PHILADELPHIA, PA (CBS) —D’ Andre Swift wasn’t used to this. The explosive St. Joseph’s Prep tailback looked up at the zeroes on the clock, and his eyes shifted over to the blinking 29-28 on the scoreboard and that was it. His junior year was over. No Catholic League title. No District 12 title. No state championship.
You see, Swift had grown a little spoiled his first two years of playing high school football because the triple crown (league, district and state) was all he knew. His seasons ended deep in December, not on chilly November nights.
But that’s what happened in 2015 to Swift and his St. Joe’s Prep teammates when they lost to La Salle in the Catholic League finals last year. It’s a dagger he swore to himself he wouldn’t feel again.
In 2016, Swift didn’t. He ran through every team the Hawks faced, but what was most impressive above everything, what will mark him down as the greatest player in St. Joseph’s Prep history is that in big games—he made sure he left his mark as the best player on the field. On Swift’s massive legs, the Hawks experienced a season for the ages going 14-0 for the first time in school history and winning the first PIAA 6A state championship in the new classification system and third state title in the last four years, beating Pittsburgh Central Catholic 42-7.
The engine that made the Hawks go was Swift. He wanted the ball. He wanted to face the best teams in the state, which were all designed to stop him and never did.
It’s why the 5-foot-10, 210-pound tailback who’s headed to Georgia is CBS Philly’s 2016 Player of the Year.
“Losing that game to La Salle really, really hurt and as soon as I got a chance, I had to get back in the weight room again,” Swift said. “I had to dedicate myself even more, and it’s why I wanted to come back at them to beat them this year. I wanted to make a point.”
Swift erupted for a St. Joe’s Prep-record seven touchdowns in the Hawks’ 63-35 win over the Explorers in October. In that game, Swift rushed for 277 yards and six touchdowns, and caught three passes for 20 more yards and another touchdown. And when the games got more serious, Swift managed to find even higher levels. In his last three high school games, he rushed for 724 yards and nine touchdowns, which averages out to 241 yards rushing and three TDs per game. In three state championship games, he carried a combined 56 times for 434 yards and eight touchdowns, which breaks down to 7.7 yards per carry and 2.6 touchdowns a state title game.
“Dre is the best player I ever coached,” Prep coach Gabe Infante said without hesitation. “You knew he was going to come through, no matter who we played or what defense we had lined up against us. He ran for 266 against a really good North Penn team, which I think we know now was probably the second-best team in the state. We were going to be good this year, and we knew we had No. 7 (Swift).
“I said it before, Dre needed to lose. He had to go through that experience and he took that very, very hard. It left a scar and it helped him grow. You want to empower your kids to lead themselves and each other. When you do it right in the end, it becomes a cooperative relationship between you and your players. You’re no longer telling your players what to do and what needs to be done, you’re working with them to help them achieve what they want. You’re taking direction from them. In the end, that was Dre. Dre wanted the ball. You don’t lose with your best player standing next to you. I knew how important winning was to Dre.”
Swift got a chance to look up at the scoreboard one last time before he walked off the field at Hersheypark Stadium on Saturday night. He didn’t want to leave. None of the Hawks’ fans felt the cold. They were all pulling Swift this way and that.
“This was great but it’s a little tough,” Swift admitted. “This is the last time I’m playing with these guys, my brothers. I’m going to miss these guys. Yeah, I started as this little fat kid that wanted to run the ball. I’m not the little fat kid anymore. This whole thing has been a blessing. Going to this school, the coaches that are in my life, and the guys that I played with here. It was a storybook ending. This team, the coaches and this school will be a part of me for the rest of my life.”