Submission by Brian Smith
When I received a call from my former high school football coach, Tom Sawyer’s wife Kathy, to inform me that Coach Sawyer was being inducted into the NHIAA Hall of Fame as a member of the 2023 class, it had me reflecting on what an honor it was to play for coach Sawyer. For many he has figuratively been a Hall of Famer and it’s nice to know that he will receive such an award that will only serve to further cement his legacy for generations to come.
When my family moved to Londonderry in the mid 80’s, one of the selling features about the school system was that the High School football team was coming off of a state championship. For a young 12 year old with dreams of playing high school football, the idea that the Town of Londonderry had a solid football program was all that mattered to me. Two years later as an 8th grader getting ready to graduate from Londonderry Jr. High, during one of my final lunches in the spring of 1988, I remember a powerful voice coming from the front of the cafeteria. Powerful enough to get the entire middle school cafeteria to go into complete silence, so quiet that you could hear a plastic straw drop. I remember those around me who had older siblings who played football for the Lancers whispering that it was coach Sawyer… Indeed it was. He was there to sign up any incoming freshman boys who wanted to play high school football. “Come on up here and sign my clipboard if you want to be a Lancer.” From that day on, little did I know what an impact “Coach Sawyer” would have on my life. An impact I know I share with so many who had the opportunity to play for Tom Sawyer over his 27 years at the helm of the Londonderry Lancer Football program.
It has been decades since I have resided in Londonderry, but for many of us who grew up in the quiet New England town known for its pristine country roads and apple orchards, it was a meaningful place to call home. Like anything special, things change, new leadership, new residents and although growth can do wonders for a town, the fabric of what was special for others may have to be searched for with a bit more intention. Coach Sawyer, very much like Mack’s Apples, will always be part of Londonderry’s fabric. I appreciate the Londonderry Times offering me the platform to share with those in town who may remember the legacy of Coach Sawyer and for residents who may not know the origin of the press box called “Sawyer’s Nest”…
As student athlete coach was simply someone I knew who would always be there for his players. He was intense and held us to high performance standards but this infused the team with a deep desire to win. With Intensity, was how coach Sawyer ran his practices and how he coached on game day. Perhaps one of coach’s greatest gifts that he could bestow on young men was his ability to get the very best out of his athletes. If you were on his team, and out on the field, whether as a starter, a back up or special teams player, he was going to get the most talent out of you and many times it was happening without the player even realizing it. However, it was the lessons that he taught us about how one conducts themselves on and off the field that is often overlooked. Sportsmanship came first. Character was important and we took pride in the uniforms that we wore and the school we represented. Coach Sawyer’s Londonderry career is an impressive one that spans 27 years with a stellar 182-90 win/loss record, and 6 state championships with the later years coming against the best teams in NH Division I football. Years later after leaving Londonderry High, I made the effort to get to really know the man behind the clip board on a personal level. He was invited to my wedding in 1998 and today I am grateful to call my coach a friend for life.
The importance of trust between an Athlete and Coach can’t be stated enough, especially with the expectations a coaching staff has for those who sign up to play high school football. Trust in a coach is just as important for parents who willingly endorse their child to play a sport that comes with the dangers of potentially life altering injuries. Coach Sawyer was always going to give it to you straight. On a coach Sawyer team, you can bet that there was not going to be any hierarchy on how a roster was chosen and who played. You could be assured that if you were the better player, who outworked, out studied, and out performed your competition, you would be playing. Heading into my senior year in 1991 as a result of the success of prior Londonderry teams, the NHIAA moved Londonderry up to the top tier of Class L/Div 1. Knowing that the schedule would be one of the toughest in Londonderry history, and a team that only had three returning starters from the previous year, for the first time in many seasons, Londonderry Lancers went into about every game as the underdog. Yet, for coach Sawyer, there were no excuses, there was no change in how he coached us and the expectation remained that we would be in every game we played with the intent to win.
There is already a level of discipline that comes with being a student athlete. Any sport at the high school level requires discipline given the time dedicated to off season conditioning, in season practice, and game preparation. The type of discipline that comes from a coach Sawyer player is a discipline that was instilled over seasons and becomes an intangible in how it shows up in your life. At age 49, my senior football season in 1991 was quite some time ago, yet my experience in playing with such discipline can be seen and felt in all aspects of my life- personal and professional. My business success can be attributed in large part to the discipline of playing three years for Coach Sawyer where accountability and expectations were always high. To learn this at such a young age was invaluable.
As Londonderry High School football players get ready to start up another season, there will be reminders along the way of all those coach Sawyer teams that came before…who laid the foundation for a wonderful program whose excellent tradition continues with today’s current staff and players. The ghost of Lancers past and my soon to be inducted Hall of Fame Coach reside on those fields off of 295 Mammoth Road. As legend has it “Sawyer Time” was when the hands on coach’s gold watch stopped ticking during practice if a drill or a break out session was not going as planned. Real time stopped, and no-one was leaving practice until the job was done.
Congratulations coach Sawyer to you and your entire family on your induction into the NHIAA Hall of Fame. We have finally arrived on “Sawyer Time!”
Brian Smith was a graduate of the LHS Class of 1992. He was a Londonderry Varsity Football Quarterback and Saftey in 1989, 90, 91