D’Andre Swift Joins the Brotherhood at UGA

September 18, 2019

PHILADELPHIA - From the start, both Zaccheaus and Reid made sure to look out for the 14-year-old D’Andre Swift. They didn’t see the wunderkind as a threat to their playing time, carries or catches. Rather, they saw the young Swift as a little brother; someone they had to show the ropes to. 

With the increasing rigors that St. Joseph's demands on the field and in the classroom, the two seniors helped Swift find success early. And through the years, as Zaccheaus and Reid moved on and Swift took on their roles. With what is now St. Joseph's senior class, Swift was able to embrace the same role and lead that group. In suit, that group has now done the same.

“[Swift] was actually that guy for our current senior class,” Roken said. “And now they’re those guys for this team.” 

As Swift left the brotherhood he had helped create, he walked into one of college football’s biggest bromances—Chubb and Michel. The Swifts knew the two had a strong connection, they just didn’t realize how strong.

“I thought it may be fake,” Darren Swift said. “As guys at the same position, I thought: ‘Are they really best friends?’ No, they are. The love and caring they had for one another was genuine.”

And from the very first time they met Swift, who was still a highschooler at the time, Chubb and Michel brought him in on that bromance. 

“When we visited, we got there on a Friday,” Darren Swift said. “I didn’t see him again until Sunday because he was with them the entire time.” 

The situation Swift was walking into in Athens rang all too familiar: Two established and experienced players to show him the ropes of a completely new situation. It was almost shocking to the Swifts how similar it was. Moreso, it was welcoming.

“It was almost mirroring what he was able to have at St. Joseph's prep,” Ayanna Swift said. “Two great mentors that helped transition him into this dynamic trio… What they showed D’Andre at that time was the exact brotherhood Dre had just left behind at St. Joe’s.” 

And Swift shared that same sentiment.

“It’s pretty much the same exact story,” Swift said. “Coming in as a freshman, they were already there… They helped me as far as knowing the plays, going to them, getting extra film. I would actually go to their houses over the weekends to chill with them just to see how they lived.”

Swift’s quote is a little unclear as to which pair he’s talking about, but that’s how similar the two situations were. Anywhere where he says “they” or “them,” you could easily put “Chubb and Michel” or “Reid and Zaccheaus” and be correct.

For the Georgia trio, the relationship was friendly. Although it was business-like too. Chubb and Michel wanted the best of Swift. They expected his best too. Quickly, the two had a discussion with Swift, laying down their guidelines and expectations for success.

“They broke it down,” Darren Swift said. “This is what you do, this is what you don’t do. This is where you go, this is where you don’t go. This is what we expect from you, this is what we don’t expect from you.” 

In high school, it took awhile for the lessons to accumulate for Swift. Up all the way through his junior year at St. Joseph's, Swift was running through, around and all over other schools. But it in that third year, the results of the previous two years weren’t replicated.

After two-straight State Championships, the precedent was set. Swift, Roken, Sugden—a third championship wasn’t their  goal, it was their expectation. When St. Joseph's fell short of that, Swift and co. took it to heart. They hadn’t just let themselves down, they let everyone down.

“We fell short,” Roken said. “I think the group as a whole, they felt like they had let the seniors down that year.”

There was a vow to make sure that disappointment wasn’t repeated. 

“They went into January on a mission. They were ready to work,” Roken said. “There’s no doubt D’Andre was the leader of that group.”

Swift had taken on the role that Zaccheaus and Reid held before him. Although he did it in his own fashion. 

“He’s not much of a vocal leader,” Sugden said. “But when he started to understand what he meant to the team and the power his feelings and his non-verbals had. His maturation then, it was special.”

There was something different about Swift that offseason. A new level of determination had come about Swift, something that both of his parents had noticed. 

“His mindset was totally different,” Darren Swift said. 

“It created a fire in him,” Ayanna Swift said immediately after. 

Whatever it was about Swift, it clearly made a difference. Individually, he had 30 total touchdowns (25 rushing, five receiving) and 1,969 total yards (1,564 rushing, 405 receiving). As a team, St. Joseph’s prep was unstoppable. The Hawks won every game by a margin of 10 points or more inroute to a 14-0 record and their third State Championship in four years. Whatever fire that was within Swift had spread to the field and to St. Joesph’s opponents. 

More than two years down the road, that fire had been rekindled within Swift. This time, it was set in New Orleans. 

Eight carries, 12 yards and two fumbles. Against the Longhorns in the Sugar Bowl, Swift had put up a statline that no one had ever seen from him in his time at Georgia. 

It immediately weighed on Swift. Following the 28-21 defeat to Texas on New Year's day, Swift sat out of post-game interviews. Reporters didn’t get to see the expression of Swift, but those close to him knew exactly how that game weighed on him. 

“I know D'Andre is just as disappointed as everybody,” Smart said following the Sugar Bowl.

His father saw that same disappointment.

“For him to fumble the ball twice, it left a very sour taste in his mouth,” Darren Swift said. “We’ll never see something like that again. That one is always going to haunt him.” 

The disappointment embarked Swift on a new mission that offseason. After two years of narrow defeats and missed opportunities of national titles, Swift was ready to take measures into his own hands. 

“He’s trying to be the best running back in college football,” said Mark Webb, Swift’s roommate and cousin. “It’s just crazy the work you see him put in.” 

Now, with several young backs behind him, Swift has taken on the role that Chubb and Michel, and Zaccheaus and Reid served as for him in years prior.

“He relishes that role,” Smart said on Swift. “I think he understands that he is one of the inspirational players on the team… He tries to set a good example for the younger players.” 

That moment stood out the most to Smart in a game against Murray State. After freshman George Pickens picked up what Smart called “a bone-headed penalty,” he acknowledged that Swift was the player to take action. 

“Swift is one of the first guys to come over and visit with [Pickens] and talk to him about it,” Smart said. “He knows that George is going to be a good player, but here’s an opportunity for [Swift] to impart some of his wisdom and knowledge, and I think Swift does that really well.”

Darren Swift hasn’t been able to see it first-hand, but with updates from his son, he’s able to see exactly what Swift is bringing to the table as a role model of the team. 

“He’ll tell me that he was training at 2:30 in the morning and he’ll send a video: Him, Zeus (Zamir White), [James] Cook and Mark Webb,” Darren Swift said. “His mindset is totally different. He trained so hard after his junior season at The Prep, and that’s what I see in him right now.” 

Each game that Georgia completes, the fire within Swift grows larger. The intention is to bring that blaze through Jacksonville, Auburn and Atlanta. And it won’t be extinguished until redemption can be achieved in the place where the fire was born—New Orleans.

“He believes that they should be National Champions two years running,” Darren Swift said. “He thinks that they shouldn’t have lost to Alabama two years ago. He thinks they shouldn’t have lost last year, either… Now, he’s ready for that shot again.” 

The Personal Touch: 

When Swift returned to Philadelphia in 2017 for the St. Joseph's-La Salle game, the fans were exuberant. They were there to cheer for the game, but when Swift arrived, he quickly became the center of attention for a moment.

It showed just how much love and respect Swift earned in his time in high school from the St. Joseph's community.

But among that herd sat a kid who was smaller than most, but more excited than the rest.

His name is Griffin, the son of Swift’s high school english teacher Joseph Coyle. The bond between Griffin and Swift is more than just fandom, however. As Coyle describes it, the two are friends at this point.

It started when Coyle was serving as a football moderator for St. Joseph's. He would come and watchover practice after school. Often times, that meant Griffin would often times join him in watching. 

“Dre became his favorite player at the prep,” Darren Swift said. “He would always come out and be enamored by his play. When he would come out, he would ask me, ‘Where’s D’Andre at?’”

It’s hard for Coyle to pinpoint exactly when the connection between the two took off, but it was easy to notice how quickly the relationship was built. Swift, like he did with younger players, took Griffin under his wing. 

“He treated him like a little brother,” Coyle said. “If I brought Griffin to school with me and into the cafeteria, and Dre was sitting there with seven, eight other guys, he would tell the other guys to slide over and let Griffin sit here.”

When Swift left for Georgia, it seemed like that connection may whither. 731 miles isn’t kind to friendships. It didn’t diminish, though, it just changed. Griffin became a fan of the Bulldogs from afar.

“Last Christmas, I got him a Georgia jersey, the D’Andre Swift one,” Coyle said. “I could have given him a brand new Xbox and he wouldn't have been as happy.”

They watched each game they could on TV. Coyle reminisced on a few of the bigger games they caught: the 2017 SEC Championship, the National Championship and the 2018 game against Auburn.
But for the 2018 Georgia-Georgia Tech game, Coyle and his son decided they wanted to bypass the screen and see Swift play live once again.

“I woke Griffin up at 4 O’clock in the morning and said ‘Do you want to go see D’Andre play in person?’” Coyle said.

Most kids would be peeved with their parents waking them up so early unannounced. This time, Griffin couldn’t care less. The two were Athens-bound to again see Swift play live.  

Coyle and Griffin sat through the Dawg Walk and the game waiting for an opportunity to see Swift. When they finally got to say hi, Coyle could see how drained Swift was. The tailback had just carried the ball 14 times for 105 yards and a touchdown. It isn’t what he or his son was hoping for, but he knew he had to give Swift his space.

“I told Dre ‘Hey, I love you, but we’re going to step back and let you be with family,’” Coyle said. 

But Swift had none of it. 

“He whipped his head around and looks at me and told us: ‘You are family. And you’re coming with us to dinner.’” 

Dinner wasn’t anything special for the Coyles and Swifts—just a routine meal at some steakhouse in Athens—but it gave Coyle a different perspective on Swift. When they arrived at the restaurant, Coyle equated it to “the Philadelphia version of me walking in somewhere with Carson Wentz.” 

“Person after person, it was autograph, autograph, autograph,” Coyle said about the dinner. “Never once was there a remark or a sigh. All he said was ‘Thank you very much.’ He was thanking them, and signed everything. And he had put his head on the table he was so tired, but he kept signing and kept thanking.”

Coyle was aware of how his own son idolized Swift, but he realized then that it went way beyond that singular connection. The whole Georgia fanbase, the St. Joseph’s community, and specifically Philadelphia—he is a symbol to all those who follow him.

“He’s an ambassador for the city,” Coyle said. “He can do so much for all those little kids at his club football. Not just people like Griffin, the influence goes beyond that, I think it’s the city, and they’ve embraced him.” 

In his commitment video back in 2016, it featured Swift running through the streets of Philly, showing off the icons and people of the city. And that was before his collegiate success. He still reps Philadelphia to this day. His Instagram bio reads “Upt PHILLY” at the top. Occasionally on posts, he’ll throw in a “#PHILLY” as a simple reminder. People back home notice it. More importantly, they appreciate it.

“He hasn’t forgotten where he’s from, through social media and interviews and stuff like that,” Sugden said. “That goes a long way with people around here… he is a Philadelphian to a tee.”

When Darren Swift talks to others from the city, he hears how his son hasn’t only brought the city into a good light, but how he serves as a role-model, as an inspiration.

“They talk about the fact that their own children look up to D’Andre and try to emulate what he’s done,” the elder Swift said. “The fact that they know for an inner-city child of Dre’s caliber, for the now-athletes that are in the inner-city, to look at Dre and see that they too have an opportunity because D’Andre had one too.”

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