Coaches dote on 2014 DE Dante Sawyer

SUWANEE, Ga. -- While much of the anticipation of the annual Dawg Night camp at the University of Georgia will be focused on 2013 prospects, one defensive lineman for the 2014 class is trying to impress the Bulldogs coaching staff. Dante Sawyer (Suwanee, Ga./North Gwinnett) has been to Athens once this summer, and he looks forward to the return trip.

“I went to Georgia for the Mark Richt camp,” Sawyer said. “It went very well. They invited me back on Friday for Dawg Night.”

The invitation to the exclusive camp came from Georgia’s defensive line coach, who saw potential in the young prospect.

“I talked to Coach [Rodney] Garner,” Sawyer said. “He told me to keep up my good work. He said he expected to see more of me and to see me come back. I am excited but I don’t know what to expect when I get up there.”

Sawyer is in more familiar ground while hitting the weights in the North Gwinnett field house. He has attended a few camps over the summer -- landing an invitation to the Rising Seniors program's Georgia Junior Bowl in December -- trying to pick up pointers to help in the upcoming season. Head coach Bob Sphire has big expectations for Sawyer.

“We are ready for him to have a big year,” Sphire said. “He got a lot of reps last year. He has got a lot of potential. He got a lot stronger in the offseason. He is going to have to be a playmaker for us this season on defense.”

That suits Sawyer just fine, as he has set some goals of his own.

“My goal this year is to lead the county in sacks and get my name out there more,” Sawyer said. “This is a loaded county, but you just have to show out.”

The 6-foot-3, 250-pound junior says he sees his future on the defensive line, and that is where he will participate at Dawg Night. Sawyer plays a hybrid position at North Gwinnett, switching between defensive end and linebacker.

“He will play an outside end for us, but ours is a hybrid-type of guy who can go up or move back,” defensive line coach Byron Shells said. “He will play a tackle in our 3-3-5. He is strong and working at it.”

Shells has seen his share of top athletes and he thinks Sawyer has great potential.

“I have been here since 2003 and he could be one of the best ones I have had in that time,” Shells said. “And I have had some pretty good kids, some of whom are graduating this year from college. He could be one of the better ones. He has got size and speed. He is learning how to use his hands and has good footwork. He could be the best one. It will just take time, pressure and reps. He has got to shoulder the whole load this year which will be new for him.”

Shells has coached players including Jordan Washington, who's now at Mississippi State, and Justin Alabi at Air Force.

“Of all those cats that I have had before, he could be one that has all the tools -- some of things that everybody else had, but all together,” Shells said. “He did a couple things against Duluth last year where he made some plays. He is always in and around the play. He is that type of player that ends up around the ball and can make things happen. And he has the ability that when he pulls the trigger, he can make that play now. But we need to get him to play that way the whole time. That is just part of the maturation process.”