Tyjuan Swain details strenuous journey from JUCO football to CMU

Central Michigan safety Tyjuan Swain poses for a portrait on Aug. 19 at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.

Glen Ellyn is a small town in Illinois, located 24 miles west of downtown Chicago.

From 2014-2016, it was a place Tyjuan Swain called home. 

With academic standards holding him back from playing Division I football straight out of high school, Swain was given a second chance by attending a Junior College (JUCO). 

He packed his bags and traveled to College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn. 

Swain picked up an offer from Central Michigan on March 19, 2016, as a sophomore at DuPage, and he signed to join the Chippewas four days later. 

While it seems like a simple process, the now-senior safety has a story to tell – one of trial, tribulation and triumph. 

Swain’s only option out of Rich Central High School was College of DuPage, a non-scholarship JUCO. He took his chances and began working on-campus at the athletic office, pushing papers and taking calls, to pay for school and the food needed to survive the tough road ahead.

“It forced me to mature earlier than other kids around the country who got money, food and extra things at a Division I school,” Swain said. “College of DuPage made me something.” 

The institution has 31,627 students, but only a handful work with head football coach Matt Foster. The basic DNA of the program is old school, which reflects the type of kids attracted to the football team. 

Most JUCO’s have bounce back players – student-athletes who were at Division I programs that had to leave and eventually head back to the Division I level. The DuPage Chaparrals compete against those types of schools but bring nearly all their players straight from high school. 

“A lot of them are overlooked and underestimated,” Foster said. “It’s old-school because nothing is given to these kids. They work their butts off on the field and in the classroom."

Foster described Swain as the perfect example of a DuPage football player because he was talented, humble and always put the team first during his tenure. Whenever notoriety came to him, he shoved it toward his teammates. 

Acquiring a level of talent and team leadership came with personal expectations. Even though Swain was working as much as he could to put his own food on the table and stay in the classroom, he never missed a practice or team meeting. 

Most of the football players under Foster struggled financially and never had a strong support system in high school. For Swain, the dots just didn’t connect during his four years at Rich Central in Chicago. 

Even though College of DuPage helped bring those points together, it was Swain’s desire to persevere which made him the person he is today. 

“Tyjuan is a great example,” Foster said. “He has a single mother and a few siblings. She raised them while trying to assist with his finances at our program, and that’s typical for a lot of our kids.” 

One of Swain’s closest friends at College of DuPage, defensive end Paul Boidanis, said the first thing he noticed was Swain's work in the classroom. Swain was the first one in meetings, always took notes and was a member of DuPage’s 3.0-grade point average Champions Club. 

For what seemed like the first time in his life, Swain had a blank piece of paper and the option to write his story however he wanted. From struggling with grades in high school to a member of the Champions Club, he proved himself as a winner. 

“All this has taught me that adversity is always going to hit you in life,” Swain said of his JUCO journey. “It’s just about how you respond – negatively or positively. I’ve always tried to look at things in the positive.”  

Swain put in the time and effort in the classroom, and his mother pushed him to be the best he could be from back home. DuPage just put the polish on him as a student-athlete. 

Safety Tyjuan Swain makes a tackle for College of DuPage. (Photo Credit: Tyjuan Swain)

Foster, the defensive coordinator and secondary coach at the time, had the opportunity to work with Swain every day, whereas the head coach didn’t pay as close of attention to each individual. On multiple occasions, Swain would be found in the weight room or on the field before and after practice, doing the extra to work on his vocation. 

“He has a heart of gold,” Foster said. “When it comes time to compete, that kid is a warrior and does not accept defeat. He’s the guy I want to go to war with – anywhere, anytime, anything. He’s also the guy you want as your best friend or to marry your daughter.”

After an injury ended his season at Division II Winona State, Boidanis transferred to College of DuPage for a second chance at football. He spent time with Foster before joining the program, and he quickly bumped into Swain upon his arrival. 

From there, a relationship was formed. Once Boidanis moved from tight end to defensive end, the parallel grew to the point where the two were roommates on every away game road trip.

During Boidanis’ final season at College of DuPage, he was playing through a partially torn hamstring. Seeing a holistic medicine doctor at the time, the defensive end continuously sprayed DMSO, also known as dimethyl sulfoxide, on his body before, during and after practice and games. 

“The joke was that it smelled like rotten eggs,” Boidanis said. “People would smell it on me while at practice, but it worked.”

Swain hurt his hamstring severely before playing Georgia Military Junior College in 2016. In need of a quick relief, he turned to Boidanis’ DMSO spray. 

“Dude, put this stuff on your hamstring,” Boidanis recalls telling Swain. “I promise you it will work.”

With curiosity driving his decision, Swain agreed to try the spray. 

In the hallway of a random hotel in Georgia, Swain stripped down and pulled up his shorts like short-shorts so the spray didn’t ruin his clothes. Instead of just spraying the leg with his injured hamstring, he doused both.  

Coaches from DuPage walked by to do bed checks and were confused at the lack of clothing, but Boidanis’ spray worked. The following day, Swain posted 10 tackles and 5.0 tackles for a loss in a blowout victory. 

Swain no longer uses the spray, but often thinks of Boidanis when he’s bruised up after practice or a game. 

Thinking back to those type of nights, Swain remembers the simplicity of football at DuPage. He had an unbreakable bond with nearly every player on his team, as there wasn’t anything else to do Glen Ellyn.

It was a blessing in disguise. 

Foster and Swain are not friends who need to talk every day to stay in touch. When they get a chance to catch up, the conversation picks up like the last was just yesterday. 

Swain’s favorite memory with Foster was the smile on his face when he signed as a student-athlete for Central Michigan University. 

“I told you, everything was going to work out,” Foster said to Swain.  

“He loves me and it’s real, genuine love,” Swain said of Foster. “He’s one of the best coaches I’ve had in my life. He’s straight from the heart.” 

In the 2017 season, Swain appeared in 12 games, making 10 tackles and one interception for CMU. As a key safety for the Chippewas in 2018, the 6-foot, 193-pound athlete is ready to leave his mark on Mount Pleasant. 

Foster has coached every level from high school to Division I football. Over his desk in the athletics office at College of DuPage, he has a picture of just one player. 

His name is Tyjuan Swain.

On College of DuPage coach Matt Foster's wall, there's a picture of just one player – Tyjuan Swain. (Photo Credit: Matt Foster)