When safety D.J. Swearinger signed with South Carolina four years ago, he made a vow that the Gamecocks wouldn’t lose to the Clemson Tigers a single time during his career. At the time, South Carolina had lost six of their last seven games against their rivals and there were few signs that Swearinger could fulfill his promise. However, he did just that and he accomplished it the old fashioned way through hard work and leadership.
Safety D.J. Swearinger will leave USC with a perfect 4-0 record against Clemson.
For motivation, Swearinger borrowed a page from who I consider the best athlete of all time - Michael Jordan - who was famous for holding grudges against anyone who doubted him. I first got a taste of Swearinger’s approach back when he was a recruit and still committed to the University of Tennessee. For several months he would keep me posted on his recruiting via text message, usually unsolicited, which made my job much easier.
However, at some point in the process before he switched his pledge to the Gamecocks, he received the impression that I was the one responsible for Columbia (S.C.) safety Chris Payne being ranked ahead of him in the Rivals rankings. Even though that wasn’t the case, he made his feelings clear to me and I’m not sure he’s spoken to me since that day.
As for why he took the “revenge is a dish best served with cold cuts” (Sopranos reference) approach with Clemson, it’s because their staff was never sold on him as a player. They recruited him and thought he was a good high school player, bu they had questions about his speed at the college level. They did offer him in January, a few weeks before signing day, but it was too late. He was in the fold with the Gamecocks and already had vengeance on his mind.
I felt compelled to write this article because I have seen a ridiculous number of insults hurled Swearinger’s way by Clemson fans since his huge hit and subsequent taunting of running back Andre Ellington in last weekend's match up between the two teams. They’ve called him a “thug” and said his grades weren’t good enough to get into Clemson. They’ve said they wouldn’t want him on their team under any circumstances and that he will spend more time in jail than he will the NFL.
Such assertions are all ridiculous. First off, Swearinger was a strong student in high school, finishing with over a 3.0 GPA at Greenwood, and that carried over to his college career as well. Greenwood coach Shell Dula once called him the “smartest football player he’s ever coached.” He has never been in trouble for any reason during his four-year career in Columbia and has been one of the best player leaders to ever grace the field at Williams-Brice Stadium. His offseason work ethic was such that the strength coaches had to slow him down for fear that he would overwork his body. He was the tone setter for this football team on and off the field.
It seems many of these Clemson fans have forgotten what toughness on defense looks like. While Swearinger obviously shouldn’t have taunted Ellington after the hit, there was nothing dirty or illegal about the play itself. Swearinger’s eyes lit up like a Christmas tree when he saw his opportunity to make a huge hit and he took advantage of it. As it turned out, the penalty didn’t matter because of Tajh Boyd’s interception three plays later, and it was also obvious the Clemson receivers knew where Swearinger was the rest of the game.
There is no doubt Swearinger will be missed at South Carolina, but there also is no question that he made his mark during his four years in Columbia. He helped lead the Gamecocks to four straight wins over Clemson, something they hadn’t accomplished since 1951-1954. He also helped change the culture of the program with his leadership, work ethic and fearlessness and, for that, Gamecock fans should be forever indebted to him.