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Swann song: Dartmouth’s standout cornerback reaches end of Big Green career

  • Dartmouth College cornerback Isiah Swann during his team's 20-17 loss to visiting Cornell on Nov. 16, 2019, at Memorial Field. The All-American has made a strong case to be considered the best at his position in Big Green gridiron history. (Tris Wykes - Valley News) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Dartmouth College cornerback Isiah Swann acknowledges the Memorial Field crowd during Senior Day ceremonies before a Nov. 16, 2019, game against visiting Cornell. Swann later returned an interception for a touchdown, the fourth of his career and a program record. (Tris Wykes - Valley News) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Dartmouth College cornerback Isiah Swann (25) defends Dale Chesson during a Sept. 17, 2019, practice on Memorial Field. Swann, the Big Green's career interceptions leader, and his teammates will try to clinch at least a share for the Ivy League title on Saturday during the season finale at Brown. (Tris Wykes - Valley News) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Dartmouth College cornerback Isiah Swann watches an Oct. 9, 2019, practice on Memorial Field. Swann has returned two of his three interceptions this season for touchdowns and holds the school record with four such plays. The Big Green concludes its campaign at Brown on Saturday, hoping to clinch at least a tie for the Ivy League title. (Tris Wykes - Valley News) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Isiah Swann

  • Dartmouth College cornerback Isiah Swann (25) celebrates an interception at Holy Cross on Sept. 22, 2018. Kyran McKinney-Crudden (3) is at right and Ryan Roegge (20) stands behind them. (Courtesy of Dartmouth Sports Information)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/22/2019 9:10:53 PM
Modified: 11/22/2019 9:10:40 PM

HANOVER — The thought will send a shiver up Dartmouth College football fans’ spines: The best cornerback in school history could have enrolled at … Harvard.

“Their selling point seemed to be that they were Harvard,” Isiah Swann said earlier this week, recalling his recruitment out of suburban Phoenix. “That was cool, but I came up here after that visit and fell in love with the people.

“There was no sense that they thought they were better than you, and I liked the brotherhood on the team and how it was run.”

Wise opponents have seen Swann and thrown somewhere else the past four years, during which he’s intercepted 16 passes and returned four of them for touchdowns, both school records. Brown, this week’s foe in the teams’ season finale, features talented quarterback E.J. Perry, but he would still be smart to avoid Dartmouth’s No. 25.

“It almost looks like he’s guessing where the ball will be, but he’s not,” said Sammy McCorkle, Dartmouth’s associate head coach. “He’s got a special gift, but he’s also dissected so much film that he’s raised the odds in his favor, and he’s just playing the percentages.”

Dartmouth (8-1, 5-1), which hasn’t won an outright Ivy crown since 1996 and last shared one in 2015, can clinch at least a tie for the championship with a defeat of the Bears (2-7, 1-5). Should Harvard also upset Yale, the No. 21 Big Green would own a solo title. Should Dartmouth and Yale lose and Princeton beat Pennsylvania, the Big Green, Bulldogs and Tigers would split the championship, each at 5-2.

“We just have to control what we can control and come out with energy like it’s a championship game,” said Swann, whose team was upset by Cornell last weekend.

Swann’s parents, Jerri and Patrick, raised him and his younger brother, Isacc, in Queen Creek, Ariz., which feeds into 3,200-student Chandler High. The Wolves are gunning for their fourth consecutive state title after having captured crowns in four of the last five seasons, and Swann’s onetime head coach, Shaun Aguano, is now Arizona State’s running backs coach.

Swann arrived on the varsity football team as a junior thinking he’d play receiver. However, he looked at the multiple college-bound prospects at the position and switched sides of the ball. His fluid athleticism brought offers from Air Force, Cornell, Columbia and Harvard, but his choice of Dartmouth paid off almost immediately.

A starter midway through his freshman season at Dartmouth, Swann had two interceptions in each of his first two campaigns before exploding for an NCAA Football Championship Subdivision-leading nine last season and earning All-American honors. Slowed somewhat by a leg injury this fall, he’s nonetheless returned two of his three picks for touchdowns, including a zigzag, 69-yard play last week.

“I haven’t run that hard for that long in a while, so my legs started giving out on me at the end,” Swann said with a laugh.

Swann’s recruiting video package included clips of him performing practice drills much like those McCorkle oversees.

The defensive backs coach soon recognized the youngster’s agility and pushed his candidacy as a prospect, leading to a campus visit and Swann agreeing to attend school 2,600 miles from home.

“You tell him something once, and he has it,” McCorkle said. “He’s a very shy, quiet kid, so much that you initially wonder if he has enough confidence. But he’s a confident guy on the field because he knows he’s mentally prepared.”

Swann, 6-feet and 195 pounds, watches video in exacting detail. He notes how wide out a receiver might line up and which routes he might run when he’s in certain alignments. Do an opponent’s route cuts looks different depending on where’s he’s running to? Does the offensive tackle tip running plays with the slightest difference in his stance?

“What’s always separated me is that I don’t have many mental busts,” Swann said. “It’s easy to take a play off, and that’s when they throw a flea flicker. You have to play every play like the ball’s coming to you.”

So often when it comes to Swann, he has room to move after the catch. Few of his interceptions involve mid-air battles or snags in heavy traffic. Usually he’s read the quarterback’s intentions so well that he’s at a throw’s destination before the receiver.

“He baits people,” said Dartmouth head coach Buddy Teevens. “He’s as good as I’ve ever coached at that position.”

When Swann approached McCorkle after last season to talk about prospects for an out-of-town internship, the coach told him staying on campus in order to graduate early might be a good idea. That would allow him time to train in advance of a shot at the NFL next spring.

Swann was floored. But he’s adjusted to the notion that he might have a chance at something he first dreamt of as a 5-year-old in flag football.

“To get a shot at something I’ve wanted ever since I can remember is unreal,” Swann said. “I try to take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at

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