Ryan Sawyer enters his eighth season as an assistant in Eastern Washington’s program, having worked with defensive linemen all previous seven seasons. However, this season he will add the role of defensive front coordinator, with Brian Strandley also coaching along the defensive line. This is also the sixth season Sawyer has served as recruiting coordinator for the 2010 NCAA Division I champions.
With a deep and talented group of defensive linemen, his players have earned 13 All-Big Sky Conference honors the past three seasons while leading EWU to a collective record of 34-9 and the league title each season. All three years, Eastern has advanced to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs with two semifinal appearances.
His All-Big Sky linemen in 2014 included end Samson Ebukam on the second team and tackle Dylan Zylstra on the third squad. Honorable mention went to Matthew Sommer (tackle) and Zackary Johnson (end), as Eastern finished the season ranked 11th in FCS with a total of 28 turnovers gained.
Players honored in 2013 included second team performers Andru Pulu (tackle) and Anthony Larry (end), and honorable mention selections Will Katoa (tackle), Zylstra (tackle) and Evan Day (end). Ebukam earned Freshman All-America honors as well.
The Eagles in 2012 featured All-America and second team All-Big Sky end Jerry Ceja, as well as honorable all-league selections Pulu (tackle), Paul Ena (end) and Zylstra (tackle). Three of his defensive linemen earned All-Big Sky honors in 2011, including two-time All-America tackle Renard Williams. Tackle Charles Moetului and Ena earned honorable mention, as the Eagles finished with 27 sacks in 11 games.
In 2010, an experienced defensive line helped Eastern lead the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision in turnovers gained (47) and finished with 33 sacks in 15 games. The Eagles were also sixth nationally in red zone defense, as they allowed just 38 scores in 58 opponent trips inside the EWU 20-yard line. Eight of those scores were field goals, including two in the first half of the national championship game. Williams earned first team All-Big Sky Conference honors, and senior tackle Tyler Jolley received honorable mention.
Sawyer’s defensive line had three new starters in the lineup in 2009, but Williams – the lone returning starter – earned first team All-Big Sky Conference honors after finishing the season with 9 1/2 sacks. Senior Jacob Kragt earned honorable mention from the league and was a first team Academic All-American as the Eagles finished with 29 total sacks and ranked sixth in the FCS in turnover margin (plus 1.25 per game).
In Sawyer’s first season on the staff in 2008, senior Greg Peach won the Buck Buchanan Award, which is given to the top defensive player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Peach was honored on five different All-America teams and was the Big Sky Conference Defensive MVP after finishing with a school-record 18 sacks as a senior. Sawyer also coached second team All-Big Sky selections Lance Witherspoon and Jason Belford – also seniors. Eastern’s defense overcame a rocky start to hold five-straight opponents from Oct. 11 to Nov. 15 to 19 points or fewer.
A four-year starter at defensive end for the Wildcats from 1996-99, Sawyer also spent the 2007 season as CWU’s defensive line coach under current Eagle coaches John Graham (defensive coordinator at both EWU and CWU) and Beau Baldwin (head coach at both schools). Sawyer also served as the team’s strength and conditioning coach.
Prior to spending 2003-07 as owner of a residential painting business in Kent, Wash., he spent three previous seasons at CWU as a student assistant wide receiver coach (2001-2002) and as a tight end/offensive line coach (2000). In 2002, he coached three wide receivers who earned all-conference honors, including All-American Brian Potucek, as Central finished the season 11-1. The 2002 Central team was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2013.
Sawyer earned second team all-conference honors in 1998 during a streak in which he made 36-straight starts for the Wildcats. He earned his bachelor of science degree in individual studies in spring 2003, with an emphasis on studies in health and coaching.
Sawyer was born Aug. 27, 1977. He was married on March 12, 2011, to the former Heidi Ramm. They had their first child, Colton Thomas (2), on Oct. 11, 2012 – just two days before the sixth-ranked Eagles played at No. 2 Montana State. Eastern won that game 27-24, scoring the go-ahead points in the fourth quarter on a blocked punt by Zylstra, which was recovered for a touchdown by defensive end Evan Day. They had their second child, Hailey Mae Sawyer, on March 26, 2014.