But it's something he's ready for.
"It's a challenge," he said. "Everybody's been recruited. Everybody's a top player. Everybody's strong. Everybody's fast. Competing is what I want to do. I'm not going to be scared of it."
With a lack of depth behind current first-teamers Jeremy McGee and Marcus Temple, Sawyer will be called upon to contribute this fall.
The Rebels lost both Marshay Green and Cassius Vaughn to graduation last season and veteran Fon Ingram, who rotated between safety and corner, has replaced three-year starter Kendrick Lewis at free safety.
Defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix has said Sawyer will get a long look as a possible starter when fall camp opens in August, despite his youth. His talent is undeniable, especially after April's Grove Bowl, when the 5-foot-11, 175-pounder had two interceptions.
"We don't see ourselves as he's first team and he's second team," Sawyer said. "All of us see ourselves as starters. We just have to feed off each other. I look up to them. Every day I'm learning something new from them when we're on the field or off the field."
Like the growing pains he's sure to endure over his first full season, Sawyer showed his age in the final scrimmage of spring. Before the second of his two interceptions, he was beaten by reserve Melvin Harris, who grabbed a 61-yard touchdown on a busted coverage.
"I've watched that game about 50 times," he said. "The catch Melvin made on a busted coverage, I was devastated. But it's something to learn from. I just had to bounce back. (Cornerbacks) Coach (Chris) Vaughn told me, ‘I'm going to put you back out there,' see how I'd respond. I got another interception."
A short memory is what he'll need each Saturday. He's going to take his lumps. It's part of the learning process.
He's currently entrenched in the team's strength and conditioning program this offseason in an attempt to get stronger and "hit the numbers I need to reach." He can already tell a difference in his mechanics, especially in jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage.
Mostly, though, he's learned to take the game as it comes. He's not focused on his position on the depth chart or what role he might play.
Rather, Sawyer only wants to get better each and every day. As with spending a season on the sidelines, he's mastered the art of exercising patience.
"It was tough at first," he said. "I sat down with Coach Vaughn and he explained everything. You want to play, but at the end of the day, you have to learn. It's a big step coming from high school to college. We have a great defense. I don't know too many people who can play a skill position on our defense.
"I learned to grow up fast. When I was redshirted, it was great, because I learned a lot of things. I was encouraged by the coaches and the upperclassmen. They taught me the ropes and brought me up."