PHILADELPHIA — Beyond. Blessed.
There are many arcs to choose from when shaping a view into the life of a player DawgNation hopes will be the next great at “Tailback U.” But the launch point for that D’Andre Swift narrative only calls for those two words.
Chance the Rapper won a Grammy or three for making his feelings known about blessings upon blessings. That’s how Swift feels.
“I just try to be a really good person on and off the field,” Swift said. “Be a nice person to talk to. Show good character. Be humble. That’s how I show I’m thankful.”
The 5-foot-9 218-pound prospect rated as the nation’s No. 4 RB for 2017. Georgia running backs coach Dell McGee lured the No. 1 prospect in Pennsylvania to Athens. That’s quite a feat.
But this Next Generation feature runs counter to all that football. We’ll save how he feels about a mammoth O-line and his future in the offense for another read.
There are heavy doses of faith, family, love and loyalty up ahead. Those are the bread-and-butter plays which move the chains of his life.
D’Andre Swift plays for “Pop Pop”
Do you know a teenager? How unusual would it be to learn that a major influence on their life is a person that passed away 12 years ago?
Swift plays football to honor his beloved grandfather.
His mother, Ayanna, describes the true bond her son has with her father. He still does. That’s why he wears a chain that used to go around Henry Holloway’s neck.
Swift even honors him by writing “Pop Pop” around the tape he puts on his wrists and cleats. That’s as much a part of his uniform as the No. 7 he will still wear at Georgia.
“That was my son’s best friend,” Ayanna Swift said. “My father always did want to have more than one kid. I was his only child so when I had a son that was his son. He immediately claimed him.”
Those two would often duel in psychology. The Philadelphia Eagles would be playing on TV, but D’Andre would want to flip over to wrestling.
Pop Pop would say “Alright ‘Dre” because that was his world. The grandson always beat the Eagles.
“He loved that he would give in and do anything and everything for him,” Ayanna Swift said about her father’s love for her son.
Swift was named a U.S. Army All-American this year. His stat sheet is pure gold. What would “Pop Pop” say if he could see him now?
“That would probably be the first time my father would have ever been speechless,” she said. “My father was a tremendous tremendous extrovert but that would be the one and only time he would not be able to say anything. He’d watch all the things his grandson is able to do on the field in awe.”
That connection to his grandfather is unusual. Especially with the passage of time.
“He passed away before D’Andre played his first game,” his father Darren Swift said. “He passed when D’Andre was six. So he never saw him play. But they did everything together. D’Andre would still watch every Eagles game with him. He’d sit in his grandfather’s lap. Their whole conversation would be about that game. They were inseparable.”
But the son also follows the father. Darren Swift is also aware of his many blessings.
“Henry Holloway was a great great man,” he said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better father-in-law and a better mother-in-law. Period. His grandparents reflect everything that should be the good things and the great things you find in all people.”
Those memories serve both as a foundation and fuel. Swift missed a big chunk of his senior year with lingering injuries. But he closed with a fury of 724 yards in his final three state playoff games.
Swift finished with 1,543 yards on 138 carries. He scored 25 touchdowns in 14 games. That’s 11.2 yards per attempt.
“What is my son’s why?” Darren Swift said. “That’s the passing of his grandpa. … Everything he does is to honor his grandfather and that great great man’s name. The chain my son wears around his neck was his grandfather’s chain. That signifies his constant connection with his grandfather.”
Faith. Focus. Family.
The Swifts have lived in Philadelphia for most of D’Andre’s life. The lone exception was actually three years in Metro Atlanta. The Swifts lived in Powder Springs for a time before moving when D’Andre was seven years old.
Spiritual. Nurturing. Those are the words that others often use to describe that family. But the phrase “Ayanna doesn’t play around” will also come up.
“Our faith is so important,” she said. “That is the backbone of our family.”
McGee earned the trust of the Swifts by recruiting him as a man. Not as the man on the field. He sent them inspirational messages that included scripture.
That’s what the family was looking for: Something like what he already had at a prestigious Jesuit Catholic school in the heart of Philadelphia.
D’Andre has a large tattoo that wraps around his left bicep. It reflects a verse from Galatians in the New Testament.
It implores Christians to not relent in the trials of faith. To not give up doing what is right every day.
“When I played for a church in a football league it was the scripture we always had,” Swift said. “It has just stuck with me my whole life. That was my first tattoo that I got before my senior season.”
Ayanna Swift did devotions with her son when he was growing up. They’d find the time when he was coming or going to his summer youth programs on the train. It was hard. But they found the way.
That’s Galatians 6:9.
“I would go into the basement and say to him ‘I need to make sure your foundation is intact’ and to be sure about it,” Ayanna Swift said. “Because stuff is going to come upon you and you aren’t going to know what none of it looks like. You have to be prepared for it. I needed him to know that God is always with him. That’s his foundation.”
St. Joseph’s Prep coach Gabe Infante knows what that looks like. Swift was chosen as a team captain for both his junior and senior seasons.
Place Swift in a room full of peers or adults and he might turtle. He’ll appear shy. Counter that with how his acts around a room full of kids. That No. 7 might hang out all day.
Georgia’s only running back signee did a service project at Penn State this year to rebuild a park. He helped paint it. The whole nine yards of restoration. He chose that. When it was over, he wanted to stay past lunch.
That’s one example. Swift’s jersey was retired at “The Prep” about four full months prior to graduation because that was not an isolated event.
“The only thing more amazing than his ability to run and do things on the football field is who he is as a person,” Infante said.
The blessing of a spiritual family
When Swift committed to Georgia via a slick Bleacher Report video, his father rode a Honda CTX motorcycle. That was his custom ride.
— SWIFT7️⃣ (@DAndreSwift) September 1, 2016
Darren Swift looks like a bad dude in that story. His appearance caused a few fans to wonder if he had any eligibility.
Swift was also a player in his day, but he had family responsibilities which meant he had to stay local. He could not maximize his talent.
“D’Andre is a much better player than I ever was,” Darren Swift said, who also helps coach the running backs at St. Joseph’s Prep. “Much better vision.”
There are slingshots and dirt bikes in that video. The man behind the dark glasses is straight out of Hollywood central casting.
Yet he is also a central figure in his church and the youth football community.
“His father has the heart of a teddy bear,” Ayanna Swift said. “He cries at every end-of-the-year football banquet talking to all the kids about the transition they make during a season.”
Infante’s favorite Swift story doesn’t involve a four-year starter or any of the three state championships. It was from his junior season.
“We played Don Bosco Prep and I was stopping at a high school to eat lunch and invited his Mom and his sisters to come and eat,” Infante said. “The number one thing was how protective he was of his beautiful sister who is a sophomore now in high school. His care and love and support for his little sister is something rare. You just don’t see that in a guy with his competitive nature and his ability.”
His mother was there. She saw the All-American tailback get up and fix the plates for his sisters. He wanted to make sure his younger sisters dodged any intentional or unintentional stares.
That commitment video is another example of his moral foundation. His teammates have a cameo. There were also youth players from the same church league he came from.
Swift sprinted through the streets of Philadelphia the same way Rocky Balboa did.
“I love it because that is his stomping grounds,” Ayanna Swift said. “I always say ‘Whenever you go up you pull up’ to my children. That’s what it is all about. It is about making sure you never forget where you come from.”
Rigorous academic prep at The Prep
St. Joseph’s sits in the heart of North Central Philadelphia. There’s a fur store across the street. There’s also an establishment known as the “Last Chance Lounge.”
His school is known as “The Prep.”
The Jesuit Catholic school is home to a church that would belong on any state’s register of historic places. Philadelphia’s last two mayors are alumni.
There’s a roll call of former Philadelphia Eagles (coaches and players) who sent their sons there. That school blends both the privileged and the poor. The working class falls in between.
Students are required to take two years of Latin. They must display the skills to read, write and translate. Prep kids must also tackle another language for two-plus beyond that.
St. Joseph’s has been in its current spot for 130 years. It gets 600 applicants every year. A third of those will be denied. A rigorous entrance exam stands in the way.
Most students catch a bus or public transportation by 6:20 a.m. each morning. There are seven classes per day. Those classes generate a half-hour to an hour of daily homework.
That’s rough with an athlete’s schedule. Swift’s parents loved all of that. It shed every label which applies to the gifted athlete at the private school.
“It is important to see how my son responds to adversity and hard things,” his mother said. “That’s part of the reason we chose such a rigorous and demanding school.”
Bryan Ghee, the director of student activities, has seen Swift through a unique prism. He was a trainer on the football team. Now he’s a part of school administration.
“D’Andre plays but I think his family is his juice,” Ghee said. “He gets his energy from trying to make them happy. They want to see him do well but he just wants to do things on the field that will reward their support.”
Swift’s favorite subject is Math. He wants to study sports broadcasting at UGA.
“What makes D’Andre unique is his personality,” Ghee said. “He’s kind of like that wallflower type. I would imagine that many of our newer teachers will see him walking down the halls and they don’t even know who he is.”
If that sounds a lot like current UGA standout Nick Chubb, it should.
A Swift resume roll call
The 5-foot-9, 218-pounder was a U.S. Army All-American and was also named to another Team USA. He pounded Canada for 109 yards on 12 carries to earn overall MVP honors in the International Bowl.
Swift saved his best for when it was required. He tallied 434 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in his three state title game appearances.
Infante might have been joking when he said his staff wanted to whittle his highlight tape into something that would not exceed the Academy Awards. But maybe not.
He’s told DawgNation Swift is a potential Sunday player on both sides of the ball.
When Swift arrives in June, he should immediately be one of Georgia’s top options at slot receiver. He’s going to catch the ball and run routes as well as any running back should.
That seems hard to believe. Swift’s powerful thighs will need to be wedged into his uniform.
Going Beyond Blessed
Ghee sees Swift as a person who plays football. His talent does not define him.
“I feel ‘Dre is about relationships and people,” he said. “He’s about establishing a real connection rather than all the smoke and mirrors. When you first meet him, he will be very quiet. Very polite. Reserved. What he’s doing is feeling you out.”
The “Beyond Blessed” brand he wears on his arm sleeve is not his own. It is part of a movement across Philadelphia.
“It calls out for role models,” Prep Director of Communications Bill Avington said. “Being beyond more than just blessed with those gifts. We teach that here at The Prep. Our students receive a St. Joe’s education. Many have come before you and helped set it up. The faculty and community have given you that opportunity. You have to take it and go forward with that. Go beyond just having a special gift.”
He sees that in Swift.
“His family is as tight as can be,” Avington said. “Did you see all the kids in his video? That was real. He is already a real role model for kids in the city. He does go beyond just being blessed.”
There’s a deep-rooted sense of love and family from Georgia’s next big thing at tailback.
“He just has a great heart,” Ayanna Swift said. “The heart he has will surpass any other tool he has that helps him play football the way he does. It will push past any fear or injury. It will allow him to support his teammates. Everyone talks about a love of the game but D’Andre just has a great loving heart.”
PREVIOUSLY IN OUR ‘NEXT GENERATION’ SERIES
- A father’s love defines Trey Blount’s path to catching passes at UGA
- Tragedy can’t keep down UGA’s Netori Johnson
- Visit to imprisoned father brings ‘joy, excitement to Netori Johnson
- Making it work is Justin Shaffer’s specialty
- Jaden Hunter looks to extend legacy at UGA
- How a cross-town journey changed UGA’s recruit’s life
- The night DeAngelo Gibbs had a brush with death
- Richard LeCounte III has deep roots in Liberty County
- Jake Fromm quite a catch for DawgNation