FEATURE: Kingwood native Travis Swanson reflects on NFL career
HOUSTON – Everything changed for Travis Swanson on January 14.
That is a day that Swanson will never forget. It was when his daughter Kendyl Gray Swanson was born and, in turn, caused the former Kingwood High School and Arkansas Razorback star to reevaluate things following the completion of his fifth NFL season.
"When I look back on it there was a reason that she got here when she got here, right after the season," Swanson said. "I believe in things like that. Everything happens for a reason. She's a complete blessing and she's almost six months old already, it's just completely flown by in a blink of an eye."
After talking with his wife Emily, on May 18, Swanson officially announced his retirement from the NFL in an Instagram post that was led with a photo of him holding little Kendyl.
"When it came down to it, it just felt like the right thing to do," Swanson said. "I was kind of at that point of my career too where I was completely vested with all the benefits that the NFL has to offer, which was another big plus."
Swanson's introduction to the game of football came when he was just six years old. Growing up in Kingwood, Swanson started in the KFL.
Eventually, he ended up at Kingwood High School where in his senior year was a finalist for the Greater Houston Area Offensive Player of the Year in 2008. That year, Swanson was also first-team, all-state and ranked as the No. 73 offensive tackle prospect of the class of 2009.
Swanson ended up choosing Arkansas, where he ended up meeting Emily.
"I don't know if I would have gone to Arkansas if I wasn't playing sports, that's kind of hard to say," Swanson said. "So, football led me to her. Now we have this beautiful family and we've had an unbelievable life. There's so many things that I'm grateful for that I owe to this game."
After his playing days in the SEC, where he was a four-year starter, a team captain, made 50 starts for the Razorbacks and earned first-team, All-American and All-SEC honors as a senior, the NFL came calling.
With the 76th overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft, Swanson was taken by the Detroit Lions.
Swanson made his first career start the following season starting at center against the Green Bay Packers on December 28, 2014. Swanson spent the first four years of his career in Detroit before going to the Jets and Dolphins for what would be his final season in 2018.
"Just because you have this dream that in your mind you'd like to achieve but if you tell people they don't give you the time of day, that should motivate you," Swanson said. "If I was able to take this path and get to where I got, then anybody can. I don't know if I was made to play football. I feel like I created that path, figured how are we going to get there, tried to map it out and thankfully it worked out.
"Anything you set your mind to, if you work hard at it and if you're disciplined I think you can get it done. I think that applies to everything outside of football as well."
While at Arkansas, Swanson got a degree in criminal justice and once walking away from the NFL he did investigate a potential next stop in that field but decided against it in the end.
"The whole reason that I stopped my original job was due to family," Swanson said. "So, what does that say to go from one dangerous job to another."
So, what's next for Swanson?
Swanson is going to be heading into the real estate field along with a business him and Emily have started in northwest Arkansas.
The company is called Alpha-Lit Marquee Letters, which one of Swanson's friends opened in Dallas. He had interest in opening a branch in northwest Arkansas and in the end the deal worked out.
"We're in the early stages of it," Swanson said. "The biggest thing is just getting the name out there; which I think we've done a good job given that school is not in session right now … It's been going good and now we're small business owners. We're going to learn a lot of lessons, some positive and some negative."
Q&A with Travis Swanson
VYPE: Best memory of playing in the NFL?
Swanson: "Probably the best game memory that I have was this past year with the Miami Miracle. Just being on the field for that, the situation, who it was against and how it all shook out. You just go from feeling the lowest of lows from a football standpoint to in six seconds the highest of highs. It was just this rush of unbelievable feeling. Back in 2014 when I was with the Lions, went to Atlanta got down 21-0 at haltime and came back to win it with a last-second field goal. In 2016, we had one of the best two-minute offenses in the history of the NFL. We had numerous comeback wins. Just being in those situations and remembering how the locker rooms were after those kinds of games were unbelievable."
VYPE: What was your coolest off the field moment?
Swanson: "I just got into Detroit in 2014. You're in there and trying to figure it out. I'm looking at my locker and then I feel this hand on my shoulder. I turn around and this guy introduces himself. 'Hi, I'm Calvin'. It was Calvin Johnson. I was like I know who you are. It was a very cool moment on me and had a very big impact. Just knowing who this guy is and his status in this business and he took the time out of his day to stop and talk to this rookie who hadn't done a single thing yet. That showed me who he was as an individual and a leader."
VYPE: Who was the neatest person you played or practiced against?
Swanson: "I would practice against [Ndamukong] Suh every day in 2014. That was cool. Then you practice against guys like Haloti Ngata for a couple of years. Then in games playing against guys like Gerald McCoy and Aaron Donald, just all these names that the guys are unbelievable players. Thinking to yourself that you're on the same field as them and you're playing against them, it's an extremely cool feeling to go from starting out at six years old in Kingwood, Texas to playing in front of a TV audience in a billion dollar industry."
VYPE: What advice would you give yourself in 2014, when you debuted?
Swanson: "I would tell him to breath. I honestly would. You could even say that outside the 2014 season. Just who I am and how I'm wired is a very high sense of urgency. During those periods, especially in the NFL, I used to strive for perfection when I should have been trying to find excellence. I came to learn perfection is finite and excellence is continuous. So, I was constantly trying to find this perfection in every aspect of football. You hear a lot of coaches and people say that you want to be perfect at your craft but I came to learn that excellence is more of a continuous thing. If someone is excellent at something then it's just not one specific moment, then that's who you become."
VYPE: What would be your advice to high school kids?
Swanson: "Everyone's path is different. There are numerous ways that you can make it into the NFL. Now, you don't need to go to the D1 college. Do people have dreams of doing that? Of course. Whatever dreams you have should scare you in a sense but that should also motivate you trying to get them. If you do have a dream of going to a D1 college, if that doesn't work out you go to a DII, there's nothing wrong with that. If it's your goal to get to the NFL, there's tons of DII guys in the NFL. I know this whole wave of social media has changed recruiting a lot since I went through it. Hopefully you have a coaching staff at your high school that is helping advocate for you and get your name out there. If they're not, then you should take that upon yourself to get your name out there. I had great coaches in high school, and they did help with the process. But I also had my own highlight tapes made, I sent them out on my own and I would go to as many one-day camps as I could. Because I was not a guy that could sit by the phone and have it ring with a bunch of schools just biting at the bit to get me. It takes a lot of dedication and hard work and it is possible."
VYPE: What did not getting paid to play in college teach you?
Swanson: "The whole not getting paid, we would get a monthly stipend but it was very minimal. You'd pay for your apartment, some gas, that was about it. It taught me to budget my money regardless of how much or how little I was getting. So, whenever I started getting those I tried to save a percentage of each stipend that I would get. I didn't know if something was going to happen or if my car engine was going to blow up. You just kind of wanted a reserve fund. But that reserve fund ultimately got me the engagement ring that I gave to my wife because I had that money saved up."
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