Pat Hand Wins Swain Sweepstakes

A week ago today, all Tennessee fans rejoiced at the Vols signing day fortune — as decisions by four Parade All-Americans all fell into the Big Orange column — but not as many recall the first big commitment of the recruiting campaign that helped make that remarkable run possible.

That occurred on Dec. 15, when Huntsville Grissom High School wide receiver Jayson Swain declared for the Vols, giving UT its first top 100 prospect. Swain's commitment culminated a project that was essentially four years in the making, and gave Fulmer and Company the high-caliber of playmaker they longed for and the recruiting boost they so desperately needed.

Most realize that Swain's commitment to Tennessee included a bonus, as he became an active participant in the Vols nationwide hunt for football talent. He was probably the one person most responsible for convincing Russellville, Ala., tackle Aaron Sears to join him at UT and he helped neutralize the negative influence Chris Leak exerted against the Vols.

Yes, the Big Orange Nation owes a debt of gratitude to Swain for going beyond the call of duty in service to the Vols, but his inspirational story may have never been written if not for the vital role played by UT receivers coach Pat Washington in recruiting Swain.

"After my freshman year I went up to camp at Tennessee and I met Coach Washington," Swain recalled during an interview for an in-depth feature in the upcoming Rocky Top News recruiting issue. "He sat down with me and my high school coach and we talked about my future and my chances of playing college football. He worked with receivers and knew what it took to make it. We developed a relationship and it's still strong today."

Swain's relationship with the oft-maligned Washington became critical down the stretch when the stellar 6-2, 205, talent was bombarded by negative recruiting tactics and growing weary of the entire process.

"He handled the pressure pretty well," said Grissom Head Football Coach Ronnie Massey. "In fact, he got tired of it a lot quicker than I thought he would. We tried to tell him what was coming, and to let him know what kind of pressure would be there and what kind of attention he would get and everything. But he wasn't really prepared for getting the calls at 10 o'clock at night from recruiting services and all that kind of stuff."

Swain was accustomed to escaping would-be tacklers and shaking sticky DBs, but he couldn't free himself from relentless phone calls that followed him everywhere he went.

"Heck he had a cell phone and they got that number then he got the number changed and they found out," Massey said. "It was kind of like the FBI hunting him down. He got tired of it pretty quickly."

Swain took official visits to Michigan, Tennessee and Georgia and turned down many more. It seems he had become over saturated by a process that some prospects milk for all it's worth.

"I was trying to tell him he had to relax and just go and look," Massey said. "I don't know how you get bored with the rich and famous lifestyle, but that sure wore on him pretty quickly. He said: ‘Coach you know everywhere you go they got the best of everything and I'm just sick of it."

A lot of Vol fans were concerned Swain might be swayed by his final visit to Georgia, but it can now be revealed that he had Tennessee on his mind before he ever arrived in Athens.

"After my home visit with Michigan and after I went up to visit Tennessee I decided I wanted to be a Vol," he said. "I've been pretty comfortable. Sometimes you hear things and you think maybe you should look around, but I was comfortable with my commitment."

Others weren't quite as comfortable with the thought of Swain wearing orange, as the phone calls and unethical tactics continued long after he announced his choice during a press conference at his school.

"A lot of the Florida coaches tried to come in the back door after he committed to Tennessee," said Massey. "They tried about everything, but he never changed his mind."

When all was said and done, the deciding factor in Tennessee's favor, wasn't its state-of-the-art facilities, massive stadium, legendary fan base or superior opportunity for early playing time. Instead, it was the relationships he formed with UT's coaches, particularly Washington.

"I think it was crucial," Massey confirmed. "Hearing some of the stuff he heard about some of the problems that were going on at Tennessee, and a lot of that was manufactured, but the thing that kept him holding on was his relationship with Coach Washington.

"There's absolutely no doubt in my mind about that and, of course, you can't take away from the relationship Coach McCorvey had developed with him, too. The relationship with the coaching staff at Tennessee was the difference. It wasn't the facilities and it wasn't the stadium and it wasn't the tradition or any of that. It was the relationship. He felt that these are the guys I like and I think I can trust. I don't think anybody else could penetrate that part of it."

Not even a school of sneaky Gators, lurking just beneath the surface of a very slimy swamp.

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