He literally gives away the shirt off his back. And he feeds needy families for Thanksgiving.
By AINSLIE LEE
GATORBAIT Staff Writer
Forty-five minutes south of The Swamp behind a wooden picket fence sits Freddie Swain’s childhood home. Cars parked in the driveway don Florida Gator embellishments – including personalized license plates that read “SWAIN.” Freddie’s nephew, MJ, answers the door with a mouthful of left-over Halloween candy as Freddie’s mom, Brenda Geromel, shooshes their barking dog into a back bedroom. And while all of this is typical for the Ocala household, the scene on the back porch isn’t so frequent. Just beyond the sliding glass door leading to the porch is a set of table and chairs piled high with grocery bags and boxes of food. Boxed stuffing and canned cranberry sauce littered Geromel’s back porch. And while her family of four children and three grandchildren, is large, it isn’t large enough to need that much food. But the food isn’t for them. In fact, they don’t even know who the food is for. “He has a foundation, the Freddie Swain Foundation – as you can see,” Geromel said, gesturing over her shoulder to the mountain of groceries. “And we already delivered five dinners to the high school. And tomorrow we do five to North Marion Middle School and five to Evergreen (Elementary).”
The Thanksgiving feasts are hand delivered by Swain who entrusts the school administrators to get them into deserving hands. According to Sonja Christmas, a health science instructor at North Marion High School, the school will use recommendations received from teachers and the school’s social worker to hand select the families in need of Swain’s donation. Christmas, who has been at North Marion for 11 years, was everything but shocked when the current Florida Gator showed up at his alma mater with five frozen turkeys in tow. While Christmas never actually taught Swain, she was fortunate enough to watch him progress as a North Marion Colt in his four years of football. As a member of the school’s quarterback club and a leadership instructor, Christmas says Swain has the correct answer to the biggest question North Marion asks its student-athletes: What do you want your legacy to be? “What he is doing now is just a continuation of what he did as a student,” Christmas said. “It speaks volumes of his upbringing. He wants to do as much as he can while he can.” Before delivering the second batch of meals to North Marion Middle School, Swain stopped by the house of his childhood friend, Desmond Carson. “Freddie had come to my house just to stop by and see my family – who loves him like family,” Carson said. When Swain told Carson where he was headed next, Carson asked if he could tag along. After all, Carson was no stranger to Swain’s outreached hand. “He’s the person who asked if you want to go get food,” Carson recalls. “And I’d tell him, ‘I don’t have money for food.’ and he’d say, ‘I didn’t ask if you had money for food. I asked if you wanted to get food.’” While Swain has, without question, made his mark on the Ocala community, the receiver’s spirit of generosity has extended northward into Gainesville since his arrival to campus four years ago. Geromel has a friend in Gainesville who works at one of the gas stations that Swain frequents. And one day, she got a tearful phone call from her. “She called me crying and said Freddie just made her day and some other guy’s,” Geromel said. “He took the shirt of his back and his shoes and gave him to the (homeless) guy and gave him a couple of dollars to get whatever needed.” “He also went where his girlfriend’s mom works, at a nursing home and gave the guy in there – a big Gator fan – gave him the same thing, his shoes, shirt … right off of his beaten back.” Earlier this month, following Florida’s loss to Georgia, Geromel and her family got to get a quick bite to eat with Swain – who, by the way, led the Gators in receiving that day with 91 yards, a touchdown and eight catches. “We were in Subway and we ordered our food and the guy behind us ordered his. And he (Freddie) was like, ‘I’ll pay for his, too.’” Swain’s older sister, Christina Frazier, says that her youngest brother comes by it honestly: “Being with my mom and grandparents, they’ll do anything for anybody, so I guess him seeing that, that’s probably where he got it from.” The only thing Frazier can hope for now is that some of her brother’s attributes rub off onto her eight-year-old son, MJ, who wants to play football for the Gators when he gets older. “I did a good job, I guess,” Geromel laughed. “With the help of my mom and my dad and everybody else who helped me.” A lot of hands go into raising and developing the character of a child. And regardless of who was involved in Freddie Swain’s upbringing, it’s clear that the lesson of being unselfish was taught often. Ahead of every game, Swain and fellow senior receiver Josh Hammond trot out to the logo for the coin-toss. Swain and Hammond, who are joined by fellow senior David Reese II, watch the coin being launched launch, wait on a decision to be made, shake hands and head back to the Florida sideline.
However, one of them will take their place on the bench, while the other gets to play the first offensive series. “It’s kind of funny, the two guys that play the same position are two team captains, Freddie and Josh,” Dan Mullen said earlier this month. “They play the exact same (position) … One question I can’t answer for you is how many games either one of them have started this year. I would have no idea.” To answer Mullen’s hypothetical question, Swain and Hammond have each started five games this season with neither Swain nor Hammond starting against Towson. Nonetheless, not starting a game is pretty uncharacteristic of a senior captain. But with a deep receiver corps dripping with talent, occupants in the Gator’ receivers’ room learned quickly that their unselfishness would be just as important as their route running. And that lesson was one that wouldn’t require much teaching for one of Florida’s receivers. In four years at Florida, Freddie Swain has been a constantly evolving piece of that talent in Florida’s offense. In an ode to his unselfishness, when fellow receivers Van Jefferson and Trevon Grimes transferred into the Florida football program, Swain never feared a decrease in reps. If you go back to his hometown of Ocala, Florida and ask those who know him best, the words “Freddie” and “selfish” are never found in the same sentence. And come this Holiday season, 15 Ocala families will learn exactly why that is. And now, as Thanksgiving approaches, so does Swain’s final regular season game as a Gator. As fate would have it, if Swain and Hammond keep up with their rotation, No. 16 will jog out to midfield and instead of finding himself on the sideline during the opening offensive snap, he will line up in the slot.
But knowing Freddie, starting the game won’t matter much to him anyways. “I ain’t ever been selfish,” Swain said earlier in November. “I don’t really mind whatever’s meant to be. I tell guys all the time, ‘Whatever’s meant to be is whatever’s meant to be.’ So, if it’s meant for me to catch the ball and then score with it, then that’s what it’s meant to be.”