• Ainslie Lee

The 'old Freddie' is back -- and ready for the next chapter

For Freddie Swain, it was the tale of two halves.

And by that, I don’t mean two 30-minute pieces of a football game that are separated by a 15-minute trip to the locker room.

Instead, I mean two halves of a college football career. After all, Swain’s time spent as an underclassman and his time spent as an upperclassman were vastly different.

His coach was different. His role was different. His attitude was different.

“My first two years… I started to… I won’t say I lost the love for the game… but I wasn’t Freddie,” Swain said between stammers.

In his first two seasons as a Gator, Swain trudged along in Jim McElwain’s offense.

In 2016 and 2017, Swain’s statline combined for 16 receptions for 214 yards and just three touchdowns.

The endzone was attractive to Freddie in 2019's game against Auburn. Photo by Alex Shepherd

But when Dan Mullen returned to Gainesville prior to the 2018 season, all of that changed for the Ocala native.

As Swain recalls, a meeting between the wide receiver corps, Mullen and wide receivers’ coach Billy Gonzalez helped him flip the switch.

“Coach G had just went off, like, on all of us,” Swain said with a chuckle. “We were all looking at each other because he just snapped on everybody. Ever since then… I knew when they came in that I had a fresh slate. Everybody’s even. Let’s grind.”

And so Freddie Swain grinded.

As he recalls, fine-tuning the little things was the difference-maker under Mullen and Gonzalez’s watch.

“The little things is what aggravates them and ticks them off,” Swain said. “You have to have the little things done in order to get the big things done -- which transitions to life, you know? You can’t cut corners in anything. If you cut a corner, you end up just cheating yourself. They just teach you different rules and principles of the game that you can translate to life and I couldn’t ask for a better staff.”

Whether it was honing in on the little things with the guidance of Florida’s revamped coaching staff or something in the Gatorade, Swain saw a massive jump in production.

In his junior season alone, Swain amassed 265 yards and five touchdowns on 14 receptions.

Those numbers leaped again come 2019 when the senior hauled in 38 receptions for 517 yards and seven trips to the endzone.

With the help of Mullen and Co., Freddie Swain was feeling like Freddie again.

“I’ve never looked back,” Swain said. “I got back to ‘old Freddie’. I started loving the game again and obviously it worked out for me.”

Yet, despite the many differences and the evolution of a young man both on and off of the football field, Swain found stability in those closest to him -- those same guys who sheepishly looked at each other while Billy Gonzalez ripped into them shortly after Mullen’s arrival to campus.

Swain, Tyrie Cleveland and Josh Hammond came to Florida together. They endured some of the lowest of lows together -- including a 4-7 season in 2017, followed by a coaching search.

Van Jefferson transferred into Gainesville in the 2017 offseason, representing the first of many transfer portal successes for Dan Mullen.

And while they might not have all come together, the quartet of Gator receivers leave together -- and with them, a legacy of unselfishness.

“You can’t find another group of guys that has done the things that we have done,” Swain reflected. “None of us ever complained, or none of us ever got mad at each other because somebody else had so many catches. We just had so close of a bond that no one really… like that just didn’t matter.”

Despite both being team captains, Swain and Hammond alternated who started each week.

Freddie Swain and Josh Hammond served as captains in 2019 alongside David Reese II. Photo by Chad Ritch.

“One question I can’t answer for you is how many games either one of them have started this year,” Dan Mullen said of Swain and Hammond back in November. “I would have no idea.”

Chances are, Swain and Hammond couldn’t tell you either.

“I would always tell them, ‘Whatever is meant to be, is going to happen.’,” Swain said. “Coach G would tell us all the time ‘Make sure that you put a stamp on everything that you do.’ And I can’t stress it enough, I played with a great group of guys my senior year and I couldn’t ask for more.”

Now, Swain and his brothers await Draft day. And to them, it’s nothing but another opportunity to tackle together.

And for Swain, specifically, it’s just another reminder that the “old Freddie” is back -- and here to stay.

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