U of R grad living his football dreams in Canada’s capital

By Costa Maragos Posted: October 12, 2017 6:00 a.m.

Joey Swarbrick returns to the U of R to scout players during one of the Rams’ practices.
Joey Swarbrick returns to the U of R to scout players during one of the Rams’ practices. Photo courtesy of External Relations

Joey Swarbrick, a 2013 graduate, is living his professional football dream, not on the field but off of it.

Swarbrick, a graduate of the U of R’s Sports and Recreation Studies Program, grew up in Saskatchewan and like most kids bled Rider green.

Not anymore.

At the age of 26, the Riffel high school graduate is off to a strong career start in the world of professional football.  
Swarbrick is Coordinator of Football Operations with the CFL’s Ottawa Redblacks.    
 
He’s been with the Redblacks since the team started play in the CFL in 2014 and he already has one Grey Cup ring under his belt.

Swarbrick is back in Regina this week as his team prepares to meet the Saskatchewan Roughriders at Mosaic Stadium October 13. He was on campus to meet with Rams coach Stephen Bryce and check out some of the Rams players during practice.
We chatted with Joey about his journey from the U of R to professional sports, and his advice to students.

Joey Swarbrick  with coach Dwayne Masson
Joey Swarbrick talking football with the U of R Rams Running Backs Coach Dwayne Masson. Also shown is Rams kicker (12) Thomas Huber.

What does it feel like to be back on campus?

I love being back here. I can’t walk through the hallway without running into people I worked with on a daily basis. It’s home and it’s always going to be. I spent the best years of my life here and it fills me with a sense of joy to be back home. It reminds me of where I came from and how much I put in to get to where I am.

You grew up in Saskatchewan and your family moved to Regina when you were in Grade 10. What interest did you have in football growing up here?

I didn’t have many opportunities to play when I was younger as I lived in several small communities in Saskatchewan.

When I moved to Regina I went to Riffel in the tenth grade and that was my first exposure to organized football. That year the team was a dominant powerhouse.
I got cut from the team in grade 11 too. I started in grade 12 but got injured in the playoffs.  

After high school, I went to the U of S to study political science with the goal of becoming a lawyer. I thought I had it all figured out but I didn’t like it.

I started looking at different ways to get back into sports because I missed football. I was attracted to the sports management program at the U of R.

What was your goal when you started taking the sports management classes at the U of R?

I wasn’t sure exactly how I wanted to use it. In our first year of class, we had to interview different people in different industries we wanted to work in. I got lucky enough to talk with the Riders Director of Player Personnel. His name is Craig Smith and he’s now with the Bombers. He told me how things work in the front office and from then on it was kind of the goal for me and I ran with it.

What did you get out of your education at the U of R?


Everything.

I learned how to prepare. A lot of the classes that I did within my degree and my business diploma are still applicable to what I do day-to-day.

The biggest thing was the fieldwork placement that allowed me to go to the United States and work with American professionals and make the connections that ultimately got me to the Redblacks.

That fieldwork placement landed you a spot with an Arena football team in Pittsburgh. How did that happen?

I really wanted to work in pro football. I started looking around the CFL but they don’t do a lot in terms of internships. So I turned to a couple of websites in the United States that were advertising internships and one of them was for Pittsburgh. The director of player personnel at the time was one of the few people who actually emailed me back from those cold-call emails.  

What happened after that?

The CFL teams send scouts down to the NFL during their training camps. So while I was there (in Pittsburgh) I started cold-calling CFL teams to find out when their scouts were coming through Pittsburgh.

The Redblacks were the only team that got back to me and said their scouts were actually in town. I actually was super lucky.  

I met with Jeremy Snyder. He’s our assistant GM right now. In the middle of our conversation, he said the team was looking to hire somebody. I didn’t realize it at that time that this was a job interview. So I wasn’t really prepared for that. He kind of caught me off guard. He still bugs me about it to this day.


What did it feel like getting the job with Ottawa?

It was the culmination of four years of hard work and dedicating myself to what I wanted to do.  

When I took the job it was a six-week internship with nothing at the end, nothing guaranteed. I got into my car and drove to Ottawa on a whim hoping that it would work out. Four and a half years later I’m still there.

What do you do with Ottawa?

The majority of what I do is around team travel and team administration. I’m responsible for booking flights, hotels, buses, organizing player practice schedules, I work with the GM on our budgets,– those kinds of administrative things. I do some scouting like I’m doing out here today.

What has been the career highlight for you so far?


Winning the Grey Cup last year has to be. The team came together when we could have folded. To be ten point underdogs going into the Grey Cup game and at one point be up 20 points in the game? I can’t top that feeling.

You’ve had some time to reflect on your time at the U of R. So what is your advice for students?
 
Take your education seriously. If you’re in school just because mom and dad told you to be, you’re not doing anybody any favours.
If you’re not sure what you want to take, take a year off and find yourself.

There are different ways to get to different places. As much as education is important it has to be a meaningful education. I switched majors after my first year. I switched schools. I was at the U of S and then came to the U of R.

Your days as a Roughrider fan are well behind you of course. What’s it like watching your current team take on your former favourite team?

I’m part of a family in Ottawa. I wish the Riders well 16 of the 18 games in a year. The other two games, they’re going to get their butts kicked if we have our say in it.  The Ottawa organization has been very loyal to me and we’ve built a family there that I identify with more than I did as a Rider fan.

What is your career goal?

I would like to be a general manager. To manage my own team and find a coach I get along with very well and win a few Grey Cups. You don’t get your name on the actual trophy unless you’re the General Manager.

I have a ring, yes, but my name is not on the trophy. There’s nothing bigger for a person who works in sports than to be immortalized. So I’d like to be a GM. It’s a long road to that, but I’m 26 years old. I’ve been working in the pros for four years and there are not a lot of people who can say they started that young and work with as good a group as I do in Ottawa.

Joey Swarbrick is a graduate of the U of R’s Sports and Recreation Studies with a major in Sport and Recreation Management and a diploma in Business Administration. He was a recipient of the University’s 2013 President’s Medal for outstanding leadership and scholastic achievement. Are professional sports in your future? Check out our Sports and Recreation Studies program offered by our Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies.