October 26, 2008

Swift's record only tops off stellar Husker career

It took a little bit of retrospection to fully appreciate what Nate Swift actually accomplished on Saturday.

Obviously much was made of his move to the top of Nebraska's all-time career receptions list, passing Husker legend Johnny Rodgers' mark of 143 with an 11-catch performance that put his career total at 146.

His career-high 11 grabs for 121 yards and two touchdowns in NU's 32-20 win over Baylor were also just a side note on the day as a result.

It wasn't until after the game, though, that Swift's accomplishment actually started being put into perspective, as coaches who have seen countless receivers during their careers found themselves praising the senior from Hutchinson, Minn., as they would a football legend like Rodgers.

"He's just a good football player," NU head coach Bo Pelini said. "I get tired of people saying he's possession guy, he's this, he's that. He's just a heck of a football player. He's a leader. He's a competitor. He's everything you want in a football player. To his credit, he became the all-time receptions leader, and that's something to be proud of, something everybody's proud of."

Said offensive coordinator Shawn Watson: "I'm just happy and proud for Nate. I love Nate. If anybody deserves to have the record, it'd be him. He's been such an inspiration to all of us, and such a steady force for all of us. It couldn't happen to a better player. He's given so much to the program since the day he walked onto the field.

"When good things happen to good people, you're always thrilled for that. I'm really thrilled for Nate. I like seeing his name there. It belongs there."

On a third down-and-10 during the third quarter on Saturday, quarterback Joe Ganz found Swift over the middle for a 15-yard completion to give the Huskers a key first down. It also moved Swift into a tie with Rodgers for the all-time school record.

A few plays later, Ganz hit Swift again on a 9-yard connection in the front corner of the end zone to give Nebraska a 24-20 lead and give Swift sole possession of a record that had stood for 36 years.

Those two plays - the manner in which he both tied and broke the record - were perfect examples of the player Swift has been during the past four years. Since the day he played in NU's season opener as a true freshman in 2005, Swift has been the go-to guy.

Even playing with three different quarterbacks in his career, Swift has managed to become of favorite target of everyone who has thrown him the football. There's a reason he's caught a pass in 40 of his 46 games at Nebraska.

"He has been playing great," Ganz said. "He has been playing outstanding. Even in the running game he is playing as hard as he can. He is cutting people down field making blocks, and he's a complete football player. He is really good. He is one of the best receivers in the Big 12.

"He has been running great routes, getting open a lot. It's easy for me to find him because he runs such good routes and gets open. He gets separation between DBs or whoever is on him. It's really nice being able to throw to him and be able to look his way in key situations."

Watson said he often schemes his play calling to try and get the ball in Swift's hands.

"We try to scheme to put him in a position to make those plays, but at the same time, you've got to run the route, you've got to get open and you've got to finish it," Watson said. "Nate does that. We've got a lot of confidence in him. He's a player we have a lot of confidence in."

It's not just Swift's talent on the field that makes him such a valuable asset to the Huskers. A soft-spoken figure in the locker room, Swift embodies the essence of leading by example.

His humility and humble demeanor are capped off perfectly with his bashful smile and Minnesotan drawl, but on the field, Swift's unwavering work ethic and drive to succeed give him a voice as strong of a voice as any on the team. And he rarely has to even say a word.

"He doesn't appear to wear it on his sleeves, if you will," wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore said. "When you're in this environment and it's a record that's obviously very important, held by a very talented individual for such a long period of time, a lot of people bring it to his attention. But to his credit, he goes about his day-to-day work and is focused in practice, and he doesn't appear to be distracted by it."

It seems odd to think that after Saturday, Swift only has four games left as a Husker. Maybe five or six if everything goes right.

For the past four years, No. 87 has been a constant in Nebraska's offense. His steady production has been something many fans may have taken for granted, which is actually one of the highest compliments a receiver can get.

One of the most productive careers in the history of Nebraska football will soon come to an end, but there's a pretty good chance Swift's playing days are far from over.

Is there a chance he could play in the NFL?

"I think so. Absolutely," Watson said. "He's what everybody is looking for, a dependable person that brings it everyday. He's a great character person. He would be good for any franchise. And I think he's a player that plays for a long time, too, because he has a very high skill level. He's a good receiver."

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