Stepping Up: Sawyer to be remembered as a model leader

Published 7:11 pm Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Sport Sawyer’s two-decade tenure with the Washington football program came to an end Monday. He announced his resignation as head coach in a meeting with the team, explaining that he and the team needed a change.

Sawyer, a Belhaven native, came on board as part of Brian Paschal’s staff in 1996. He took the head coaching position in 2004, and became the second-winningest coach over the course of his 12-year tenure.

All sorts of people — from fans to former players — took to social media to express shock and sadness. Most came to a similar conclusion: few people loved the Pam Pack more than Sawyer.

He always said that there are plenty of coaches out there smarter than him, and perhaps that’s true. There’s also plenty of modesty behind that statement, though.

For a long time, Sawyer ran Washington’s wing-T offense about as efficiently as possible. He understood the X’s and O’s of his system, and knew how to attack opposing defenses. The 2013 and 2014 Washington teams were astounding on the ground, as was just about every team he led. That 2014 team, which Sawyer led to the state championship, scored an incredible 53 rushing touchdowns.

Even this season, in which the Pam Pack went 3-8 and failed to secure a postseason bid, enjoyed some offensive success. Sawyer had a pieced-together offensive line and had to work through the loss of dominant running backs like Clinton Pope and Jarquez Keyes. Suae Poe approached the 1,000-yard mark regardless.

More amazing than any offensive stat, though, was Sawyer’s will. Something like that is most evident during trying times like this season. He had key seniors quit on the team before and during the season. The Pam Pack went winless through its six-game non-conference stretch, but Sawyer was still able to help put a playoff berth within reach. Washington started 2-A Eastern Plains Conference play 3-0. A share of the league title was up for grabs on senior night last Friday, but it wasn’t meant to be.

That was definitely a low point of recent Washington football history, but Sawyer felt like the team has been in a rut since losing the state championship by a point two years ago. By holding himself accountable for that, he set quite the example for not just his team, but also the entire community.

Finally, Sawyer was a pleasure for me to work with. I took this job near the end of the 2015 regular season, but he helped make what should be a tough transition seamless. Since then, he has always been accessible — whether that’s postgame interviews where I’m sure I was the last person he wanted to talk to, or sitting in his office breaking down an upcoming opponent.

For that I am thankful.

Key pieces in Frederick Holscher, Nazzir Hardy, Hykeem Ruffin, Cooper Anderson and many others are set to return next year. They will hopefully choose to do so, no matter who is the next head coach. They, and the remainder of the rising upperclassmen, will be important to continuity.

Pam Pack football has a long history of success. Sawyer was a large part of that, but now it’s onto the next chapter.