Sawyer: 'Hit or be hit'

Though only a redshirt freshman, cornerback Charles Sawyer is currently pushing for a starting job in the Ole Miss secondary come fall. Read about it inside.

Throughout a redshirt freshman season, cornerback Charles Sawyer watched from the sidelines as starters Marshay Green and Cassius Vaughn went about their work.

All the while, he took mental notes. He focused on their positioning, how they played the ball and when to take chances. But what stuck in his mind most weren't the spectacular plays, like interceptions returned for touchdowns.

Rather, the 5-foot-10, 180-pounder often recalled the mistakes.

"Being redshirted, it was a good move," he said. "You can see the speed of the game. Anytime Marshay or Cassius made a mistake, you can pick up on it, so when you got out there you don't do the same. Watching from the sideline my first year paid off."

Sawyer was a breakout performer in spring practices. So much so, Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt said he was pushing veterans Jeremy McGee and Marcus Temple for a starting role in only his second year on campus.

"When I first heard (Coach Nutt say that) I was really surprised," Sawyer said. "It's just a challenge for me. I look forward to it and I'm reaching for it. I don't want to let him down.

Charles Sawyer

"With Temp and Jeremy, I see it as being a three-headed monster, really. All of us are doing our thing and just trying to help get this team to Atlanta."

His unbridled potential was on display in Saturday's annual Grove Bowl, when Sawyer twice intercepted current first-team quarterback Nathan Stanley.

However, he was also bitten by his youth. He was burned deep by wideout Melvin Harris for a 61-yard touchdown.

The good and bad are part of the learning process. Sawyer knows it, too. His only goal this spring was to fit in with an already established defense.

But according to his head coach, he did more than fit in. He stood out.

"He's one of the finest freshmen we've ever had," Nutt said. "He's still got work to do, but his ball skills, his awareness of the ball in the air, playing it in the air is outstanding. And he's physical. He'll hit you."

Though soft-spoken, the Miami, Fla. native doesn't lack confidence. He markets himself as a physical cornerback who welcomes contact.

Charles Sawyer

"I've never been scared of contact," he said. "When I was growing up, it was hit or be hit. I'm pretty sure you don't want to be the one to get hit. That's my mindset."

Senior defensive end Kentrell Lockett, a veteran leader and two-year starter at defensive end, has long been a fan of Sawyer.

So when Sawyer made play after play inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium Saturday, it came as no surprise.

"If you remember, the last time we talked, who did I tell y'all to watch out for? Charles Sawyer," Lockett said. "Y'all are seeing it first-hand. The guy's going to be a player. He's a player now, but once he gets another year of being under the lights and being in the heat of the battle, he's going to be real."

Defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix said little separates the top three of Temple, McGee and Sawyer. However, a fourth cornerback is needed, with Ryan Campbell making a push for minutes come the team's season opener against Jacksonville State Sept. 4.

"I think our top three corners did very well (this spring) - Marcus Temple, Jeremy McGee and Charles Sawyer, but we still need a fourth," Nix said. "Ryan Campbell closed the gap some toward the end of spring after getting burned badly early in spring. I'd like for him to make the jump by September, but he's not ready yet."

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