Former Ole Miss OL Justin Sawyer

Justin "Big Baby" Sawyer leaves a legacy any man would want

He was only 36 when he stopped breathing, but former Ole Miss Rebel Justin Sawyer leaves behind an everlasting, positive influence on those who knew and loved him.

"Every man's life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another." - Ernest Hemingway.

I sit at my computer on Sunday morning reading a beautiful article written by Neal McCready of Rebel Grove with tears in my eyes over the passing of Justin Sawyer, known affectionately during his time as a Rebel and beyond as "Big Baby."

It was a mournful Saturday as I went about my business trying to keep my head up and thoughts straight under the weight of the news of Justin's death. Too sad to try to write anything. It was just a day for personal reflection. 

The friends, the coach, the teammates - all expressing love, disbelief, admiration and deep hurt as they remembered the larger-than-life personality and the way Sawyer lived his life, joyfully and for others.

I had texted former Ole Miss Coach David Cutcliffe yesterday morning to let him know of Justin's death, but it was too painful to actually talk to Cut. Too many Big Baby memories, too many thoughts of his wife and two perfect, beautiful, young daughters.

Former Ole Miss OL Justin Sawyer

Too many tears, too much to ponder, too many thoughts on one's existence and the meaning of everything. 

It's hard to wrap your head around any death, really, but it's even more mind-boggling when someone passes away who is in the prime of life at 36 years of age. I have two daughters that age and I just can't fathom or comprehend that outcome. The finality of it takes your breath away and sends you searching for answers .It was one of those moments when you drop to your knees, look towards the heavens and almost let "why?" blurt out. But you know why. As a believer, you know the answers, God's will is God's will and it is not for mere mortals to question, but there are fleeting moments when it is harder to accept and trust as you try desperately to make sense of it all. 

Fortunately, those moments do not last. We are told and taught that God has a plan for all of us and the end result for believers is, as Big Baby certainly knows, to be met by God and sheltered by Him for eternal life. I know Justin believed that and I know he is reaping that reward now.

But as Hemingway so eloquently stated, it is the details of how one lives that distinguishes one man from another.

Justin lived with a kind heart and even though that gentle heart gave way in his sleep two nights ago, it was full of love and grace and giving and sharing and being a beautiful human being.

I already knew that from a great deal of personal interaction with the always-jovial, always-smiling, gentle giant when he was a Rebel player, but to read that from so many in Neal's article only re-enforced what I already knew - Big Baby left an indelible, positive mark on those he crossed paths with, which is how we hope and strive to live our lives, but sometimes fail miserably.

His time at Ole Miss, his time on this planet, his time as a loving Dad and husband, his time and influence as a coach and mentor and Sunday school teacher, was too short, but the impression he left and the good he did was obvious from the reaction to his passing. His life had more good than most achieve living twice as long.

Justin Sawyer will be remembered for many things - a rough and tumble football player, a devoted friend, a leader, an encourager, a man who loved his fellow man, a helper, a giver, a loving family man and a believer, but the main thing is that he will be remembered fondly by everyone he knew and everyone he had contact with. He will be remembered as a man who left a path of being positive and those things are a legacy any man can be proud of.

Rest in peace, Big Baby. You will be missed, but never forgotten.

"A golden heart stopped beating;

Two shining eyes at rest.

God broke our hearts to prove,

He only takes the best." 

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