Georgia cornerback Damian Swann probably has more experience in the Georgia Dome than most of his teammates.
Sophomore Damian Swann is on of the few underclassmen who start on defense for Georgia. The cornerback has made his presence felt this season, forcing four turnovers — two picks and two fumbles.
As a junior at nearby Grady High School in Atlanta, Swann and his Grey Knights teammates played St. Pius X in the building in October 2009, and he was among the Georgia contingent that in 2011 played there twice, first in the season opener against Boise State and later in the Southeastern Conference championship game against LSU.
Unfortunately, every time Swann and his colleagues — whether Knights or Bulldogs — have suited up at the Dome, the outcome has always been the same.
“You never get tired of playing on that field, especially when it’s a game like this,” said the 5-foot-11, 176-pound sophomore, who today will join Georgia when it faces Alabama for the SEC title and a shot at the national championship in January.
“It’s a great feeling. You try to take in the experience as much as possible, but every time I’ve been there, we’ve fallen short. So I want to actually win a game there. The three games I’ve played there we didn’t win, but I think we have a real good chance this weekend.”
Swann, who has started all 12 games for the Bulldogs this season and has recorded 40 tackles and two interceptions, is the young lion of the Georgia secondary playing alongside senior starters Bacarri Rambo, Shawn Williams and Sanders Commings, along with backup Branden Smith. He said he owes all of the veterans a great debt.
“It’s great playing with four seniors, guys who have played a lot of football here and guys that know the speed of the game,” said Swann, who has also posted 3.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and five pass break-ups during Georgia’s march to its most notable postseason in years. “They can take care of you out there. That’s one of the best situations a guy like me can be in – playing with those guys. And I’ve learned a lot from them.”
Coach Mark Richt notes that while Swann will be a defensive leader in the near future, he’s making a solid contribution right now.
“Damian is a very talented guy and he’s the youngster in our defensive backfield right now with just about everybody else a senior,” Richt said. “(But) as soon as this class leaves, he’s going to be the veteran. He has the ball skills of an offensive player. He’s got good length and great cover skills. He can make acrobatic interceptions and he made a big jump in his physicality from a year ago. He got very serious about getting in the weight room and getting stronger and playing more physical.
“He’s been in the nickel position, which is the run-support guy to the field side. I think Swan has the cover skills to play in the field and he has the physicality to play the nickel or the boundary corner and I think he can play safety as well.”
Swann, who this year also returned five punts for a 7.4-yard average, has also earned his stripes in his teammates’ eyes.
“He came in, waited his turn and he he’s been shining ever since,” sophomore linebacker Amarlo Herrara said. “He’s a ball hawk and he makes tackles, too. He’s speedy, he can jump in the air and he can tackle.”
“I told a lot of people at the beginning of the season that Damian was going to be the guy that was going to show up for us the most, especially now that (Brandon) Boykin was gone,” added senior linebacker Christian Robinson. “He’s kind of stepped in that role and has made a lot of big plays for us, and several interceptions, at crucial times. I think he’ll be a big leader for us next year and I know he’s going to step up and continue to play great this year and I think he’ll make some big plays on Saturday.”
Junior defensive end Garrison Smith, another Atlanta native with long ties to Swann, believes Swann’s performance now speaks to his ability and willingness to be a defensive leader in the years ahead.
“We’re both from Atlanta, so we can relate to each other,” Smith said. “We grew up playing little league sports against each other — he’s from Ben Hill and I’m from Cascade, and that’s a big rivalry. But we’re brothers now.
“I’m ready for that responsibility to be a leader on this team. I don’t do a lot of talking, so I try to lead by example. Guys who lead by example are the guys I respect the most. Swann doesn’t do a lot of talking either. He’s quiet and he makes plays, which is why I have great respect for him.”
Admitting that he expected to be “a role guy” this season, Swann said this most significant of seasons for the Georgia program is passing quickly.
“It does seem like the season has gone by fast,” he said. “When you look up, it’s camp time, then you look up again, and the first game is here. And then you look up, and you’re playing (Georgia) Tech and it’s rivalry week. That’s how quick it went. I think it goes by fast when you’re winning, and we’ve been fortunate enough to win 11 games this year. We stumbled once but we’re back where we want to be.”