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Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Swift overcomes rare disease to break Nebraska record

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Nate Swift might not live up to his name and be the fastest receiver in the Big 12. He might not be the biggest, strongest or jump the highest.

 
  Bruce Thorson-US PRESSWIRE
 Nebraska's Nate Swift overcame a childhood illness to become one of the top receivers in Cornhuskers history.

But even with his limitations, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini doesn't like to see any labels affixed to his leading receiver -- a player with an amazing knack for simply grabbing the football in traffic and making opponents miss.

"He's just a good football player," Pelini said. "I get tired of people saying he's a possession guy, he's this, and he's that. Nate is just a heck of a football player."

Swift lived up to his coach's rave reviews again Saturday with a career day that helped spark the Cornhuskers back into the North Division race with a comeback victory over Baylor. The senior receiver produced 11 catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns to resuscitate Nebraska's passing game.

In the process, he broke a 36-year-old record to become the leading receiver in Nebraska history, a record set by Cornhusker legend Johnny Rodgers.

Swift set the record on a 9-yard touchdown toss from former college roommate Joe Ganz late in the third quarter, providing the Cornhuskers the lead for good against the pesky Bears. He later iced the victory later in the game with a 53-yard TD grab.

"The biggest thing for me is to be on board with guys like Johnny Rodgers and all of the rest," Swift said. "It's a great honor to be listed among any of the all-time honors. And it's fun to break records that have been around forever. It's something I'll always remember."

His big game has given him 146 receptions, breaking the previous mark set by Rodgers during his Heisman Trophy winning career from 1970-72.

Swift has obviously received benefit from playing four years in his career, but his growth has been remarkable considering some of the obstacles that were thrown in his way.

Only 12 years ago, Swift was paralyzed for several weeks after he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre, a rare childhood disease that affects only about 2 out of 100,000 people.

As doctors slowly rebuilt his immune system and helped him return to a normal life, Swift worried if he would ever be able to run again and play with his friends.

A football career, he thought, would be a bonus.

"I couldn't do anything and for three months. I had to sit inside and watch the other kids playing," Swift said. "That was the toughest thing. I always wondered if I would ever be able to play sports again."

Within a couple of years, his recovery was complete. And he eventually developed into one of the most heralded prospects in the Midwest during a standout career at Hutchinson (Minn.) High School where he was a teammate of current Nebraska player Lydon Murtha. Swift was an all-purpose running back who rushed for more than 2,500 yards and 30 touchdowns as a senior.

But he chose Nebraska over a slew of Big Ten offers because Frank Solich's former staff was prepared to give him a shot at playing receiver in a power-based option offense.

The arrival of Bill Callahan's West Coast passing attack, and the continuation of most of its philosophies under current Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson, enabled Swift to blossom in college.

Swift has 4.5 speed in the 40-yard dash. While that burst won't blow away defenders, he is still quick enough to get open when he needs to because of his uncanny ability to run precise routes.

And he's actually used his speed more this year. Earlier in the season, Nebraska coaches liked to use him in the slot, where his ability to get open against linebackers gave him a natural advantage.

But they've trusted his athleticism more as the season progresses, moving him more outside where he can also stretch defenses with his athletic ability.

Those talents were on display earlier this season when he brought back a punt 88 yards for a touchdown against Virginia Tech. It was the longest punt return so far this season in the Big 12.

Even that remarkable play brought some good-natured kidding from Nebraska coaches. Nebraska wide receiver coach Ted Gilmore joked that he could have beaten Swift down the field if he had run along with him down the sidelines.

"They kind of kidded me about that, but it was all good-natured," Swift said. "I think I showed I could definitely still run when I had the opportunity."

After all that he has been through, the chance to merely play football at such a high level is something that Swift will never take for granted.

"It always comes back to that," Swift said. "I think how lucky I was that everything worked out for me. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to do what I'm doing."