photo by Bob Smith

Swayze Bozeman made Tri-County Academy history when he signed a football scholarship with Southern Miss in December of 2018. He became the first player since 2002 from this small private school in Flora in northwestern Madison County to play Division I football.

         But it didn’t surprise David Blount, his high school coach.

         “Swayze’s dream was to play Division I football,” Blount said. “I remember when I first got to Tri-County, Swayze was in elementary school and he stood out as one of the best players in pee-wee. Then he dominated in junior high and was our best player in high school, playing both offense and defense. Not only was Swayze our best player, he was our hardest worker. He was very dedicated. He would put in extra running after we finished with practice. Swayze would iift weights practically every day. He was always lifting. I would have to call his dad to come spot him because I was ready to go home, but Swayze wasn’t. He wanted to lift some more.

Swayze Bozeman - Mississippi Scoreboard
Tri-County’s Swayze Bozeman (27) spins away from the tackle attempt by Canton Academy’s Keyshawn Clanton (6) in the MAIS Class A-AA Championship on Thursday, November 17, 2016, at Jackson Academy in Jackson, Miss. photo courtesy of Chris Todd

         “I’ve been coaching a long time (42 years with stops at Winston Academy, Madison-Ridgeland Academy, Copiah, Jackson Academy, Newton High, Millsaps College, Canton and Tri-County) and he’s one of the best I’ve ever coached. Swayze had the size, speed and strength to stand out on the football field. And he did, game after game. He was also a joy to coach. He was one of the finest young men I’ve ever been around. Swayze would lead Bible studies for our players. He was also a great leader.”

         Bozeman’s hard work has earned him a starting position as a linebacker at Southern Miss. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound junior is one of the reasons why Southern Miss has won seven games and is playing in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl against Tulane Saturday at 10:30 a.m. on ESPN in Fort Worth. Bozeman is tied for fourth with 49 tackles and had a team-high two fumble recoveries this season. He had 5.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. Bozeman’s best game was against Texas-San Antonio with a team-high10 tackles, two sacks and one fumble recovery. Bozeman and his defensive teammates held Texas-San Antonio to only 97 rushing yards in a 36-17 victory. 

Swayze Bozeman - Mississippi Scoreboard
photo courtesy of USM Media Relations

         “I got to Southern Miss this summer and worked my way up to second string,” said Bozeman, who wears No. 28. “And then I got into the starting lineup because of an injury to one of our starters (Raceem Boothe). My first start was at (then No. 2) Alabama. I was lining up to play defense and there was (All-American quarterback) Tua Tagovailoa five yards away from me and guys like (All-American wide receivers) Jerry Jeudy and Jaylen Waddle lined up on the outside. These were guys I watched on TV all the time and were some of the best players in the nation and now I’m on the same field with them. It was a great experience playing in front of that big crowd (announced attendance of 101,821).”

         That’s a long way from Tri-County where Bozeman was one of 28 students to graduate in the Class of 2017. Bozeman, the son of Harvey and Gina Bozeman, became the first Tri-County football player to play Division I football since Cody Childress played at Mississippi State in the early 2000s. Another run of Tri-County stars — Roger Hancock (Ole Miss), Monty Perry (Ole Miss) and Bozeman’s uncle, D.R. Bozeman (Mississippi State) — played Division I football three decades ago. Swayze Bozeman led Tri-County to back to back MAIS Class 2A runner-up finishes as a junior and senior.

         “I learned a lot from Coach Blount,” Bozeman said. “

He was like a father figure to me. I learned to study formations and anticipate what the offense was going to do. I still use that today and it helps me make plays. I also learned a lot of from (Copiah-Lincoln Community College) Coach (Glenn) Davis (where Bozeman played junior college ball before coming to Southern Miss) and his defensive coaches. We played in a very tough league and it was great experience for me to play against some of the best junior college players in the nation.”

Swayze Bozeman - Mississippi Scoreboard
photo by Robert Smith

         Bozeman led Co-Lin with 91 tackles as a sophomore and was named All-Region.

“Swayze is the kind of kid who want your daughter to bring home to meet her parents,” Davis said. “He’s a great kid. Swayze was in charge of our FCA. When we were recruiting him we saw a kid who nobody really knew much about or how to evaluate. He played both ways. He also played basketball and could dunk a ball any way you wanted him to. Swayze is a great athlete as well as a workaholic. I knew his family from when I coached at Mississippi State (with Jackie Sherrill from 1996-2003). He comes from a great family. He played safety for us as a freshman and got bigger and we moved him to linebacker as a sophomore. Southern Miss got a heck of a player. He’s had a good year and he’s going to be even better next year. I would not be surprised if he got into someone’s camp (at the NFL) after he is finished at Southern Miss.”

Swayze Bozeman - Mississippi Scoreboard
photo courtesy of USM Media Relations