D’Andre Swift should play bigger role this time against Notre Dame

Two years can change a lot, especially if you’re D’Andre Swift.

When he last saw Notre Dame, Swift was the third wheel in Georgia’s stable of running backs. Sitting behind UGA legends Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, opportunities for Swift were limited. If he wanted to make an impact, he’d have to do so in the few chances he was given.

“Out of the trio, he was supposed to help bring up Nick and Sony,” Swift’s mom, Ayanna Swift said. “He was excited to do that against Notre Dame, but he was ready, too.”

Swift had only three touches in that game, but he made the best he could of the limited opportunity. He finished the game with only 42 yards on the ground, but one of those turned out to be among the biggest plays of the game — a third-quarter run of 40 yards to set up a Michel touchdown.

Not only did that play change the tide of the game, but it also changed the arc of Swift’s career. Sure, he likely would have found that mojo eventually, but to get it under the bright lights in South Bend, Indiana, meant a lot.

“Coming from high school, he was used to doing those things,” said Swift’s dad, Darren Swift. “But to be able to do it on a competitive level, against a national powerhouse like Notre Dame, in prime time, it helped Dre out a lot.”

Since that night, things have been different. Two years, 30 games, 267 carries and an entirely new role for the Bulldogs. And that role doesn’t just include making big plays, it means taking on greater leadership responsibility as well.

“His impact is much more important there than just what he does with the ball,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said following the win over Arkansas State. “I think his biggest skillset is making sure that other people are buying into the principles and values of the organization. … When Swift does that, that has a huge impact on the confidence of our team.”

With the departure of Chubb and Michel and a brighter spotlight on Swift this season, this off-the-field role was not entirely a surprise. And it will be on display Saturday night. Alongside Jake Fromm and J.R. Reed, Swift will march out to the middle of the field before the game as a team captain for the Bulldogs.

That’s not to say Swift’s position as a leader was preordained. “When he came in as a freshman, his outlook was different,” Darren Swift said. “Now as a junior, with the eyes on him, he knows he’s got to be a leader.”

One significant difference for Swift — maybe greater than anything else — is his health. Before his freshman season, Swift received injections in his groin to stave off surgery until after the season ended.

But the aftereffects of that inevitable surgery lingered. And lingered. And lingered. All through most of the 2018 season. And still noticeable at the beginning of the 2018 campaign. Against Austin Peay, the then-sophomore tailback gained a paltry 43 yards. Against Middle Tennessee it was a woeful 12 yards on four carries. It was frustrating, especially when people thought it was merely poor play.

“There were people who doubted him last year, who didn’t understand that he was playing injured coming off that groin surgery,” Darren Swift said. “They didn’t see who he actually is. But now, for the first time in years, he’s finally healthy.”

With good health comes the purest D’Andre Swift. One that the college football world has yet to truly see.

“You’re going to get an opportunity to see the real him,” Darren Swift said. “It’s an opportunity to prove who D’Andre Swift really is.”