Georgia Tech's Swilling free to dream

August 29, 1991|By Dick Weiss | Dick Weiss,Knight-Ridder News Service

PHILADELPHIA — Who says dreams can't come true?

At Georgia Tech, they already have. The Yellow Jackets finished 11-0-1 last season and won a share of the mythical national championship.

Just as All-America safety Ken Swilling dreamed they would.

When Swilling told reporters about his dream last summer, most of them laughed. Georgia Tech never had won a national championship. Five times in the '80s, the Yellow Jackets couldn't even top three wins. But Swilling clung to his vision.

"I got a lot of grief for that," Swilling said during a break in preparations for last night's game with Penn State in the Kickoff Classic at Giants Stadium. "People came up to me saying, 'You're crazy. It's not possible.' But I could see it."

Swilling sees things in his dreams all the time. Sometimes, there are dreams he even feels. He remembers envisioning himself making big plays and having big games on Georgia Tech's Grant Field. Those dreams were so intense that he sometimes would break into a cold sweat.

The most powerful dream of all came last winter. A childhood friend who had died in a drug-related incident came to Swilling and urged him to finish his college career instead of turning pro a year early.

Fortunately for Georgia Tech, Swilling heeded the dream. He'd received only mixed reviews from the pro scouts after missing two games and parts of two others with a severely sprained ankle, so he figured it might not hurt to spend another year in school.

Swilling is playing a new position this year -- he has been shifted from free safety to strong safety to get him more involved against the run and to put more pressure on the quarterback -- but his act remains unchanged. His teammates call him "Captain America" for his habit of coming out of nowhere on the field, and he plays the role well. He wears a black visor over his eyes, has No. 1 emblazoned on his jersey and "K. SOLO" painted on his shoes.

"I've always been labeled a hitter," Swilling said. "Being an intimidating force is something I take pride in. I want to be the next Ronnie Lott.

"The nation never really saw me at my best last year. This season, people are going to see my talents. I'm a man on a mission."

Swilling appeared headed for a magnificent season in 1990 -- he had 34 tackles and four interceptions in Tech's first five games -- before he severely sprained an ankle returning a kickoff against Clemson and missed the next two games.

Doctors told Swilling it would take six to eight weeks for the ankle to heal, but Swilling suited up three weeks later for the Jackets' Atlantic Coast Conference game with Virginia.

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