By Ainslie Lee/Correspondent
It was midnight and Freddie Swain’s mom, Brenda Geromel, called her son crying.
After some coaxing from Swain, Geromel finally squeaked out enough to explain her emotions.
“She couldn’t barely get it out,” Swain says. “I was trying to make out what she was saying and I finally made it out.”
“Go check your email,” she told him.
Geromel, who admits that Swain can be neglectful of his email inbox, checks her son’s email often. And on this evening in particular, a certain email had caught her attention.
The email had come from the NFL Combine. And with it, was an invitation for Swain.
Skeptical at first, Swain reached out to his agent Jeff Ostrow to confirm that it was what he thought it was.
Swain hired Ostrow, who is the president of ProPlayer Sports, after seeing him represent Brandon Powell, a wide receiver with the Atlanta Falcons and former Florida Gator.
“Hey, check this out,” Swain told Ostrow minutes after midnight. “Mom is going crazy, I don’t even know if this is real. Is this real?”
Once the email was forwarded over to Ostrow, he was quickly able to give Swain and Geromel the good news: It was real.
And this time, Swain’s emotions got the best of him.
“I try not to show emotion,” Swain says. “But I ain’t gonna lie, I broke down when I was by myself. There’s just so much that went into it, you know what I’m saying?”
Anyone who knows Freddie Swain knows what he’s saying.
A product of the MCYFL, the junior Broncos and senior Colts, to be specific, Swain always played from behind, it seemed.
“I was always told he would never be a football player,” Geromel says. “And look at him now.”
Swain has no problem recognizing that some of the players that he grew up with were bigger, faster and stronger than him. Though, in the same breath, he has no issue recognizing his own work ethic — the one that helped him rise above.
“Everything that you can think of, they were better than me at. But I just never stopped… I think that’s what kinda separated me from all the guys that I grew up with… The only thing that separates somebody is their work ethic.”
Swain, who spent his high school career at North Marion, put his work ethic on full display as he worked alongside Darrell Collins, an assistant coach for the Colts.
As Collins recalls, Swain started showing up to the Colts’ workouts when he was just in the seventh and eighth grade. Meanwhile, guys like Latroy Pittman, who also left North Marion to play at Florida from 2012-15, were getting their work in.
And according to Collins, Swain would tell him all the time that he was working on becoming better than Pittman. But Collins was quick to remind him that he had a long way to go.
“And then watching as he started getting into high school his freshman year… translate over from the summertime, and you could tell his work ethic was above and beyond,” Collins says. “A lot of guys like to have a good work ethic, but he was always eating stuff up… he’d ask thousands and thousands of questions.”
It wasn’t long before Swain began answering questions of his own, along with answering the questions of college coaches.
Swain capped off an impressive high school career with the Colts in 2015. In that same season, Swain tallied 43 receptions, good for 648 yards and seven touchdowns. North Marion finished the 2015 season 10-2.
From there, Swain moved 45 minutes north to Gainesville where he became a pivotal part of the Florida Gators’ offense. However, Swain was all but smooth sailing in his first two years as a Gator.
Coming into a Jim McElwain-led program in 2016, Florida’s offense was still searching for its identity. And as Swain admits, riding out his time as an underclassman was tough.
“My first two years … I started to … I won’t say I lost the love for the game, but I wasn’t Freddie,” Swain says.
Trudging along in McElwain’s offense, Swain combined for a total of 16 receptions for 214 yards and three touchdowns in his first two years in the orange and blue — a statline unproductive enough to frustrate any budding star.
However, when Dan Mullen flew into Gainesville like a superhero ready to save the day, things began to change.
A meeting between Mullen, wide receivers coach Billy Gonzalez and the Gators’ wide receiver corps set the tone quickly for Swain and his peers.
“Coach G had just went off, like, on all of us,” Swain says. “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.”
Freddie Swain’s work ethic, which he attributes to his mother, was built to grind.
With the help of Mullen’s offensive mind, Gonzales’ attention to detail and strength and conditioning coordinator Nick Savage, Swain saw a major leap in production in the latter half of his time at Florida.
When combined, his junior and senior seasons saw Swain’s 52 receptions yield the results of 782 yards and 13 touchdowns — all while sharing the football with one of the deepest wide receiver units in college football.
All in all, Swain’s leap in production earned himself an invite to the NFL Combine in February.
Swain touched down in Indianapolis on Feb. 23. From there, Swain underwent a series of medical tests and interviews before putting his talents on display.
And while back home, Geromel and the rest of Swain’s family paced in front of the TV, Swain knew that the combine wasn’t the best time to be overcome with nerves.
“I’m a pretty chill person … I’m relaxed,” Swain says. “Big stages … obviously you have to be the best of the best of the best to be there. So I knew what the situation was and I knew the circumstances, but at the end of the day I was there because of the game that I play. But it was a surreal moment because people dream to go there and perform. And I got to do it. And I did it. And in my opinion, I did it well.”
The opinion of Swain performing well in the NFL Combine is mutual among anyone who knows the game.
After repping 225 pounds 16 times on the bench and running a 4.46-second 40-yard dash, Swain hung around with the highest-graded receivers in this year’s wide-receiver-heavy draft.
The 32 NFL teams will pick their crop of rookies Thursday-Saturday. And Freddie Swain knows that he could hear his name called at any time.
“I can tell you this,” Swain begins. “I’ve talked to a good number of teams. I don’t know where I’m going, I don’t know who I’m going to, I just know that everything I’m supposed to do, I’m doing right. And I’m taking care of my part. Now it’s just up to the teams.”
But regardless of where Swain goes, there’s one thing for certain: The Ocala community hasn’t seen the last of him.
“I’m just excited,” Swain says. “No matter where it’s (his new team) at… Ocala is always home.”
“Man, I can’t complain,” he reflects. “I’m just trying to show them young guys in Ocala, man, that it’s possible.”