Back injuries have a way of putting a kibosh on the best of plans.
Mike Swenson wanted to go on from Oakdale High to play some college football and then follow his dad’s footsteps into the fire service. Then, during a game against Sonora in the fall of 2004, he hurt his lower back so badly that he needed surgery followed by months of physical therapy.
“I had to learn to walk again,” Swenson, 26, said. “It was my first injury, and it was career-ending.”
Or career-beginning – just not the career he’d envisioned to that point. Already a good student, Swenson used the rehab time to hit the books. He graduated in 2005 and went to Chico State, where he earned a degree in exercise physiology with hopes of becoming a trainer with a professional sports franchise. But after spending some time in England as an assistant trainer with a soccer club, he returned to the States and entered the University of San Francisco’s master’s program in sports management. And while in the program, he interned with Octagon, one of the nation’s top sports marketers and agencies. What began as a six-month stint turned into a year, during which Swenson helped organize Octagon client and NFL star Marshawn Lynch’s annual football camp, and worked with other NFL players as well.
Next came a brief time with another agency that focuses primarily on basketball players. But by that time, and based upon his experience with Octagon, Swenson knew he wanted to be an NFL Players’ Association-certified agent.
He was among the 225 prospective agents who in July 2012 took the agent test. He became certified and, with friend William Logan, founded TRU Sports Group in San Francisco. A new agent with a new agency isn’t exactly a magnet for Heisman and Outland trophy winners. Still, of the 131 who passed the agent test, he ranked atop the list of first-year agents with four players, all undrafted, who went to NFL training camps or mini-camps, though none made a team.
“I was 24 when I took the test, and now I’m sitting down with kids who were 20,” Swenson said. “I had to go after the lower-round guys.”
At the recent NFL combine in Indianapolis, he chatted with his former mentors from Octagon. The conversation taught him two valuable lessons.
First, “when I went out on my own, I realized there were things I wished I would have asked while I was there,” Swenson said.
Secondly, he realized he needed to be with an established agency to give him some clout when he walks into a living room to make his pitch to a prospective client. When Octagon offered him a job, he shut down TRU Sports Group and signed on. Think of him as the opposite of the “Jerry Maguire” character, who in the movie left a big agency to start his own.
“I brought my guys from 2013 and one from this draft, and my guy is a late-round pick at best,” Swenson said.
That player is defensive back Trey Wolfe of Fort Valley State University in Georgia who, when asked about his agent during an interview with expandedsports.com, replied, “Mike Swenson, and I signed with him because we have a strong bond and he is very confident in me.”
Swenson understands he has a long way to go to reach the level of success achieved by another from the Valley, former Modestan Jeffrey Moorad, who parlayed a career as an agent handling primarily baseball players into executive jobs with the Arizona Diamondbacks and, later, the San Diego Padres, and once was ranked among the 100 most influential people in all of sports.
Swenson knows he’s still a novice in a highly competitive and cutthroat industry. But you’ve got to start somewhere, and it ultimately took a back injury and a surgeon’s scalpel to pre-empt one career path and replace it with another.