GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Freddie Swain admits his attention to detail wasn’t there.
As a freshman, his goals were simple: Get on the field, help the offense thrive, and repeat. The wide receiver wasn’t overly concerned with how that got done. He just wanted to be on the field.
“I was just ready to go and I wasn’t really focused,” Swain said. “I just wanted to play.”
One year later, he has a new mindset. Obviously, he still wants to play but now it’s not just for the sake of playing. He wants to do it the right way.
That means studying the playbook. That means fully recovering from the shoulder injury that hampered his production for most of his first season. And that means making the most of every rep.
“It’s way different,” Swain said. “I’m moving faster, I’m moving better, I got my shoulder fixed. I’m just getting work in and competing with my boys.”
‘I was really playing with one arm’
Swain’s freshman season started out fine. Six catches and a pair of touchdowns through four games were enough for a first-year player trying to crack the depth chart.
But as 2016 continued, Swain felt something was off. There was pain, but he didn’t want to give up.
The final diagnosis was a torn labrum in his right shoulder, a tear that got worse as the season progressed. He would catch just 2 more passes in the final nine games.
“I was really playing with one arm,” Swain said, “but I ain’t gonna hold that against me.”
Swain had surgery after the season to repair the shoulder and sat out the spring so his arm could fully heal. Being away from the sport was tough, Swain admitted. He said he would talk to coach Jim McElwain every day to do something — anything — to get back on the field. McElwain’s answer was the same.
“They wouldn’t let me run. I couldn’t do nothing,” Swain said. “It was bad.”
With Swain barred from showing what he could do on the field, he shifted his priorities. He was a regular in the weight room and film room, building up his physical and mental game.
“He’s a new guy,” McElwain said. “… He’s one of those guys who is kind of a model of what you do to get yourself back.”
Now that Swain is back, his focus has been on proving that he can run with the starters and be one of the top playmakers in a wide receiver corps that could use up to eight receivers. Swain’s biggest strength, he said, is his versatility. While his 6-foot, 200-pound frame is made to play on the outside, he relishes the chance to use his speed when lined up against a linebacker in the slot.
“That’s really where it’s fun at,” Swain said.
He attacks the ball at its highest point, making him a competitor on 50-50 balls. Add in his newfound knowledge of the playbook, and the tools are there for Swain to make an impact.
“He’s a phenomenal player,” wide receivers coach Kerry Dixon said in the spring. “He’s one of those guys with uncanny ball skills, he’s a great route runner. He knows how to use his quickness at the line of scrimmage.”
McElwain added: “He’s a guy who just loves to compete. He’s not afraid of anything.”
‘My actions do the talking’
Swain is a relatively reserved player, but one look at the plethora of tattoos on his body tell a portion of his story. Among them:
- On his right leg is a flame with the phrase “Silence is my best friend.” Like most players, Swain prefers to let his production on the field speak for itself. If he’s able to be quiet but is still being recognized, he knows he’s doing his job.
- On his right forearm, there are the numbers “352” surrounded by palm trees. It’s an homage to where he grew up in Marion County, just south of Gainesville.
- And on his right bicep, there’s a football. It’s the first tattoo he got when he was 15. That was before he gained about 25 pounds since arriving at Florida “I turned a football into a baseball,” Swain said with a laugh while flexing.
Off the field, when he’s not studying film with teammates or working in the weight room, Swain lives with his girlfriend and his dog, Diesel. He doesn’t play video games or take naps often.
“I just chill,” Swain said.
‘A star in the making’
Stephen Field arrived at North Marion High School in 2014 and surveyed his roster.
Swain, a junior at the time, was one player who stood out. Field saw a talented wide receiver — a player who could make an impact on a Power 5 conference team — with no college offers.
He planned to change that.
“I came to his house and told him before it’s all said and done, he’ll be an All-American,” Field said. “He’ll have more offers than he can really handle if he just stayed the course.”
Swain did stay the course. Over his final two prep seasons, he caught 95 passes for 1,489 yards and 14 total touchdowns.
His stock rose dramatically, with Swain ending as a 4-star prospect and the No. 25 receiver in the Class of 2016, according to the 247Sports composite.
And most importantly, the offers rolled in — 25 of them.
“He turned from a young man that was a decent football player into a dominant football player,” Field said.
Field recalls taking Swain to Atlanta for tryouts for The Opening, one of the biggest high school football recruiting showcases.
Swain was flustered early on, Field said. There were so many talented players he had to compete against. Would he get noticed? Was he doing enough? What if he didn’t stack up to the rest of the field?
“Sure enough, about 30 minutes later he started making some huge plays,” Field said.
Swain was invited to participate in The Opening that summer and excelled, impressing analysts, fellow recruits and NFL players alike during his time in Beaverton, Ore.
He ultimately decided to stay close to home and enrolled at Florida.
“I always felt like he was a star in the making. He’s a star on and off the field,” Field said. “He has great character. That’s kind of what separates him from a lot of young men. No injury or no adversity is going to keep him down.”
‘Just turf and field’
When the No. 17 Gators open their season against No. 11 Michigan on Saturday, Swain will walk into AT&T Stadium — home of the Dallas Cowboys — and soak in the atmosphere.
He’s never been in an NFL stadium before and never played in front of a crowd that could potentially hit 100,000 people.
Will there be nerves? Anxiety? Extra pressure?
“Nah,” Swain said. “It’s just like playing anywhere else. … It’s just turf and field.”
There’s also a lot riding on this game. Florida’s season opener against Michigan is the Gators’ first season opener against a Power 5 opponent since 1992 and its first season opener not played at home since 1987.
It’s also a chance for Florida to prove that its offense can compete with a team that has posted a top-10 defense each of the past three years.
“You can’t really half-step coming into this game,” Swain said.
Swain doesn’t plan to half-step at any point this season. After already being limited once during his collegiate career, he’s not planning on having another setback if he can control it.
“I can make plays,” Swain said. “I actually know what I’m doing now. Put the ball in the air and I can make a play on it. Anywhere it goes, I’m gonna make a play on it.”
The post Florida football: WR Freddie Swain ‘a new guy’ following shoulder surgery appeared first on SEC Country.