ATLANTA – On Georgia’s first play of the SEC championship, Nick Chubb trotted out at tailback. One play later, it was Sony Michel. And one play later it was D’Andre Swift.
Three plays, three different tailbacks. And it didn’t seem strange at all. It was the ultimate compliment to what Swift did his freshman season: He made Georgia a three-headed tailback situation.
1. Chubb, the second-leading rusher in school history.
2. Michel, the third-leading rusher in school history.
3. And Swift, a freshman from Philadelphia who seems to have only begun writing his name in the annals of UGA football.
“Going into it I didn’t know what my role was going to be,” Swift said of his season. “I was just going to contribute any way they asked me to. But I knew this year was going to be a learning experience for me. I’m just happy that they trusted me and put me out there to make plays.”
Actually, coach Kirby Smart said during the season that the coaching staff knew “a long time ago” that Swift was ready to play right away, just as they knew Andrew Thomas was ready. Skill was one thing. There were plenty of skilled members of Georgia’s 2017 recruiting class, which ranked third nationally. Maturity was a factor that helped Swift get on the field immediately.
That, and having two mentors in Chubb and Michel, whose presence may have blocked Swift from becoming a starter, but helped him in the long run.
“I was happy when I heard they were coming back,” Swift said. “It was just an opportunity to learn from two of the best backs in the world right now. So I looked at it as a positive, not a negative at all. To me it was just going to make me a better player.”
Swift was asked what he learned from the two seniors.
“Everything,” he answered. “I hang with them outside of football. They took me in as a brother. Just how to be patient.”
That included taking a backseat to Chubb and Michel. And yet Swift has still done all this:
- The leading rusher in the SEC championship game, with 88 yards on seven carries, mainly on the strength of his game-sealing 64-yard run in the fourth quarter.
- The second-best yards-per-carry average in the SEC (8.18). Only Alabama’s Damien Harris is averaging more (8.24).
- Georgia’s fourth-leading receiver, with 15 catches for 146 yards. He trails only the actual wide receivers, Javon Wims, Terry Godwin and Mecole Hardman.)
- Swift is 20th in the SEC in rushing yards (597), despite only 73 carries, which is 35 less than anybody else in the top 20.
There’s also this: Swift emerged early on as a dependable pass blocker, which was another reason he got on the field quickly.
“He has two older brothers who have taught him it’s important,” Smart said in October. “When you look at Nick and Sony and what they’ve done over their history of being here — protecting, blocking for each other. Whether it’s a down field play and they’re a guy that has to convert and go block for a receiver, they do a good job of doing it. D’Andre is the same way and he’s learned that from those guys.”
Yes, it keeps coming back to Chubb and Michel. But the time they turn it over to Swift is one, maybe two games away. As Smart said when asked after one game what he’d do without Chubb and Michel: “I hope D’Andre can do it.”
From all appearances, he can.
“I’m always confident. I don’t ever doubt myself,” Swift said. “It’s just the fact they trusted me and put me out there. I came to practice and worked in practice there and they trusted me to put me out there.”