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August 03, 2015

This Philly junior may be nation's best high school running back

Somewhere under the tangle of arms and legs was D’Andre Swift. Still moving. Still pumping his legs. Still refusing to be stopped. Four Pine-Richland defenders descended on the St. Joseph’s Prep tailback, two from each side. There were two more tacklers converging on the 5-foot-10, 200-pound dynamo from the front and behind in last year’s PIAA Class AAAA state champion at Hersheypark Stadium.

Swift was lost momentarily under a deluge of green and silver, when a white No. 7 popped out of the human tunnel and was gone — separating from everyone on his way to a 58-yard third-quarter touchdown in Prep’s 49-41 victory and assuring the Hawks a second-straight state championship.

Swift broke six tackles on that memorable play. The junior to-be is on the verge of possibly owning every rushing record in the prestigious history of Prep football — and what’s more, Swift was named the running back MVP of the Nike Opening in mid-July, in Beaverton, Oregon. Swift was one of five juniors across the country invited.

He hasn’t played a down yet as a junior and Swift is already the most recruited high school player from the Philadelphia area since George Washington’s Sharrif Floyd, and will be the most sought-after running back from the area since Cardinal O’Hara’s Kevin Jones. Both Floyd and Jones went on to become first-round draft choices in the NFL. Swift could be next. He’s that electric.

"By the time he’s done, he could be one of the greatest players that’s ever come out of Pennsylvania, someone who probably will be done college in three years, and a first-round draft choice," Infante said. "He’s that good. I have no problem saying that.”

Swift, who rushed for 1,051 yards and 13 touchdowns last year, makes Prep coach Gabe Infante downright giddy over having two more years with him.

“D’Andre is the best tailback I’ve seen in 19 years of coaching, and he is certainly the best back I’ve ever coached; I never coached against a better back than him,” said Infante, the architect of the two-time defending state champs who is entering his sixth season at the Prep. “There are all-star games that I’ve coached in, combines, and D’Andre is the best. He combines speed, quickness, strength, vision, and his hands. His [58-yard touchdown] may be the greatest high school run that I’ve ever seen any high school player ever make. They had four guys on him, and two other guys coming at him. And this happened in the state championship, against an undefeated Pine-Richland team. He’s going to be in the top five players recruited in the country by the time he’s a senior. He’s among the most recruited kids already entering his junior year. His highlight film doesn’t do him justice. It doesn’t show how good he is.”

Apparently some major schools have taken notice anyway.

Alabama, LSU, Florida State, Clemson, Penn State, Auburn and Georgia, among many others, have already made offers to Swift, who rushed for a game-high 226 yards on 23 carries, averaging 9.8 yards a carry in the state championship. Swift also finished with four touchdowns — two in the fourth-quarter, including the game-winning score.

He’s a high school Barry Sanders, short, compact, powerful, and above everything incredibly fast.

“If D’Andre stays healthy, he can be better than Kevin Jones, he can one day play on Sundays,” Infante said. “By the time he’s done, he could be one of the greatest players that’s ever come out of Pennsylvania, someone who probably will be done college in three years, and a first-round draft choice. He’s that good. I have no problem saying that.”

This summer has been a whirlwind for D’Andre and his family. Darren Swift, his dad who has tree trunks for arms, is a soft-spoken man who is trying to get a handle on all of this in a hashtag, instant-gratification world. A standout football player at Frankford High School himself, Darren, and his wife, Ayanna, have been somewhat blindsided by the burgeoning attention — which promises to get more intense.

D’Andre first began playing football when he was seven, when the family was living in Georgia. At the time, D’Andre was a stout kid who looked more deemed to be a lineman than a tailback. It didn’t take long for Darren to find out just how talented his son is.

“I was in awe watching him, because he would mimic some of the moves he would see Reggie Bush do on TV. I was coaching ’Dre at the time and I would find myself as a fan running down the sideline with him,” Darren said. “All D’Andre does is watch football, and watches it over and over, three or four times. He deciphers the backs and takes parts of each back he sees and incorporates it into his own game. But this [level of recruiting] and what’s happening, it’s nothing I truly never expected.

"He’s my son. I wouldn’t change that for all of the money in the world. I’m proud of my son. I want him to do more than what I’ve done. Prep has provided that. He’s getting a great education. He’s playing at a high level. We thank God every day for everything that’s happening and drill home we don’t want him to get caught up in all of this.”

So Darren and Ayanna keep him under tight wraps. Darren has already warded off a number of schools that have tried to persuade Swift into transferring into their school.

“It’s happened and they know where my heart is, here at Prep. A few grown men have approached my son about changing schools, and I cut that off,” Darren said. “Now with this college recruiting, I oversee everything. D’Andre had an interview with someone recently who took what ’Dre said out of context, and had him committing somewhere that wasn’t true. D’Andre is still a kid and my goal is to shield him from all the hawks, the buzzards and the vultures. So many people out there who prey on kids, and I won’t let it happen.”

As for D’Andre, he carries a special motivation. Before each game, he scrawls “RIP pop pop,” on his left wrist tape in tribute to his maternal grandfather. D’Andre used to do everything with him.

“That’s my motivation,” said D’Andre, an emotional crack in his voice. “That’s my one regret. I wish he were here to see me play. He would be proud of me. He always wanted me to play football. I think he would be proud of me.”