Andy Demetra | Inside the Chart
In one start, Bruce Jordan-Swilling accomplished something not even his Hall of Fame father could do.
On the opening defensive play of the third quarter Saturday against Virginia, Jordan-Swilling, the Yellow Jackets' true freshman middle linebacker, intercepted a pass from quarterback Kurt Benkert and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown. In his entire four-year career on The Flats, Pat Swilling, an all-America linebacker at Georgia Tech from 1982-85 and 2009 inductee to the College Football Hall of Fame, never once had a defensive score.
Good luck getting Bruce to bask in that one-upmanship.
"Probably not," Jordan-Swilling replied when asked if he planned on bringing that information to his dad's attention. "He's still kind of up on me, making it to the college Hall of Fame and being [NFL] Defensive Rookie of the Year. I have a long way to go, so I can't really talk smack to him."
Maybe so, but Jordan-Swilling still offered a tantalizing glimpse of his potential Saturday in rain-soaked Charlottesville. Filling in for an injured Brant Mitchell, Jordan-Swilling tied for the team lead in tackles with 11. In addition to his pick-six, he forced and recovered a fumble in the Yellow Jackets' 40-36 loss.
Jordan-Swilling said he watched the game film three times on his own Sunday before the team gathered for practice on Monday. Despite his gaudy numbers, Jordan-Swilling still gave himself a "C" for his performance.
"[I have] room for improvement. And just to top it off, we lost. You can never have a good game and still lose," he said, adding that he wants to improve on attacking the line of scrimmage and getting the defensive calls in quicker.
His head coach says his production has overridden some of his rookie mistakes.
"He still has some misalignments and mistakes like a lot of the guys, but you can excuse a freshman more so than older guys. But he was very productive when he was out there. You can't ask for a kid to be much more productive than to pick one off for a touchdown and to cause a fumble and recover a fumble," Paul Johnson said.
With a last name like Swilling, success on defense may have seemed preordained for Bruce, who's listed at 6-1 and 209 pounds. His father still holds the Georgia Tech single-season sacks record and made five Pro Bowls with the New Orleans Saints. Uncles Darrell and Ken Swilling starred on the Yellow Jackets' 1990 national championship team. Yet Jordan-Swilling earned his greatest acclaim in high school as a running back: at Brother Martin in New Orleans, he rushed for 5,393 yards and 83 touchdowns in his prep career. Aside from his sophomore season, when he filled in for an injured starter, Jordan-Swilling never played a down of linebacker in high school.
A conversation with his father convinced him to make a leap of faith and change positions at Tech.
"I think if I'm on the field, I can have an impact on the game. Before coming to college, me and my dad, we sat down and talked about everything. He was just like, `I think you should go play linebacker.' I thought, maybe that's not such a bad idea. He kind of knows what he's talking about. He made it himself. He said he's seen something in me at linebacker. I was like hey, I'm going to listen to you and pray for the best," he said.
In doing so, Jordan-Swilling has now followed a string of current Yellow Jackets who have found success as freshmen despite having no experience on that side of the ball in high school. The list includes center Kenny Cooper (defensive tackle) and offensive lineman Jahaziel Lee (defensive end), like Jordan-Swilling a member of the "Boot Boys," the Yellow Jacket players' nickname for Tech's four Louisiana natives.
"Anytime you're willing to learn and do the small things and implement that into your game, it's definitely going to take you a long way. Bruce is my guy. I love that cat to death," said Griffin.
With Mitchell hopeful for a return from injury, Jordan-Swilling knows his playing time might diminish over the final three weeks, which begins Saturday when Georgia Tech faces Virginia Tech at Bobby Dodd Stadium (12:20 p.m. ET, Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network). In the meantime, he'll continue to balance both a legacy and a learning curve as he adjusts to his new position in college.
Old thoughts, though, can be hard to shake. After his interception against Virginia, Jordan-Swilling said he was seized by a fear as he began his return.
"I was like, `Well I can't get tackled now,'" he said. "People are going to look at me like I wasn't a good running back in high school."