Oct. 11, 2013
Linebacker Anthony Swain led Auburn with eight tackles against Ole Miss (Todd Van Emst Hall photo)
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. – It was the biggest night of Anthony Swain’s college football career. Playing a position he didn’t expect to play, he led Auburn’s defense with eight tackles, including one for a loss, last Saturday against Ole Miss.
But it wasn’t those numbers that excited Swain, a third-year sophomore linebacker from Gadsden. It was the numbers on the scoreboard in Auburn’s 30-22 victory at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“It’s been a long wait, but I’ve always been told great things happen to those who wait,” Swain says. “It hasn’t been hard. We were winning this year, so I wasn’t really worried about it. It’s all about the team to me. As long as the team is winning, I’m good.”
Swain spent most of last week practicing at the jack linebacker spot in a scheme defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson had put in to deal with Ole Miss’ spread offense, but when weakside linebacker Cassanova McKinzy was lost for the game to an injury, the plans changed.
And Swain, who has also spent time at middle linebacker, got the opportunity for which he’d waited since he arrived at as a safety in the summer of 2011.
“I had a great time,” Swain says. “I expected to play a lot, but not at Will. It didn’t matter. I was excited to get a chance.”
Johnson says Swain has done whatever has been asked of him without complaint. And against Ole Miss, he earned the opportunity to play more.
“He’s a great kid,” Johnson says. “I’ve been ready to play him in some other games, but in the flow of the game or whatever, I wouldn’t have to play him or I had to move him around. He really hasn’t played as much as he should have played. He proved he can get in that rotation and help us. He’s going to certainly play more down the road.”
For Swain and his teammates, the victory over Ole Miss was another step on the journey back from the misery of a 3-9 record in 2012. It was another sign of progress for a team that has come together with a new coaching staff and learned to believe again.
“I don’t talk about last year, because that’s last year,” Swain says. “Right now, the atmosphere around the complex is as different as it can be. We don’t walk around sad anymore. We’re all chipper and all bought in. We just need to keep getting better. We can do big things. No doubt in my mind.
“As long as we stay together and keep working out hard and practicing hard, we are going to be a real contender.”
The Tigers will be prohibitive favorites Saturday to run their record to 5-1 against FCS foe Western Carolina on homecoming at Jordan-Hare Stadium. But Swain points to an Appalachian State upset of Michigan in 2007.
“You have to prepare the same way you prepare for somebody that has tremendous athletes,” Swain says. “You can’t underestimate any team. When you do, they’ll come in and Appalachian State you.”
Little Anthony Swain Jr. was not yet 5 years old when he played organized football for the first time. And he didn’t like it at all.
“He actually wanted to quit his first year, and I wouldn’t let him quit,” his father says. “I told him he had to finish the season, finish what he started. After that first year, you couldn’t pay him to quit.”
Swain laughs at the memory.
“I wasn’t any good,” he says. “I played nose guard, and I was terrible. I got better as the years went on because I was always fast.”
By the time he was in middle school, Swain was a running back with a growing reputation. When he got to Gadsden City High School, his coach, Ali Smith, had other plans.
“My coach came to me and said ‘I want you to play safety,’ Swain says. “I said ‘Coach I don’t know about playing on defense. I want to score touchdowns.’ He said it would help me out in the long run. I trusted him, and it did. It got me to college.”
By Swain’s senior year, college recruiters were streaming to Gadsden. They called. They wrote letters. He’d not been a fan of either state school growing up, but he was impressed with Auburn from his first visit on. He signed in February 2011.
“It was the family environment,” Swain says. “It’s always been family with Auburn. I was treated like I was already here. Some of the guys were already calling me and texting me and asking me what I was doing. It has been everything I expected.”
Swain arrived at Auburn planning to play safety. But like his high school coach, the coaches at Auburn soon had other ideas. He was redshirted as a freshman and moved to linebacker. The redshirt season was a trying time, but one he sees now as having been invaluable. Auburn team chaplain Chette Williams, he says, set him straight.
“Coming from high school where you are quote/unquote the man and you are playing every snap, it’s hard to go and not play a game at all,” Swain says. “But what happened was my redshirt freshman year I talked to Brother Chette, and he put it in perspective for me. He was like ‘you take this year and get better.’ I needed a year to get better and bigger learn and to learn how to play linebacker.”
In the classroom, in the weightroom and the practice field, Swain did things the right way. He waited his turn without complaint. When Gus Malzahn was named head coach and brought in a new coaching staff, Swain didn’t blink.
“We are all bought in,” Swain says. “That’s the best thing about this team. We are all bought in to what’s going on. We wall want to win. We’re all hungry. We don’t want another season like last year.”
When Swain’s opportunity came to excel on the field, he was ready. He knew he would be. He was playing for his 3-year-old daughter, Xia. He was playing for his father and his mother, Johnelle Swain. He was playing for his three sisters and his 1-year-old brother.
“We are all really close,” Swain says. “We always stuck together in hard times. My parents have always been there for me. I play this game for my family because I want them to see better days.”
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: