Mario Swann made a decision he doesn’t believe many scholarship athletes would.

Swann played eight games as an Eastern Michigan freshman, but coach Ron English was fired late in the 2013 season.

“When the new coaches came in, everything was changing,” Swann said. “So what I was promised coming into Eastern wasn’t happening.”

So after talking with his parents, the 2013 Center Grove High School graduate decided to give up his football scholarship at Eastern Michigan to be a walk-on at Indiana University.

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“Dropping a full-ride scholarship is almost unheard of. I feel I can either earn one here or the opportunity will replace the (scholarship) money they were giving me in the long run,” Swann said.

Swann said any walk-on’s goal is to get a full ride.

“If it happens, it happens,” Swann said. “I’m going to always work for it. They (IU coaching staff) didn’t recruit me, so I’m going work up to their levels so I am noticed.”

After sitting out last season as a transfer, the 6-1, 215-pound Swann plays on both kickoff teams and punt returns, seeing action in all eight games for the Hoosiers (4-4, 0-4 Big Ten).

Swann said he is trying to move up on the depth chart at free safety.

“I’m happy with my role, but I got to keep working to get free safety time,” Swann said. “I’ve embraced what I’m doing and I’m trying to help the team in all ways.”

Swann saw some action at free safety in a 36-22 victory against Florida International on Sept. 12.

“I had a pass breakup that could have been a pick-6, but I dropped it,” he said.

Secondary coach Noah Joseph said the staff was comfortable playing Swann.

“We had a couple of injuries, and he went right in and did a nice job for us,” Joseph said. “As we’ve gotten guys back, his playing time on defense has lessened some, but he’s still helping out as a major contributor on special teams. He’s a great guy in the locker room. He’s doing a great job practicing and getting better every day.

“It’s starting to mature a little bit on and off the field, which has helped his performance on the field. He’s got a lot of upside that we’re excited about.”

Joseph said Swann was a scout team player during his transfer.

“But this spring was the first time he was able to learn our defense and our terminology,” Joseph said. “He’s really a freshman in terms of being in our scheme and system.”

Swann said the transfer from Eastern Michigan to IU was a total 180 degree turn.

“It was completely different,” Swann said. “Even though I dropped my scholarship at Eastern Michigan, I feel what Indiana has to offer academically and athletically (is better) for me. The opportunities are one-in-a-million. So I came here.”

While sitting out as a transfer was hard, Swann said it was worth it.

“It ate me alive (to sit out),” Swann said. “But now that I’m back on the field, with my teammates, who are basically my brothers, it’s unreal. It’s awesome.”

Swann said he worked just as hard during his transfer season.

“My game did improve working with Big Ten coaches,” Swann said. “(Secondary coaches) Brandon Shelby and Noah Joseph transformed me into the player that I want to be. I love them as coaches. They are like father figures away from home.

“They got me in the right direction on and off the field. I did see myself mature and grow as a football player.”

Before each practice, Swann said Hoosiers coach Kevin Wilson has the players write goals.

“My top football goal is just to be influential part in the DB rotation,” Swann said. “I just have to keep working and it will come. You work hard now and get rewarded later.”

While focused on getting better, Swann has kept an eye on Class 6A No.1 Center Grove’s unbeaten record.

“I’m proud of them because they have been working hard,” Swann said of the Trojans. “These are kids I’ve seen grow up. Those are my little brothers so it’s awesome to see them grow up.”

Swann’s not-so-little brother, Jovan Swann, is a 6-3, 265-pound senior defensive tackle. Jovan has received several scholarship offers, including seven from Big Ten schools, and has taken an official visit to Stanford.

The Swann File

Name: Mario Swann

Position: Free safety/special teams

Size: 6-foot-1, 215 pounds

Major: Exercise science.

Favorite class: African-American studies.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years: “I want to become a dentist, that’s my ultimate goal. Ever since I got braces, I was transformed. I got them in eighth grade and got them off the end of my freshman year. My teeth were brand new when I got them off. That’s when I made up my mind.”

What do you do to relax: “Spend time with my girlfriend, watch TV and play some video games.”

Favorite video game: “Gears of War: Ultimate Edition.”

Favorite TV show: “Game of Thrones”

Favorite musician: Travis Scott

Favorite NFL player: Arizona Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu.

Author photo
Mark Ambrogi is a sports correspondent for the Daily Journal.