A Father's Tears of Happiness - How D’Andre Swift Found Family at UGA

September 15, 2019
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PHILADELPHIA—It brings a tear to his eyes when Darren Swift recalls the memory. It isn’t a tear of loss, or grief, or sadness. Rather a tear born from joy, happiness, pride. 

Not pride in himself; pride in his son, D’Andre Swift.

“It was surreal,” Darren said after a long pause. “The fans, they went crazy.” 

The fans he’s referencing aren’t the 90,000+ in Sanford Stadium on any given Saturday in the fall. They’re a smaller bunch—maybe a few hundred—of St. Joseph's Prep supporters, witnessing Swift’s first return to Philadelphia since leaving for UGA.

It was a game against La Salle College High School, St. Joseph's cross-town rival. It was a fortunately-timed bye week for UGA and the then-freshman tailback. 

It was maybe the biggest game of St. Joseph's regular season, yet Swift had quickly become the star of the show. 

“The whole student section was going nuts,” said Tim Roken, Swift’s high school offensive coordinator and the current head coach of St. Joseph's. “They were chanting his name in the middle of our game.” 

With all the intricacies of college recruiting, there was more to manage, and more to watch out for as well. Swift was doing nearly four hours of homework each night. That came on top of a football schedule which demanded before and after school workouts as well as a game schedule that took them all around the country.

“It was like The Beatles coming back,” Tom Sugden said, then the offensive line coach and current offensive coordinator. “The best part of him is that he gets surprised by this stuff. He’s almost unassuming at times.”

This love and appreciation from the community is a culmination of the respect Swift earned during his time in Philadelphia. Not just from picking up yards and scoring touchdowns, but for the way he carried himself while he did it—with humility. Towards teachers, kids, parents, opponents, Swift was always one of kindness towards others. 

Swift’s time at St. Joseph's prep molded him into this idolized character, and his time there is what guided his decision to play college football in Athens. 

The similarities the Swift family saw between Georgia and St. Joseph's was uncanny: the recruitment process, the coaches, the players on the team. To them, it was like Déjà vu. Everything about the two cases was similar. It made the decision to go play college ball for Georgia all too easy. 

And although they didn’t know it when they decided on UGA in 2016, the similarities wouldn’t stop there.

 

The Sales Pitch: 

 

Swift, as an eighth-grader, had made it on the radar of several high school football powerhouses in Philadelphia. His name was already generating a lot of buzz in the area. He had built a reputation for consistently torching his youth football peers. Coaches clamored for the opportunity to bring in that kind of talent.

The Swifts talked with coaches and got similar spiels each time—come here and be a star the second you step on campus. The bold claims were uplifting and flattering, no doubt. It’s what the coaches thought the Swifts would want to hear. 

It struck them differently, though. They saw these pitches as disingenuous, and were often rubbed the wrong way.

“They don’t even know,” Darren Swift said. “They know what he was able to do with little league, but they didn’t know what he was able to do at the high school level. There are bigger guys and faster guys.” 

Through it all, the Swifts had decided that La Salle High School would be the best fit for Swift both athletically and academically. It was where they saw the potential for him to flourish the most. 

The family had told all suitors that the chase was over—La Salle was the decision.

Except second thoughts began to creep in. Only four days before they were supposed to submit the paperwork for enrollment at La Salle, St. Joseph's got its foot in the door for one last meeting.  

In a last-ditch effort to sway the Swifts away from La Salle, then head coach of St. Joseph's Gabe Infante gave the family a blunt pitch—anything that Swift hoped to accomplish on the football field, he would have to earn it if he went to St. Joseph's. No guarantees were made to Swift, not even a spot on varsity was promised. In most people’s eyes, what Infante was trying to sell was not very attractive. But it was honest, and that’s exactly what the Swifts were looking for.

So like that, it was done. Swift was going to St. Joseph's. 

Caption

 

Years later, the Swifts reentered the recruiting world, this time for college football. The recruiting was different, but the priorities were the same. Swift and his parents were looking for the same honesty that Infante had given them several years before. 

With all the intricacies of college recruiting, there was more to manage, and more to watch out for as well. Swift was doing nearly four hours of homework each night. That came on top of a football schedule which demanded before and after school workouts as well as a game schedule that took them all around the country.

With so much already on Swift’s plate, Darren Swift and his wife, Ayanna, set up parameters to coaches. If you wanted to talk to their son, you had to notify them first. Any coach that went straight to Swift before going to his parents first got the ax. No excuses, no nothing. That team was off the list. 

It was an easy test of honesty for recruiters, or at least so they thought. But several coaches went directly to Swift, despite those wishes. And as they stated before, no ifs, ands or buts, those teams lost consideration as soon as that rule was broken. 

Kirby Smart and Dell McGee played by the Swifts’ rules. They would go through D’Andre’s parents if they wanted to talk to him. Sure, it was a simple rule to follow, but it became the foundation of trust between the Swifts and the Georgia coaching staff.

From there, the relationship grew. The Swifts mostly communicated with McGee through the process. He wasn’t overbearing, and he wasn’t fake. He was exactly what Infante was years earlier—genuine.

“We didn’t feel like we had to hide anything,” Ayanna Swift said. “He allowed us to be upfront, and he was upfront, too.”

Neither McGee nor Smart sold him on immediate stardom, even if it did seem like Nick Chubb and Sony Michel might be NFL-bound at the time. His five-star status held no weight when he arrived in Athens. Swift was going to have to earn every carry he wanted.

That was comforting to hear, but it was base-level stuff this time around. With a decision of this magnitude, the Swifts were even more diligent. They wanted a bond with the recruiting coach that was comfortable and trusting. 

It took a while for Swift and McGee to get there. That turning point came when Swift told McGee that he was still taking visits to other schools. It’s kind of like telling your new girlfriend or boyfriend that you’re still going on dates with other people, at least that’s what the Swift’s were afraid it would come off as. McGee’s response was a surprise to the Swifts, but a welcome one. 

“He said he wanted us to visit other schools,” Ayanna Swift said. “It made the relationship more open and comfortable to maneuver through this field without us feeling bad about doing something we had the right and ability to do.”

McGee was confident that as Swift visited other schools, he wouldn’t be plucked away. Rather, he would feel even more confident that Georgia was right for him.

He was right. Through all the conversations, the visits, everything, the Swift family had found a feeling of familiarity with Georgia, one that they didn’t see anywhere else.

“It was St. Joe’s Prep all over again,” Darren Swift said.

 

 
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