COLUMBIA — South Pointe fans might have noticed an eerie sight during the Stallions’ Class AAAA-Divison II semifinal loss to Greenwood last Friday night. On a 3rd and 8 play during the third quarter, a player wearing Greenwood’s No. 36, sporting long braids that peeked from the bottom of his helmet, glided past the South Pointe offensive line, grabbed quarterback Devin Pearson’s jersey, reeled him in and slung him rudely to the floor for a 12-yard loss.
Could’ve been D.J. Swearinger right?
Close. It was his first cousin, Davon Durant.
Swearinger starred at Greenwood from 2005-09, terrorizing opposing offenses as a heat-seeking linebacker and safety for the Eagles under legendary coach Shell Dula, before becoming one of the most feared defensive backs in college football for the South Carolina Gamecocks. Now, Durant is doing his best imitation of his cousin’s reign at Greenwood.
“Me and D.J. are real close, obviously,” Durant said Monday at the state championship press conference at the High School League offices. “We play about the same style, love to hit.”
The Northwestern Trojans will have to account for Durant, the face of Greenwood’s stingy defense, when the two schools meet Saturday at noon at Williams-Brice Stadium to decide the state football champion.
“He’s really, really good,” said Northwestern coach Kyle Richardson. “He flies all over the field and when he gets there, he’s going to try and knock… you… out.”
Durant broke out last year with 115 tackles, and has followed up with a nice senior season. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound linebacker, rated nationally by 247sports.com as the 15th best inside linebacker in the class of 2013, has 99 tackles, 14.5 for loss, four forced fumbles and 5.5 sacks so far this year. Durant also earned a spot on South Carolina’s Shrine Bowl roster, and is a very likely all-state candidate. Durant’s play in the heart of the Eagles defense has been a main reason it’s allowing just 13 points per game, has a plus-22 turnover margin, and has held opponents to just 32 percent third down conversion this season.
The stats, and Durant’s abusive tackling style, all mesh into a Pittsburgh Steelers, SEC-type of mentality that the Greenwood program exudes.
“I guess you can compare it,” Durant said. “Just Greenwood type of play. The offense gonna do their job and defense, we gonna go out and make plays.”
Eagles coach Gene Cathcart described Durant as a player who gives, “all-out effort, has a great motor, never stops.”
Watch Durant play one or two defensive series and Swearinger’s influence upon him is readily evident, not least because of the almost identical braids.
“I think I get a lot of that from him, physical-wise,” said Durant. “I transfer it from Saturdays over to Fridays for me. Seeing him have great games just motivates me to go out and do the same.”
Durant actually didn’t meet Swearinger until about three years ago, but they made up for lost time quickly, and the college player has been a positive role model in every regard for his younger cousin. In football terms, Swearinger impressed upon Durant the importance of preparation; Swearinger couldn’t make a knockout hit like the one he had against Clemson last Saturday night without being in the right place at the right moment.
“He’s a student of the game,” said Durant. “You can never learn too much, and he’s always studying film. He knows what you gonna do before you do it in the game and I think that’s a big key to his success. I also do that, watch a lot of film and know what the offense gonna do before the ball snapped.”
Maybe Swearinger’s positive influence arrived just a little too late. Durant didn’t take care of his academic responsibilities his first years of high school and will likely have to suffer the consequences next year, heading to a junior college instead of an SEC school. Durant will eventually be playing in front of 80,000-strong college football crowds, because his talent and physicality are undeniable. Surprisingly, so too is the big mean linebacker’s cuddliness, according to coach Cathcart.
“Unbelievable young person. He’s every coach’s child’s favorite Eagle because he loves up on them and throws them around. He’s like a gentle giant.”
After watching their first Greenwood game tapes over the weekend, Richardson and Northwestern won’t buy that for a second.
Bret McCormick 329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T