Swann mantra ‘cry later’ applies to life and football

Damian Swann has a tattoo on his right bicep that reads “CRY LATER.” Never has that phrase seemed more applicable.

Swann has wanted to cry a lot lately, but hasn’t had the opportunity. He was a close friend of De’Antre Turman, the Creekside defensive back who died from injuries sustained while making a tackle in a scrimmage game against Banneker on Aug. 16. Swann, a junior cornerback for the Georgia Bulldogs, will attend Turman’s funeral Saturday at Word of Faith Family Worship Cathedral in Austell. He’ll miss the Bulldogs’ practice to do so.

“I used to mentor Tre Tre,” said Swann, using Turman’s nickname. “We played in the same park (Ben Hill), and he kind of grew up under me. So I used to watch him play all the time. He played at my middle school. He kind of took some of the same steps I took throughout middle school and throughout little league and high school. The kid had a bright future.”

Tre-Tre, a junior, had a scholarship offer from Kentucky. Swann figures he was 6 or 7 years old when they first met. They stayed in touch the past three years while Swann was away playing for the Bulldogs.

“We communicated often,” Swann said. “We talked a lot. It was one of those things that was really hard for me when I did get the phone call. I woke up to a bunch of missed calls that next morning. That was hard for me. But God has a plan for everybody.”

Regardless of the tragedy, Swann had to press on with preseason preparations as a starting cornerback for the Bulldogs. And that has been an intensive process.

Swann finds himself in a position of unusual importance going beyond the responsibilities of his position. Swann is the only defensive back on the team with any significant playing experience. He played in 25 games his first two seasons, including 15 starts, 14 this past season. Only senior Connor Norman has started any games, two.

So as the Bulldogs began the transition this summer of breaking in four new starters — UGA signed eight defensive backs in the last recruiting class — the coaches asked Swann to take on the role of teacher. It is a role he embraced.

“I think he’s transitioned pretty well,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “From what I understand he did a good job in the summer of organizing the pass skeleton for the defense and teaching young guys all summer and throughout camp. I think he’s enjoying his role as a leader.”

That has proved even more difficult once preseason camp began. Injuries have sidelined projected Game 1 starters Tray Matthews (shoulder, hamstring) and Corey Moore (knee) for most of camp, and a plethora of maladies have taken out other defensive backs for various stretches over the past month. As of Wednesday’s game-simulation scrimmage, the starters along with Swann were Norman and freshmen Quincy Mauger and Brendan Langley. Rarely have the Bulldogs had the same set on the field.

The lack of repetitions with the same group heading into the Clemson game concerns Swann.

“The lack of communication means giving up big plays, and all it takes is one big play to cost a game,” Swann said.

Swann knows that all too well. He was the Georgia defensive back left chasing Alabama’s Amari Cooper on a 45-yard touchdown play that proved the game-winner with 3:15 remaining in the SEC Championship game in December. Though safety Bacarri Rambo was caught out of position, Swann takes full blame for the breakdown.

“It was just one of those things where the ground game got to me,” he said Friday. “It was one of those play-action passes, and I took an extra peek in the backfield. … It was one of those things that kind of cost us.”

But then, that’s where that “cry later” tattoo on Swann’s arm comes in. It’s a mantra defensive backs live by. You have to be up and ready for the next play, the next game.

And Swann had one of his best games ever the next time out. He had two interceptions and six tackles against Nebraska to earn defensive MVP honors in the Capital One Bowl.

“I got past it,” he said. “… You forget about the past and move on.”

As for Tre Tre, a young friend who died playing the game the way Swann plays it, that’s going to take a while to get over. He probably never will.

“They said it was a routine tackle, heads-up,” Swann said, his chin quivering. “It was something that just happened. That could happen to anybody on any given play.”

For one day at least, Swann can go ahead and cry.