Senior Spring: Isiah Swann sets sights on NFL after historic college football career

by Devan Fink | 4/14/20 2:05am

isiah-swann

Isiah Swann '20, the 2018 Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year and a three-time All-Ivy League team selection, is searching for a shot to play in the NFL.

Source: Courtesy of Isiah Swann

The storied Dartmouth football career of Isiah Swann ’20 concluded in fairytale fashion. 

Last November, after a late fourth quarter comeback, the Big Green held a 29-23 lead over Brown University. The team was minutes away from sealing the Ivy League title, but the Bears’ offense marched down the field. A pass here, a run there, a defensive pass interference call and all of a sudden, Dartmouth’s back was against a wall. The Bears’ EJ Perry had taken Brown inside the 15-yard line, and even after a big sack, still had a shot at the end zone with 27 seconds left.

Enter Swann. 

Perry dropped back, scrambled to get out of pressure and heaved the ball into the end zone. In and out it went through a receiver’s hands, instead landing in the grasp of No. 25 in white. Doing what he did better than any player in the history of Big Green football, Swann’s 17th career interception sealed the deal. Dartmouth was the champion.

“The last [interception] couldn’t have been more fitting,” head coach Buddy Teevens ’79 said. “He’s just where he needs to be, making a play that has to be made. The ball’s in the end zone. He’s there, and he intercepts it, and the game is over.”

Swann could very well be the best defensive back in Dartmouth history. He finished his Dartmouth career as the all-time leader in interceptions with 17 and in pick-sixes with four. His list of accomplishments runs long: 2018 Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year, two-time Associated Press FCS All-American and a three-time All-Ivy League team selection, just to name a few. He led the country in interceptions in 2018, with nine, including three in one game, tying a Dartmouth record.

But even for all the success that Swann has had playing defensive back at Dartmouth, he didn’t even move to the position until his junior year of high school. Wide receiver was his natural position, but in order to earn a spot on the varsity team at Chandler High School in Arizona, Swann decided to try something new. Four wide receivers at Swann’s high school — including N’Keal Harry, the New England Patriots’ first round draft pick in 2019 — went on to play Division I football. That’s why Swann thought he could benefit from switching to defense.

“We had dudes top to bottom, just ridiculous. I was like, ‘I’m probably not going to get that much playing time here, let me see if I can make corner work,’” Swann said. “So I went over to the DB group, and [coach Russell Scott], I’m thankful for him every day, he took me in and he just gave me the foundation of how to play corner, and that’s how it took off.”

Teevens noticed Swann’s ability and his “tremendous skills” immediately upon his arrival at Dartmouth. According to Swann, Teevens was the only coach who made the trip to visit him in Arizona, which spoke volumes about Teevens and his program. After his senior year of high school, Swann visited Hanover, and he was sold.

“I just fell in love with the people,” he said. “The people that were on the team, they were genuine guys, they were nice, they seemed to care about you as a person and as a football player. Same thing with the coaches. [Teevens] didn’t seem like he just wanted me to play football. It seemed like he wanted me to grow as a man and become the person that I’m supposed to become. Just the combination of people — I wanted those four years to be with those guys.”

Swann was quickly thrown into the fire as a freshman. Fellow captain and linebacker Jack Traynor ’19 remembers Swann’s first appearance in a scrimmage versus Harvard, recalling that he admired Swann’s presence on the field.

“We were out there, start first possession on defense, and I notice Isiah is out there, like as a freshman, not having much exposure at all,” Traynor said. “I’m like, ‘Oh crap, who’s this guy?’ He was a pretty quiet guy when he first got here, hadn’t gotten the exposure. Just to see him hold his own and make plays … [it] was pretty impressive for sure.”

In Swann’s first official start against Towson University, he recorded his first career interception, 13 tackles (which remains his college career high) and three pass breakups, en route to being named the STATS National Freshman Player of the Week. It was quite the introduction.

“I was really nervous,” Swann said. “I still remember the [interception]. The quarterback was scrambling. I made him think that I was going to come up to try to tackle him, so he tried to dunk it over my head, and I just stepped back and caught it. And I was hype — I’m not even going to lie about that. My friends still make fun of me to this day, how hyped I was.”

The following year, Swann’s first pick-six came versus Yale University, putting Dartmouth on the board after falling behind early 21-0. The Big Green would go on to win 28-27.

“At first, I didn’t think of it as being significant because, like, I jumped it, I caught it, the pass was a little behind, I just took it down the sideline and ran it in,” Swann said. “We were still down. It was looking bad for us at halftime, so I didn’t think anything of it. But after the game, we came back, we won, last second touchdown. I was like, ‘Wow, we needed that. I didn’t realize it was the spark plug to the comeback.’”

That was certainly a theme of his career: Whenever Dartmouth needed a big defensive play or a timely stop, it was Swann who provided the spark.

“He had this knack — and we saw this as he developed — of baiting quarterbacks,” Teevens said. “He’s sharp enough, he’d anticipate cuts and all that, and he’d give the image that [the quarterback’s] got an open guy, and all of a sudden, and he’s making the break before the receiver does.”

But even for all of his success on the field, both Teevens and Traynor referenced Swann’s humility as something that sets him apart. 

“[He’s] just a great guy to be around,” Traynor said. “No arrogance or anything. [It’s] just so refreshing to see a guy come in every day with that same approach — [I] just really felt fortunate to become a little close and get to know him kind of as a guy these last few years … The kind of love that he had for the situation he was in, not only in football but just being at Dartmouth, was pretty infectious.”

Teevens mentioned how faculty members would often comment on Swann’s positive demeanor. 

“He was, to me, a wonderful representative of all the best at Dartmouth,” he said. “Just thoughtful, considerate, involved. I had faculty make comments: ‘He’s such a nice person.’ And I think that’s a tremendous compliment.”

Swann will graduate as an environmental studies major, though his eye is currently turned to a different goal: playing in the National Football League. The NFL draft starts on April 23, and though he does not expect to hear his name called, Swann is excited about the possibility of playing at the next level.

“At the end of the day, all I want is a shot to make a roster, whether it’s drafted or undrafted,” he said. “I’m not expecting to be drafted ... I hope so, I’m wishing for it, but if it doesn’t happen, no big deal. Go in as an undrafted free agent and then try to make a roster from there because that’s really my dream.”

But in quintessential Swann fashion, his final reflection on his Dartmouth career wasn’t about him. It was about his teammates.

“The ones that were before me, the ones that were after me, they all had a really deep effect on me,” he said. “I really feel like we created bonds. I know everyone says that their football team is a family, but I really think that we developed a family. I feel like I can hit up any one of those guys, and they’ll treat me just like their brother. And I guess I was expecting that when I came to Dartmouth, but to really feel it, it’s surreal.”

And as the team prepares to move on to life without Swann in the fold, Teevens says that his lead-by-example mantra will be emphasized for years to come.

“As I tell our players, I want a great football player at football time, a great student at academic time and a great guy all the time,” Teevens said. “And that was Isiah Swann.”