D.J. Swearinger is a talkative young man. During an hour-long interview earlier this month, he spoke about various topics, ranging from his actions in the Clemson game to how players feel about concussions and the new rules designed to prevent them.
Not nearly all of the quotes made their way into today’s profile of Swearinger and the intricacies of his bold personality, so here now are the leftovers, as Swearinger, a senior free safety, prepares to play his final USC game in Tuesday’s Outback Bowl against Michigan …
“(My dad) always taught me to hit. That’s always been my motto, to hit, since Day 1, since I was three, four years old, man. I’ve been doing it a long time. Just be a hard hitter. He taught me that then, with no helmet. When I started playing recreation ball when I was seven, I remember my first hit to this day, Javaris Rhode. Still my friend to this day. We had tackling drills. I remember my first hit with a helmet on, I injured Javaris. It was a hard hit. It always made me feel good to be that hard hitter and be dominant. It was a great feeling.
“I was always a guy that had a lot of confidence. A lot of people say I’m over-confident, I’m arrogant, I’m cocky. I hear it all. But I’m a confident guy. Everyone is my family always wears shades everywhere they go. It’s sort of a cool thing. You probably won’t catch my dad without shades. He’s always just a cool guy, laidback. I got that from them, being cool and being the guy that people want to be around. In high school, I came to school with shades. I was always the guy to make people laugh and have fun around people.
“(During USC) summer workouts, I’m always yelling, or whether we’re working out in the weight room or running outside, I’m always vocal. I’m always quoting some certain thing like: ‘If you don’t grind, you don’t shine. If you don’t hunt, you don’t eat.’ Just to encourage guys just to get to work. I always say when I’m out there working, ‘Man, this work is easy.’ I always kept people up during the summer when people get tired. I’m always the vocal leader, intense.
“(Before the) Clemson game, I got players up and I was like, ‘Play this game like you’re thankful for playing it because Marcus (Lattimore) hasn’t played Clemson in two years. God chose us for a reason to play this game.’”
Swearinger was committed to Tennessee before coach Phillip Fulmer was fired at the end of the 2008 season, when Swearinger was a senior.
“I wanted to go to Tennessee since I was young. Tennessee or Miami. South Carolina stayed on me hard (after I committed to Tennessee). Coach (Brad) Lawing called me every week and a lot of ACC schools stayed on me hard too. I wanted to play in the SEC. Coming up, South Carolina was never a team that I wanted to play for. I went to Clemson and Carolina games. When I was younger, I’d go to the Clemson games, but when I started recruiting, I’d go to Clemson and Carolina games.
“I never saw myself playing for either one of the schools. I definitely didn’t see myself playing at South Carolina. I always liked (USC defensive back) Emanuel Cook when I was in high school, and I saw myself playing the same style of play that he played, but I never saw myself playing here at South Carolina. But when I de-committed, I had to open up some options.”
What happened with the hit on and flex over Andre Ellington in the Clemson game?
“I kept telling somebody on the sideline, ‘Man, I’m gonna catch somebody. I’m gonna catch 23 (Ellington) or I’m gonna catch 2 (Sammy Watkins).’ I kept telling our defense, ‘Man, I’m gonna catch one of them. I don’t know when, but I’m gonna hit one of them.’ When the play was happening, it was a stretch play, and I’m like, ‘He’s running side to side. This is my chance.’ Shaq (Wilson) was making them stretch the play wide and I’m like, ‘Don’t make the tackle, Shaq.’ It was a clear shot for me, knowing the angle I had coming from the post safety. So Shaq dove and actually missed him, and right when he dove I was like, ‘It’s a rap.’ I just hit him and once I hit him, it was like finally, ‘Yeah, I got you. I told you I was gonna get you, too.’
“The first tackle I made (in the game), I actually told (DeAndre Hopkins), ‘Come on, man, with the soft block. You’ll get your running back killed.’
“I said a few choice words (while flexing over Ellington). But it’s all fun. We’re having fun on the field. I have so much passion for the game, when I’m out there on the field. (After the flex), coach (Lorenzo) Ward was saying, ‘You’re a better player than that.’ At the time when I did it, when I was down there, I was like, ‘What I’m doing?’”
“I’m just so intense about everything, I just react. I’m so emotional about everything. I don’t know. I don’t know if I wanted to flex on him, but as soon as I got down and went back up, I was like, ‘Darn.’ I knew I had messed up. I shouldn’t have did it.”
So what about throwing the ball into the stands to celebrate a pick six?
“I was relieved then. I just figured (I would) just throw it in the stands. Actually, I’ve done it practice. I talk trash all the time on the field. I talk trash to my players on defense. I talk trash to my players on offense. I always tell (the quarterbacks), ‘Do not throw it my way.’ I get my mad when they throw it my way because I think it’s an insult to me, but it’s just practice. (Earlier that week), I think I punted the ball in practice, just being silly. I dropped one pick that week in practice and when I got the next pick, I punted it because I told them not to try me again. I guess you could say that carried over to the game.”
Swearinger loves to talk trash.
“Throughout the course of the game, both teams, we use choice words all the time. Just stuff to mess with people. I like to get in people’s heads and see if you’re going to talk trash to me the whole game or you’re just going to be quiet. With me, I like people to talk trash to me because that’s my style of play. I respect you more if you talk trash to me because I believe you’re not scared. I see it as you’re not being scared and you’re a competitor.
“I want you to compete with me just like I compete with you. People that talk trash to me, I appreciate it, them talking back trash to me because if I talk to you, I expect you to talk to me and not just be quiet. If I talk to somebody and they’re quiet, it’s sort of like I feel like I’m dominant over them. Whether I am or not, I feel better about it.”
Who is the most vocal guy you’ve ever played against?
“Number 80 for LSU (Jarvis Landry). We had some battles going back and forth. After every play, he would try to find me or I’d find him. I appreciate that. I like when somebody competes at the highest level and at the same time we’re out there having fun and talking trash to each other. And at the end of the game I’ll dap you up and say ‘good job.’ During the game, I may call you anything, but after the game, we’re good.”
So what happened after the Clemson game?
“During the game, and you can see it on the ESPN copy, that’s something I was saying the whole Georgia game (and) I was saying the whole Clemson game. The media, ESPN were a bunch of talkers about: ‘Tajh Boyd, Andre Ellington, they got too many weapons.’ That was the same thing we were hearing against Georgia, that they were too fast, they’ve got running backs, Aaron Murray. I said, ‘It’s a bunch of talkers out here (while using both hands to mimic a mouth flapping up and down).’
“But before all this, I just kept saying to my players, ‘Just remember the talkers, man.’ Once we got up at the end of the game, I was going to their sideline like, ‘Clemson, y’all just a bunch of talkers.’ It was never directed toward Dabo (Swinney). Even after the game, some people said he tried to shake my hand and I didn’t shake his hand or cussed him out, but I didn’t see Dabo after the game or nothing like that.
“But during the game, I said, ‘Clemson, y’all a bunch of talkers, y’all will never beat us, I will never lose to y’all.’ I just let them have it a little bit. But I was talking to the Clemson sideline during the game. It was the drive before the end. You can see it on ESPN. I was walking back to my position, doing the talkers (hand gesture). And I’m doing it with my hands and you can see that on ESPN. I don’t know where they get that with me cussing out Dabo. I didn’t cuss this man out. I know I went to the sideline (during the game), addressing all the Clemson players (while using curse words), saying, ‘Y’all are talkers.’ I don’t know where the cussing comes from, cussing him out anyway. I cussed to the sideline.”
How do players feel about the new high hitting rules?
“It’s a safety rule, but it’s unfair sort of at the same time, because the speed of the game with wide receivers catching the ball, you’re looking to knock the ball out. You’re not intentionally going in trying to hurt the person. I’ve always been a hard hitter, but my intentions are never to hurt anybody on the field. It’s never been and never will be. During the play, things are so fast that when you’re in the game you’re thinking, ‘just knock the ball out,’ and not ‘hit him in his head.’ Once you see the receiver catch the ball, you want to get the ball out.
“When receivers catch the ball, they tend to duck, fold up. As you’re going in to hit, when you’re going in to hit and they’re ducking at the same time, it’s sort of hard to hit players the right way sometimes unless you automatically go low from the get-go. We just think it’s sort of unfair and it’s sort of a thing that’s probably going to start leading to more shoulder injuries and more ACL injuries.
“Like the Tennessee game, I had a chance to hit a guy and knock him out but I decided to hit him low. Number 27 caught a post route and I just hit him in his legs. Before that play I was thinking, ‘Don’t hit him high. They’re probably going to flag me or something.’ A lot of players, especially on the defensive side, think it’s unfair. I just think they’re taking something away from football.”
Have you ever had a concussion?
“I had one my sophomore year but it wasn’t from hitting. It was from hitting my head on the ground.”
How do you feel as a young football player, still fairly early in your career, about seeing older, retired players and the impact that head trauma has had on them?
“I haven’t really thought about it, but it’s the game that we play. I think it comes with that territory of being a football player. You’re going to take those head shots because it’s the game. That’s why you’ve got a helmet on. I haven’t really thought about that, but I’ll say it comes with it. This is what we do. We play football. Whatever that we have to deal with from playing football, I guess it comes with it, because that’s what we love to do.”
Would you encourage or discourage your kids from playing football?
“I will say whatever my kids want to do, I’ll just let them do that. With having my genes, I’m pretty sure they’ll want to play some kind of sport.”
So you ran on your toes last year while playing with a stress fracture in your foot, right?
“I had to do it because if I planted the wrong way, I would just have to come out of the game. It was some pain, especially after every game. Not practicing during the week, trying to rest it up and just going out and playing on Saturdays, Sundays I was very sore. The only game I got a (painkiller) shot was Clemson and Nebraska. I re-injured it during the Clemson game. Before the Clemson game I wasn’t going to have to have surgery. But I reinjured it against Clemson and it split open a little bit more. I got a shot the Clemson game and I got two shots against Nebraska. I hurt it against Arkansas.”
Is it a point of pride for players to play through pain?
“You don’t want to be the guy that’s sitting out because you’re hurt. You want to be the tough guy. With the game that we play, a lot of guys, you always play hurt. You don’t play injured but you play hurt. I was injured but I played anyway. I took pride in that, saying, ‘I’m out here doing it with a broke foot. Why can’t somebody else do it?’ You can see it as that, with people, when they complain about certain stuff. I can just use myself as an example. I played five, six games with a broke foot. I took pride in that. I wish I was injury free but it happened for a reason.”
Any final words you want to mention about memorable moments for you at USC?
“My first official start against Alabama (in 2010), that was sort of a big come-out for me. Since my freshman year, I’ve always been a confident guy. I always thought I should start. But coaches see it different. I probably shouldn’t have been starting. That year, too, I was rotating with Akeem (Auguste) and DeVonte (Holloman) but I always thought I should be the starter, and when I got that chance to make that actual start, I had nine tackles, I led the team in tackles. I had a great game against Alabama.”
Were you nervous before the game?
“Not nervous at all. I was just ready. Before that game, we were hearing (that) Alabama is gonna run through South Carolina. It’s all motivation. I use a lot of motivation from what people say about me, say about my team. When I use that motivation, it just takes away from the nervousness. All that goes away when I take things personal. Any time you insult my team or my defense or me, I always take that personal on the field.
“During that game, it’s always in the back of your head on every play (that people said) ‘you can’t do it.’ I just use that during the whole game, flying around, trying to make a name for myself because it was my first start.”