Being one of the older guys at Ole Miss, Charles Sawyer has seen pretty much everything. From the highs of a nine-win season during his redshirt year of 2009, to the absolute lows of winning just six games over the next two years, Sawyer has gone through a myriad of emotions during his time in Oxford.
But with a new coaching staff headed by Hugh Freeze, excitement has been injected back into the Rebels' program. A team that trudged into the season with no real expectations has two more wins than it did last year and is two wins away from being bowl eligible.
The Rebels captured their first SEC win in 16 tries last weekend with a 41-20 win over Auburn, and Sawyer took time out during Ole Miss' bye week to chat with ESPN.com about Ole Miss' season:
Did this bye week kind of come at the perfect time for you guys? I mean, your emotions have to be running high still after that win over Auburn, but I'm sure it was time to take a little break, right?
Charles Sawyer: Yeah, it definitely came at the perfect time. Everybody knows that it's a bye week, but we also need to do some work this week because Arkansas is working too on their bye week. We can't take any plays off or decrease our reps.
When you look at this team now compared to the team you had last year, what do you see that is really different?
CS: Everybody's passionate and everybody wants to win and everybody is playing as a team and we have some different leaders in different regions of the team. Everybody has each other's back and now everybody is putting everything on the line. Everybody is trying to make each other better. Everybody is trying to outwork somebody else. When you have that on the team, you constantly get better and everybody wants to be a part of something great. Now that that's happened, everybody wants to be a part of it and everybody is putting 100 percent in.
Considering the attitude issues from last year, the obvious depth issues and the fact that you were breaking in a new coach, did you see this team getting to where it is right now this fast?
CS: Honestly, the first season, I didn't know what was going to happen. When Coach Freeze got here, I didn't know who he was going to be and it was all a mystery when he got here. But when we went through all of the offseason and we went through camp, everything started to show.
Take me through your emotions when the clock runs out Saturday and you finally have that SEC win for the first time in almost two years?
CS: It was a special moment. Everybody cherished that moment and now everybody knows what it takes and everybody knows what it feels like to win a big game like that. We have to keep that in our minds and during the hard stretches keep doing it.
Obviously, four wins isn't the goal and I'm sure you want more. How do you make sure this team, full of youngsters, doesn't get too high off this win and you keep going with the teeth of the schedule coming up?
CS: You can enjoy the win, but you know we have Arkansas next week. We have a whole second half of the season to go and we know that. We have to take it one game at a time.
You said you weren't sure what was going to happen this year, but when you start 3-1 and you can tell things are changing mentally for this team, did you get the feel that this might be a special year for you?
CS: Absolutely. Those two wins started and then when we played Alabama and Texas A&M, you could really see the team jelling together and everybody was putting in effort and wanting to win. Then, Auburn came at the perfect time and we did what we had to do and you start to see it.
That Texas A&M game could have been crippling for a team that has struggled so much for the last couple of years. You have that fourth-quarter lead and then it's gone. How did you find the right mindset to come out like you did against Auburn?
CS: We just told guys that we have to finish the fourth quarter and we can't let that happen again. And that's what we did.
Was there some worry though that maybe some of the young guys could start to get down, or even the older guys who had been through this before?
CS: No, nobody got down. We all said that we were going to get it the next weekend. Now, once you get that next one, you see that what you're doing works and you just keep doing it.
Now that you're looking toward the second half of the season, depth will be key. With a lack of depth in key areas, how do you make sure this team stays energized and ready for the final stretch?
CS: We have to keep working and realize that everybody else is working and wants to get better. We have to keep pushing ourselves.
Do you still like having that underdog role, or do you think people are starting to look at you differently?
CS: Some people may look at us differently, or some might just say, "Oh, that's still just Ole Miss," but until we play on Saturday and the clock hits zero, we'll see what happens on that day. You just have to take it one game at a time and one play at a time.