D’Andre Swift is primed to continue the distinct lineage of UGA running backs.
The position never has been in short supply in Athens – from Herschel Walker to Rodney Hampton to Terrell Davis to Knowshon Moreno to Todd Gurley; if nothing else, the Bulldogs always have been stocked with NFL-caliber tailback talent.
The freshman Swift, just two games into his collegiate career, looks the part of a guy who can assume that mantle.
“He’s a talented player,” coach Kirby Smart said. “He’s very smart, very mature. He actually reminds me in demeanor of (freshman offensive lineman) Andrew Thomas. Very businesslike. Both of them went to great academic institutions. Both of them won state championships in high school. They are very serious about their performance, and I think that’s the overriding factor that allows them to play so early in their college careers because they are very calm in the moment.”
As Nick Chubb and Sony Michel play out their final seasons, Swift is set to assume workhorse duties in 2018. But his spurts as the third-string back this season have won teammates over.
“He’s a very shifty guy,” receiver Javon Wims said. “He’s a big play waiting to happen. He blocks very well, he’s an overall great team player. He’s somebody that can do something when he has his hands on the ball.”
The Bulldogs have a history of pulling top running backs from out of the South, with Swift the latest feather in their cap. Hampton came from Texas, Davis from California, Moreno from New Jersey. Swift was the No. 1 recruit in Pennsylvania, and UGA relentlessly pursued him, beating out Alabama, Clemson and Florida State in the process.
Gabe Infante, Swift’s coach at St. Joseph’s Prep (Philadelphia), called him the best athlete he’d seen in two decades of coaching. Infante insists Swift will be an asset in all three phases and promises Georgia fans will quickly embrace him as a player and person.
On the field, it hasn’t taken long for Swift to be noticed. He made the most of his touches in Saturday’s 20-19 win at Notre Dame. He collected 73 yards on eight carries and caught four passes for 14 yards. He broke off a 40-yard scamper in the third quarter.
“He’s been doing super good at practice,” tight end Charlie Woerner said. “He had that one big run at Notre Dame, but at the same time he’s a great blocker, so coach (offensive coordinator Jim) Chaney will utilize him the best way possible.”
Swift should see the field plenty against Samford on Saturday night. The coaches will need Chubb fresh for the upcoming SEC gauntlet, and Michel is dealing with a minor ankle injury. The physical-running Swift will have the chance to inflict damage on a smaller Samford defense.
Aside from the statistical production, keep an eye on Swift’s pass blocking. After being an on-ball star in high school, Swift’s willingness to do the dirty work is commended by his teammates.
“I think it’s awesome,” Woerner said. “I think it’s super unselfish of him to come in and fill that role to get on the field. He just wants to play, and if that’s how he’s got to play by blocking, he’s going to do that. It’s very unselfish of him.”
“It’s big,” linebacker Natrez Patrick said. “Coming from a guy who was probably touching the ball every time the ball was snapped in high school, to coming in and making that key block. It’s big. … I really admire the way he plays.”
Even with a crowded depth chart, Chaney will find a place for Swift. He’s worked as a slot receiver and could earn more time there as he progresses (Infante often referred to him as an outstanding route runner). It could also benefit Chubb’s and Michel’s professional futures if the carries are divvied up, but Swift must first prove he isn’t a significant drop-off.
Swift could be a star in 2018 and beyond, but don’t be surprised if he forces his way into the spotlight a lot sooner. And Saturday may provide the perfect conditions to make that “sooner” become “now.”
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