GREENWOOD — Jadeveon Clowney, even as a college freshman, didn’t have to listen to anybody. He knew that in three years time, he was going to be a high NFL draft pick, most likely the top NFL draft pick, and if he wanted to view his time at South Carolina as extended high school, that was his right.
He quickly learned that wouldn’t be an option.
“It was me leading by example,” D.J. Swearinger said. “You want to follow someone doing it the right way and making plays. I would speak up and take a leadership role. That’s what I was expected to do and I did it.”
Swearinger, who gave up seven inches and 60 pounds to Clowney but knew in his heart that he was the toughest, meanest player in the country, was prepared to ride Clowney until he got with the program. Instead, Swearinger saw a player who wanted to learn and didn’t promote the massive hype placed upon his shoulders.
Three years later, he’s doing the same. As a second-year pro welcoming NFL rookie Clowney to the Houston Texans, Swearinger knew he’d have to repeat what he did at USC. That was emphasized by Texans coach Bill O’Brien – who either knew about Swearinger’s reputation at USC or Swearinger already had made his mark in Houston – asked Swearinger to guide the No. 1 pick through the season.
“He told me to get with him and keep him straight,” Swearinger said. “We live close to each other, so we can hang out a lot. But it’s just about getting him up to speed, making sure he knows the processes and the rules and what’s expected of him. He’s been really eager to learn.”
Swearinger returned to his hometown to make an appearance at his football camp and was helped by USC products and NFL defensive backs Johnathan Joseph, Akeem Auguste and Victor Hampton. Handing out shirts with “Swaggg” and his No. 36 printed on the back, Swearinger was directing drills and preaching hard work to campers of all ages.
It helped that his picture was on the wall of the gym as a member of a Greenwood state championship team. Campers from Abbeville, Ninety Six and Greenwood got the message from that and the No. 36 Texans jersey a parent sported at registration.
“It’s all giving back,” said Swearinger, whose camp was free. “I don’t want to charge any kids for a camp. We’re all from the same area. I grew up here and went to camps and I want to do the same now that I can.”
Swearinger has been training in Miami and returned to his home state Thursday. After a stop in Rock Hill on Saturday to help work Joseph’s camp, he leaves Sunday for Houston.
Joseph, who also is playing with the Texans, has been impressed with Swearinger’s ability, even as a rookie. “He came in really prepared,” he said. “I reached out to him when he got drafted. We met up when he got to Houston. He’s a really quick learner, and I think he’s going to be a star.”
The campers knew it, crowding around Swearinger at each station so he could autograph their T-shirts and hats.
“It’s great seeing kids out here having fun and learning,” Swearinger said. “I always like to a put a smile on kids’ faces.”
He’s also ready to take a big step this year in the NFL. He started 10 of 16 games as a rookie and totaled 71 tackles with an interception and a forced fumble. Whether it comes from his first NFL touchdown or simply knowing that the top draft pick will always listen to him, Swearinger wants more.
“Once you get into it, you start to adjust and start playing like a pro,” Swearinger said. “It took a little while to get everything straight, but it’s all football at the end of the day.”
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