter the circumstances. “Keep fighting,” he said. “Keep fighting, and just see what happens at the end of the game.”