Redskins training camp interviews part 4: DJ Swearinger

         In the final installment of the Redskins training camp interview series, my sight is set on the tenacious hard hitting 5th year safety out of South Carolina in DJ Swearinger. Swearinger comes to the Redskins after spending a little over a year in Arizona with the Cardinals. He was drafted out of South Carolina in the 2nd round of the 2013 draft when the Houston Texans picked him. After two okay seasons with the Texans, Swearinger would go on to sign with the Buccaneers, but would only last 7 games with them and then moved on to the Arizona Cardinals, where he began to show promise of a good player.

How does it feel to be playing alongside your former high school teammate in josh Norman?

“It means a lot, man, it means a lot. We hold Greenwood high. You know, small normanswearingercountry town. We’ve got a lot of talent in Greenwood and to have two guys on the same team from Greenwood is amazing, man. I can’t wait to get back out there with Josh and do what we used to do.”

On if he could have imagined playing with Norman in the NFL:

“It’s kind of crazy because I got drafted with a high school teammate in Houston, Sam Montgomery. So, I don’t know how that can happen – I got drafted with a high school teammate and end up coming to play with another high school teammate, which is very rare. But, it happened and it’s a blessing that it happened this way.”

What motivates you to play as hard as you do dating back to your Gamecock days?

“I have to bring that because I’m a natural born leader. My mom always told me to lead, not to follow. That’s what I’m doing here. We’ve got an excellent opportunity swearingercollegeevery day, man, when we go out there on that field. It’s a blessing to be out there, so why not give your all, give it high energy and give the energy that feeds off others? That’s what I try to do, and I’ll keep continuing to do that.”

 

I want to thank Adam Winkler, of WTKR in Norfolk, for passing along my questions for Redskins Training camp. @Adamwinksports

 

What a March for the Gamecocks Men’s basketball team.

                 Just like most March’s, there is always that one surprise team who comes out of nowhere and makes a fantastic run throughout the tournament by beating some of the best teams in the field. This March was no different. Coming into the tournament, the Gamecocks of South Carolina were not given much of a chance to get very far through the tournament, especially with Duke most likely waiting in the second round if they did pass an offensive power in Marquette. Out of nowhere this basketball team, who basically limped into the tournament by going 3-6 in the final 9 games of the season including the conference tournament, and was believed to be over seeded, won and won impressively. The way this team played showed that they deserve to be there this year and possibly for years to come. gamecocks

                Throughout the tournament, this team embodied what their fierce coach, Frank Martin, preached, and that is defense. This team was one of the best defensive teams in the country during the regular season, but as the season went on, there were signs that the defense was starting to fade. This team’s defense was a major reason they could win at least 20 games for the second straight year, but when the defense was fading, this team couldn’t win much. The offense for the Gamecocks was mostly built through the defense, but the team took a hit when the defense slipped. So of course, no one would think a team like this would make a run like they did.

                This team got something to click coming into the tournament, where not only did their defense came back vigorously, but also their offense found life. Not only was the team lead by Frank Martin, they were also led by senior point guard, Sindarius Thornwell, who won the SEC player of the year. Through the first four games, Sindarius averaged more than 24 points a game and was big on the defense by disrupting plays and helped turn defense into offense. Thornwell fed off his coach’s fire throughout the tournament, and his teammates fed off him. Even though this team will lose Thornwell, as well as Duane Notice and Justin McKie, who are also seniors, it’s still loaded with talented players who could also lead this team after learning from the seniors.

                 thornwell This team was trying to become the first 7 seed to win a title since UCONN won it all back in the 2014 tournament. To put into perspective how impressive this run was for the team, this was only the 8th time that a team seeded 7th or lower has reached the Final Four since 2000, and out of the previous 7 times, only one team has managed to get back to the Final Four. All but one of the previous teams managed to get into some sort of postseason tournament, and out of the ten total teams who managed to get to the Final Four as a low seed, only half improved their record. The question is, can the Gamecocks beat the odds and get back to the Final Four or will history repeat and the Gamecocks either get knocked out early or miss it entirely.

                Sadly, as most runs end, so did the Gamecocks amazing run when they met up with the Bulldogs of Gonzaga in the Final Four. Even though they would not get passed Gonzaga, these tough and gritty Gamecocks did not give up and were so close to upsetting one of the best teams in the brackets. Although they would lose by 4 to the Bulldogs, they had a furious comeback when they were down by 14 at one point during the second half.

                This run through the tournament tells me that this team is moving in the right direction and will be back next year trying to recreate the magic that they had this time. The big question is, how close are they to really competing for a National Championship and being a big-time basketball program. The signs are there that show that they are moving in the right direction and that Coach Martin is the type of coach that will lead them there. Even if there is no championship for the men’s team, this is a successful season and a big step forward for the program in the eyes of many of the Gamecock faithful, who stayed during the losing and heartache in most of the decade.

Looking back with the hiring of Frank Martin

                               As the Gamecocks get ready for their first trip to the Final Four, I look back to see where this team came from, going from a 10-win team in Darrin Horn’s final year, to the administration bringing in a fierce coach from K-State in Frank Martin to rebuild this team basically from scratch. During the off-season between Coach Horn being let go and Coach Martin taking over, many players would wind up transferring from the program and others would follow throughout Coach Martin’s first couple of years in Columbia. In his first two seasons at the helm, darrin hornCoach Martin didn’t win many games, and it seemed as if this team would be sub .500 for a while.  The Gamecocks hadn’t gotten  into the big dance since ’04 and it didn’t look like that was going to happen anytime soon.

                In Coach Martin’s first season, you could tell no one believed in that team and no one wanted to get disappointed by watching  them as well when less than half of the stadium was filled in the season opener of the 2012 season. In the season open victory against frank martinMilwaukee, the attendance for that game was at 7,335, which is drastically less than half of the possible attendance of 18,000.  Most probably didn’t want to pay to watch what was expected to be a bad team. As seasons went by, the attendance increased.

                Starting in his 3rd season in 2014 Coach Martin had the Gamecocks moving in the right direction. Despite losing 16 games that year, they also won 17 games for their first winning season since Darrin Horn’s first year at the helm in the ’08-’09 season when the team went 21-10 and made the NIT. By posting a winning season in his 3rd year, Coach Martin ended a streak of 5 straight losing years for this team, and as we are seeing, this team is not done winning just yet. Since his 3rd year going 17-16, Frank Martin has lead this team to a 51-19 overall record the last 2 years combined, going 25-9 last year and 26-10 so far, this year, and this team seems to be getting better each year.

                   Looking back now at the time before Coach Martin was here, it seems like it was a lot longer than 5 years that he has been here and that the Gamecocks only won 10 games the year prior to his arrival in Columbia. It goes to show that he has done such a wonderful job on this rebuilding project and how he never gave up on this team and believed that he can make this team into a winner. In his introductory press conference, Coach Martin talked about how he likes a challenge and doesn’t run away from them like others do. In an article on ESPN written around the time of the hiring, Coach Martin is quoted as saying “When people ask me ‘why’, I ask, ’why not?” This was his response to people asking him why would he take the South Carolina job. He goes on to say that he would love having another opportunity to build a program up, like what he did with K-State.  It seems as if Coach Martin was up to the challenge to take on the rebuilding project of South Carolina Men’s basketball.

                This team has competed at a whole new level this year compared to years past, but you could even say that this team is on an even newer level in the tournament than they were in the regular season, after they finished the regular season going 3-6 in the last nine games and not being expected to win anything in the NCAA tournament. Now they have a chance to play in the National Championship if they can get passed the best defensive team in the nation in Gonzaga.

Having different expectations with certain coaches before they start is not always the good way to go.

            At the end of this past college football season, an unbelievable amount of head coaching jobs opened up. During this past season 10 head coaching jobs opened up, then during the off season 18 more opened up due to coaches getting jobs else where. One of the most notable openings was at South Carolina, when Steve Spurrier stepped down mid season and replaced with Shawn Elliot. During the off season the Gamecocks hired former UF head coach Will Muschamp. When this was announced many people, including myself at first, saw this as a horrible hiring and were mad that the Gamecocks missed out on the likes of Kirby Smart, who went to UGA, and Tom Herman, the head man of the Houston Cougars.

         footballThe biggest reason for the outrage towards the hire was that Muschamps tenure at Florida did not go as a lot of people would have wanted it to. His numbers at Florida did not indicate he would get another crack at a head coaching job after one year of being a defensive coordinator, especially in the SEC. Muschamp was the head man at Florida from 2011-14, after being the DC and possible replacement of the great Mack Brown at Texas. He went 28-21 while at Florida. I can understand why people do not think he is a good coach, but what people do not seem to take into consideration is that he was coming into a job with HUGE expectations.

            He had to follow in the foot steps of Urban Meyer, the Gators second best coach behind, ironically, Steve Spurrier. People are to quick to judge a coach. One of the greatest football coaches this generation has ever seen, Nick Saban, had his struggles early on in his career. After coach Saban left Toledo after one year, he went to Michigan St. While the coach of the Spartans, coach Saban collected a record of 34-24-1 over 5 years before going to coach LSU. Nick Sabans winning percentage at Michigan St is barely better then that of Muschamps winning percentage at Florida. Mack Brown is a sure thing hall of fame coach for college football, but his first few years did not go to well. Coach Brown got his first head coaching job at Tulane. His record during his tenure there would be 11-23. That is a winning percentage of .324. After his tenure at Tulane, he would go on to find some success leading the UNC Tar heels program, before landing at UT and leading that program to monumental success with a national title in 2005 and another trip to the title game in ’09.

        clipboardWhat I am saying is that you can not judge a book by its cover. Another great example of that in another sport would be the Boston Celtics taking a risk and hiring Brad Stevens away from his successful coaching career at Butler. Many thought this could be disastrous because college coaches have not really found success in the pros, but coach Stevens is slowly proving that wrong in only his third year at the head. Many are already saying he is one of the future coaching greats. Coach Stevens NBA career started rocky going 25-57 his first year, but he has improved his record last year and this year, going 40-42 and 48-34 respectively, with two playoff appearances. Coaches, no matter the league or sport, learn from their mistakes or learn to adapt to new leagues.