Two years ago, Jovan Swann was playing against Penn for a Class 6A state football championship. It was a pretty big deal.
Not quite as big, though, as playing in sold-out stadiums against the likes of USC or Notre Dame.
An all-state defensive lineman at Center Grove who redshirted as a Stanford freshman last fall, Swann is finally getting his first taste of big-time college football this year, and he’s enjoying it thoroughly. His debut season wraps up tonight when the 13th-ranked Cardinal (9-4) take on No. 15 TCU in the Alamo Bowl.
“When we go down to SoCal to play USC the first time, or when I lined up against the gold helmets, it’s amazing to know that I’ve made it to this level,” Swann said. “I’m awestruck out there sometimes.”
Swann’s first collegiate appearance was a memorable one — he came up with an interception and a pair of tackles as Stanford beat Rice by 55 points in Sydney, Australia.
He achieved another milestone Dec. 1 when he made his first career start at defensive end in the Pac-12 championship game against USC.
He tied a career high with six tackles in the loss to the Trojans, bringing his season total to 23. Swann also has totaled six quarterback hurries, tied for the team lead, as well as 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble.
Swann’s efforts on and off the field earned him a spot on the Pac-12 All-Academic second team.
“It’s been amazing, exhilarating, getting out there finally with the big guys,” Swann said of his first season of action.
Though he felt as if he would have been physically capable of holding his own in 2016, Swann believes that the decision by the coaching staff to hold him out last season was the right one.
In addition to beefing up a bit to 261 pounds, he also got a chance to improve his technique, which is essential now that most of the offensive linemen he faces are much heavier than he is. He can’t just bully his way through like he could most of the time at Center Grove.
“It’s a really technical sport once you get to this level, more so than it is just brute strength,” Swann explained. “There are some super strong guys, but if you know how to get leverage on them, especially at 6-2, it makes things much more easy after you learn certain techniques and mechanics.”
Swann should have plenty more opportunities to put those skills to use. Eric Cotton, the starting defensive end whose starting spot he’s now filling, is a fifth-year senior, meaning Swann should have the inside track on that job for the next three years.
That’s all way down the road, though. Swann’s primary concern at the moment is helping Stanford end its season with a win over the Horned Frogs tonight.
“I’m just trying to contribute to the team as much as I can,” he said.
Stanford (9-4) vs. TCU (10-3)
Where: San Antonio, Texas
Time: 9 p.m.