It’s not that anyone ever told former Badger wide receiver Luke Swan he couldn’t do it. Still, everything he has accomplished on the football field, he’s had to work for.
Swan loves football. But when you’re a sliver under six feet, weigh 195 pounds and aren’t the most swift-footed (he ran 40 yards in 4.62 seconds at Pro Day), doing what you love is onerous.
Nothing could be more difficult than proving yourself at the highest level: the NFL, which is Swan’s task now after signing a free agent contract with the Kansas City Chiefs.
“It’s definitely a challenge ahead, but something I’m definitely looking forward to,” Swan said.
Coming out of high school, few major D-I programs expressed much interest in Swan. Instead of going the smaller-school route, he walked on at Wisconsin.
After a redshirt season in 2003 and two more in which he appeared in nine games on special teams, Swan finally got the nod to be a receiver that actually caught passes.
Obviously, the position wasn’t given to him. Swan knew the only way he could beat coverage was by being precise in his route running, catching and blocking technique. So that’s what he did.
In 2006, he finished with 595 yards and five touchdowns on 35 catches. Those numbers only improved in 2007, as Swan became then-Badger quarterback Tyler Donovan’s favorite target. He averaged 75 yards and over four receptions during the first six games of the season.
All that changed when Illinois safety Justin Harrison came out of nowhere and cut Swan, his season and — for a time it was believed — possibly his career down with a hamstring-shredding hit over the middle of the field.
Swan eventually got back up, first when he limped to midfield on Senior Day without the aid of crutches when his name was called to inspire his teammates, and then when he realized his injury wasn’t going to prevent him from doing football-oriented workouts prior to the draft.
“It was tough, but I just took the mentality that the injury was just another bump in the road,” Swan said.
The injury almost certainly deterred teams from selecting him in the draft last weekend, but the character and dedication he had shown in his one-and-a-half seasons on the field was enough for the Kansas City Chiefs to offer Swan a free agent contract.
“I’m very much grateful that I was able to sign,” Swan said. “It may have been different if I hadn’t been hurt, but that’s the past. You can’t dwell on that at all.”
The next step for Swan is Kansas City’s rookie camp. Essentially, the camp is SOAR for football players. Swan will familiarize himself with his fellow rookies, his coaches, training facilities and team rules and regulations. Rookie camp is also when Swan will get to see the Chiefs playbook for the first time and when the coaching staff will take a long look at what they’ve been handed by upper management.
Despite the facade of a laid-back atmosphere, Wisconsin wide receivers coach Henry Mason warned Swan that the Chiefs will be watching every single movement and play he makes. But that shouldn’t be too difficult to handle, since Mason made sure everything Swan did at UW was done right.
“Coach Mason knows how to get the most out the guys,” Swan said. “He really made Hub (fellow senior wide receiver Paul Hubbard) and I the players that we are just by the way that he really pushed us.
“We probably didn’t understand it at the time what he was doing,” Swan continued. “I’d get mad at him and frustrated, but it was the best thing for us.”
None of the signed rookies (that includes Swan) will be cut at the end of the camp. However, his performance and attitude in the drills could go far in determining just how long Swan will be a Chief.
“I think first impressions are definitely a big thing, so it’s important to come in right off the bat to show that you’re going to be one of those guys that you can count on, that’s going to be consistent, that’s going to make plays,” Swan said.
Swan expects to make the 53-man roster, not in the sense that he believes himself to be better than everyone (or anyone) or more deserving, but because making the most of opportunities is simply what the man nicknamed the “Fennimore Flash” does.
His legs are always pumping, his mind is always working, and his hands are always reaching for a new challenge.
“Whatever it’s going to take, I’m going to do it,” Swan said.
Kevin Hagstrom ([email protected]) is graduating May 18 with degrees in economics and journalism. In the words of Paul Hubbard Jr., “Stay focused, know what you want and you (too) can achieve whatever it is you want to achieve.” Thanks everybody.