The morning begins like any other one. With the sound of the school bell going off in the background, Corey Swinson gets himself ready to start another day as the Director of Security of Bay Shore School District, he is prepared for just about anything and as he sits at his desk, a few frames hang on the wall over his right shoulder that may go unnoticed by the casual visitor to his office.
One holds what Swinson still calls his favorite, a letter inviting him to the 1995 Senior Bowl. The other is a team photograph of the St. Louis Rams from the following year, in which Swinson can be seen on the top row, all 6’5” and 335 pounds of him.
The last thing the Bay Shore native ever expected to be in was a picture wearing football pads, especially one at the highest level. After graduating the same high school in 1988 that he now is in charge of, Swinson received a basketball scholarship at the University of Hawaii.
But then something happened that changed the entire course of Swinson’s life. “My dad, who was a superhero to me and my brothers, died and I had some focusing issues,” he recalled. “So I decided to come back here and enrolled at Nassau Community College.”
After bouncing around a few different colleges and losing interest in basketball, Swinson’s older twin brothers Mark and Matthew – who played both defensive tackle (Syracuse) and tight end (University of Maine) – told him that he was too athletic to not give the gridiron a shot. In the spring of 1992, Swinson reached out to Joe Taylor, then the head football coach at Virginia Union. As soon as he saw the raw recruit, Taylor told Swinson, “Son, we’re going to win some championships together.”
He got his shot and followed Taylor to Hampton University, a historically black college in Virginia. Swinson played three years at the school at defensive tackle and totaled 144 tackles and knew who to give the credit to. “Joe Taylor was the first man to help me get locked in and focused,” he said. “He was a huge part of my development…he was a mentor and a real man. True to his word.”
During Swinson’s tenure, the team went 31-4-1 and he grew as a player. “I was always a physical person,” he said. “I really enjoyed the pounding, even on the basketball court. I was a pugilist on the football field.”
After an impressive week at the Senior Bowl, ESPN draft expert rated Swinson as the 25th top defensive tackle. The Miami Dolphins took him in the seventh round (233rd pick overall) of the 1995 NFL Draft, only the 19th player ever drafted out of Hampton.
“I was at home watching it on television when “Mean” Joe Greene (Miami defensive line coach) called me,” remembered Swinson, who expected to be chosen earlier. “He told me that they were concerned about my injured groin and bodyweight.”
He signed a contract for $175,000 and the first thing Swinson did was pay off his mother’s bills. He then bought himself a new Ford Explorer, but did not want any flashy add-ons. “No radio system, no rims. I was just a regular guy, one of 10 kids. I was still living at home”
Once training camp began, the famous head coach of the Dolphins barely paid the new draftee any mind. “I think Don Shula acknowledged me once,” said Swinson. “He had his guys, like Dan Marino. I was just a little boy. He was old school.”
After a few preseason games, Swinson felt that the team was going in a different direction and asked to be put on waivers. He cleared and was signed by the St. Louis Rams, who were getting acclimated to their new city after moving from Los Angeles.
Swinson made the team as a member of the practice squad and at approximately Week 5 was switched over to the offensive line, a move that he did not welcome. Jackie Slater, the veteran lineman, was in his last season and told the rookie, “It doesn’t matter where you play as long as you cash those checks.”
He was activated six weeks later but didn’t see any action until the next to the last game of the season, a 35-23 loss to the Washington Redskins. In the final game, the Rams lost 41-22 to Swinson’s former team, the Dolphins. “It was great to see those guys,” he said.
With the season complete, Swinson returned to Long Island. “I wanted to be home more than I like being there (in St. Louis),” he said. “I didn’t have that football/athlete mentality. I was thinking long-term – life after the NFL.”
A year later, Swinson entered training camp not totally healthy and was cut in July. Without any offers, he sat out the rest of the 1996 season. Roy Barker, an old friend from Central Islip who played 10 years in the NFL, convinced his team, the San Francisco 49ers, to give Swinson another shot in 1997.
“I was ready to get on with my life (after football) but when I got there, a fire was lit under me,” said Swinson, who was switched back to his natural position on the D-line. He felt that he was doing quite well for himself during training camp but was released right before the preseason began when the team signed former first overall draft pick Steve Emtman.
“They signed a name,” Swinson said of the top pick in the 1992 draft by the Indianapolis Colts, whose career was derailed by numerous knee injuries. “I thought that he was a bum. That didn’t work out. He didn’t even make the team.
“It left a sour taste in my mouth,” Swinson continued. “I knew that I was better than him. The fight in me was totally over at that point.”
Now home, Swinson cut off part of his thumb in a construction accident and could only participate in non-contact drills for both Green Bay and Philadelphia after receiving calls from them. He thought about going over to Europe to showcase himself in the WLAF, but was still not fully recovered from the injury.
“I was 28 and getting older,” he said. “And it wasn’t like I was some star player.”
Just like that, his career was over. But Swinson has no regrets. “I was satisfied with it,” he can honestly say. “Who gets drafted when they start playing at 22? If I had played Pop Warner you would have been talking to me about retiring and going into the (Pro Football) Hall of Fame. I was as strong as a bull and as athletic as a ballerina. My family was proud, but they knew there was more to me than just sports.”
After working private security for NBA stars Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury, Swinson decided to change jobs once his son Messiah was born. An opportunity then came up for his present position and he jumped on it.
“I knew what it took to keep a group of people safe,” said Swinson, who has his first day engraved in his mind. “February 11, 2002. A Monday. I never considered anything else a real job until this.”
Doing the job properly means that Swinson has to have his hands in everything and even discipline his peers’ and friend’s children. He calls it “the gift and the curse,” but embraces it and loves it just the same.
He takes his job serious, as he does coaching his 8-year-old offspring in the game he played professionally. “He plays in the P.A.L. playing defensive tackle and wears my old number 90,” said Swinson, who has his son’s name tattooed on his right hand. “He’s a big boy. 5’3” and 112 pounds and wears a size 10 sneaker. But he’s a real gentle kid with a sweet disposition who turns it on when he gets on the field.”
Messiah’s picture is also present in the office located on the first floor of Bay Shore High School, and displayed more prominently than his old NFL memorabilia. Fatherhood is a priority, even for an old pro like Swinson.