D’Andre Swift was born to run. The Georgia freshman’s surname implies that. His high school coach believes that. And his brief career in the Bulldogs’ star-stuffed backfield has done nothing but confirm that.
“God got up one morning and decided to make a great running back,” Gabe Infante, who coached Swift at St. Joseph’s Prep, said Thursday. “And then he gave him this great name, too. D’Andre is the best player I’ve seen – not just coached – in 22 years of coaching.”
Monday night in Atlanta, Swift will be the most prominent of three Philadelphia-area players who hope to help Georgia win its national-championship matchup with Alabama. The others are freshman cornerback Mark Webb Jr., an Archbishop Wood graduate and Swift’s close friend since Pop Warner, and junior wideout and kick returner Ahkil Crumpton, who played at West Catholic.
Swift is not only younger but, at 5-foot-9, shorter than Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, the two NFL-bound seniors who combine with him to give 13-1 Georgia the nation’s deepest backfield rotation.
“He doesn’t have to be any taller,” Infante said. “He’s got all the tools he needs. What he needs to do is stay healthy.”
And while he has been behind the more-experienced Michel and Chubb on the depth chart, he’s been closing fast.
The speedy 215-pounder’s 77 carries are about half as many as Michel’s and about a third of Chubb’s total. But as his playing time has increased, so has his production. He’s averaging 7.8 yards a carry, and in the SEC championship matchup Dec. 2 against Auburn, Swift’s spectacular 64-yard touchdown gallop put a bow on the Bulldogs’ victory. He’s also ahead of Michel and Chubb in receptions and the best blocker among the three.
Such precocious success at a school that, when he arrived, was already in possession of two top backs doesn’t surprise Infante.
“We had John Reid and Olamide Zaccheaus [who would play for Penn State and Virginia, respectively] both in the backfield when D’Andre came here,” Infante said. “He didn’t shy away from competition with them, but he also learned from them. And he credits a lot of his development in high school with having those two older mentors.
“He found a similar situation at Georgia and he said, `OK, I’ll have these two guys show me the ropes, and I’ll contribute when I can.’ Most kids today would have shopped around for an opportunity where they could be the No. 1 guy right away. But he doesn’t think like the rest of us. We’re fascinated by the LeBron Jameses and Michael Jordans of the world because they don’t think like the rest of us. When you have that kind of talent, you just don’t see things the way the rest of us do.”
Long before he got to St. Joe’s Prep, back when he was a football-obsessed standout for the Enon Eagles in Mount Airy, Swift informed his father that when it came time to go to college, he’d be heading south.
“He always wanted to play in either the SEC or ACC,” said his father, Darren. “So when he had the opportunity to go to Georgia, which has always been a great school for running backs and which had two of them who are headed for the NFL, he said, `Why not follow in that tradition?’ ”
Georgia entered his radar seriously when he was a high school junior, and Infante took his team on a service trip to Athens, where the university is located. The players slept on campus, and Swift saw plenty of it while volunteering at the Athens Community Council on Aging.
“He fell in love. He still keeps in touch with the old people he worked with there,” Infante said. “That’s the kind of kid he is. You’d be grateful if your daughter came home with him. Classy young man. Dedicated to his studies. Goes to church on Sundays. Takes care of his sisters. Very close to his mother and father. A fierce competitor. Great teammate. Does community service.
“He’s not just a once-in-a-lifetime player. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime kid.”
Swift set himself on a path toward football stardom when he was a toddler intently watching Eagles games with his grandfather.
“D’Andre grew up always wanting to play football,” Darren Swift said. “He would sit there on his grandfather’s lap watching those games when he was 3 or 4. Then he’d go outside and emulate what he just saw.”
Pop Warner and the youth-league Eagles, sponsored by Enon Tabernacle Church, followed. He was clearly a football prodigy when he got to St. Joe’s Prep, but the rest of his resume needed polishing. Among the off-field skills Swift honed there, Infante said, were preparing his body for the game’s rigors, budgeting his time, studying tape, working the weight room, and traveling.
“I told him that because of those things, his jump to Georgia was going to be smaller than his jump from Enon to the Prep,” Infante said.
His fervor for SEC football, the coach said, didn’t imply any ill will toward his hometown. In fact, when it came time to make a recruiting tape, Swift created a 90-second homage to Philadelphia, complete with a Rocky-like run to the Museum of Art steps accompanied by a Meek Mill soundtrack.
“He’s a proud Philadelphian,” Infante said. “He didn’t go to Georgia because he doesn’t like it here. He continues to represent this city, comes back whenever he can. He’s definitely a kid we should root for. He represents us very well.”