One of this year’s most inspirational recruiting stories out of Georgia is Dante Sawyer.
He’s the defensive end out of North Gwinnett High School who signed with South Carolina two years ago, but didn’t have a chance of qualifying academically.
So Sawyer and his inner circle came up with an innovative plan to go to junior college early and get him to South Carolina after missing only one football season rather than the traditional two for non-qualifiers.
Sawyer’s ambitious strategy has appeared to work. He told the AJC that he found out this week that he has finished his two-year degree at junior college in just over a year – and that he will be able to enroll at South Carolina on May 26.
“I give God all the glory,” Sawyer said in a phone interview on Thursday. “I was able to do it all because of Him. I give God all the credit.”
Sawyer’s story is inspiration for high school football stars who have the talent to play college ball, but not the grades.
“I’m just trying to tell people ‘never give up,’” Sawyer said. “That’s what this is about – never giving up on your dreams.”
Sawyer, who was a non-academic qualifier out of high school, is now contemplating starting work on a doctorate degree by the time his football eligibility will expire at South Carolina.
How did he get to that point? Here’s where it started: The 4-star defensive end admits that he didn’t take academics seriously at North Gwinnett, and he takes full responsibility for that.
“I just didn’t apply myself like I should have,” Sawyer said. “I admit that I had the ‘big head’ and all that. But I learned my lesson. I changed my ways and I matured.”
Soon after signing with South Carolina in February 2014, Sawyer’s college and high school coaches devised a radical plan to get him to the Gamecocks faster than normal.
Traditionally, academic non-qualifiers finish their senior year of high school, and report to junior college later that summer. It normally takes at least two football seasons of junior college for a prospect to finish his associate degree – with most trying to enroll at a four-year college by January of their sophomore year (or by the summer after their sophomore season, at the latest).
What did Sawyer do so differently? Within a few weeks after signing with South Carolina, Sawyer acquired his GED. By March, he left his North Gwinnett classmates to enroll at junior college at East Mississippi.
“They said I would be the first one (at East Mississippi) to go to junior college and make it out in that one year,” Sawyer said. “But that workload I had, it was no joke. I had a whole bunch of work that I had to get finished.
“I wouldn’t recommend it (doing it this way). If you get qualified out of high school, then you need to do that … because this is no joke. It was really tough. At times, I thought about – I don’t want to say give up – but at times, I didn’t know what to do because there was so much work I had to do. It was an overload.”
Sawyer said what kept him motivated under the tremendous academic pressures was envisioning himself playing for South Carolina on Saturdays next season, along with solidifying his future after football.
Sawyer now has his two-year degree after being out of high school for one year. He will have four years to play three seasons at South Carolina. He aspires to earn a degree in Sports Science or Kinesiology, with eye toward a career as a football coach. He’d also like to get a master’s degree, and even start work on a doctorate’s degree before leaving South Carolina.
“Yeah, I know, this is a crazy story,” Sawyer, who also credited his academic advisor, Brittany Wagner.
“And doing what I did is definitely not for everybody. You have to be motivated and dedicated. Deep down, I knew the whole time, if I applied myself, I would make it. God made it happen.”
Here are five other recruiting stories that people are talking about into the weekend:
2. Same strategy by UGA? UGA is trying to take the same path as Dante Sawyer with one of its football signees from this year’s class. Gary McRae (see pic above) is a 4-star linebacker from Randolph Clay High School who signed with the Bulldogs in February. He left high school early for the same junior college just over a month ago with the same plan – to get there early and get out early. McRae’s targeted arrival with UGA is next January, although next summer seems far more likely. “Gary is out here, and I’ve talked to him about all of this,” Sawyer said. “I just told him, ‘You’ve got to take this serious from Day One. It’s a ton of work.’ I wish him the best.”
3. Smart idea: Somebody told me that Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson changed his cell every year because he would have former recruits call him after signing day at late hours while at parties or out on the town. Maybe they had regrets about not signing with Tech? Regardless, it sounded like a smart idea by Johnson. I asked him about that. “No, not every year,” Johnson said with a laugh. “I’ve had the same cell number for a while. But what they don’t realize sometimes is that you’ve got their number, too. So you know when they call.”
4. Basketball news: UGA missed on Jaylen Brown, but could get some big news next week. Tevin Mack, a 6-foot-6 forward from Columbia, S.C., signed with VCU in the early period, but got a release after coach Shaka Smart left for Texas. Mack is considering UGA, along with a half-dozen other colleges. Mack’s older brother played for Bulldogs coach Mark Fox while he was at Nevada … It has almost been a week since Jaylen Brown made the stunning decision to pick Cal over Kentucky and Michigan. Brown is the 6-foot-7 forward from Wheeler High School who was rated as nation’s No. 2 overall prospect (he dropped to No. 4 overall this week in the final rankings). I thought there was a chance that Brown might pull a Roquan Smith and not sign his Cal letter of intent simply because he didn’t have to … but he did. So it’s official – Jaylen Brown to Cal. Brown still hasn’t publicly commented on the reasons for his decision.
5. Good idea? Official visits during the summer? I’m emptying out my notebook after interviewing many of the nation’s top college football coaches about various recruiting topics. And one thing that stood out to me was this opinion from Arkansas coach Bret Bielema. He thinks that if there’s an early signing period in December (which looks like it might happen), then high school kids should be able to take official visits during the summer after they finish their junior year. I agree – if the proposal for an early signing period passes. “I think we should move the recruiting calendar where kids can take official visits after the last day of their junior year in the month of June,” Bielema said. “That’s solely because if you’re a normal kid who is going to pick a college, you don’t wait until December or January of your senior year to figure that out. During the spring or summer of your junior year, you start touring around and get a feel. It’s like ‘I’m going to apply to these three schools, and if I get into them, I’m going to this one, this one and that one.’ I think it’s too rushed if we wait until December or January to allow a kid to take an official visit. For instance, some kids in Arkansas will be done with their junior year by the middle of May. So as soon as that last day of classes is finished with their junior year, why not let them take official visits? Right now, they can’t do it until Sept. 1. But in June, there are those dead periods right there. You’ve got high school camps going on. There are some things happening on campus that they can go and see and be a part of it. It just makes a lot more sense.”