NEW ORLEANS — Meet Bruce Jordan-Swilling, arguably the best football prospect in the Class of 2017 who remains unsure of where he’ll line up at the collegiate level.
Unlike most “athletes,” Jordan-Swilling knows he’ll wind up at either running back or linebacker. The decision remains which position he’ll pursue.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound New Orleans native is preparing for his second season as a full-time running back at Brother Martin High School, but recently announced that he wants to be pursued as a linebacker at the next level.
The sudden change of heart is a result of conversation he had with his family, including his father, Patrick Swilling, a five-time Pro Bowl linebacker for the New Orleans Saints; his oldest brother, Patrick Swilling Jr., a former guard for the Tulsa basketball team; and brother, Tre’ Swilling, one of the nation’s top cornerback prospects in this year’s class.
Even after announcing he plans to play linebacker in college less than a month ago, Jordan-Swilling remains conflicted.
After all, this decision isn’t about offense versus defense. It’s a matter of weighing his passion against his lifespan.
“If I play linebacker, there’s probably less wear and tear on my body as much as if I play running back,” Jordan-Swilling told SEC Country.
“I’ll last longer, and it’s just a better chance for (me) to get to the league. So I decided to play linebacker, but I’ve been withdrawing from that because … I don’t know yet. I’m still (getting recruited) as a linebacker, but I’m not sure and my decision isn’t final yet.
“Running back is my first love, but I love the game of football. So if linebacker makes me play longer, then I’m definitely going to play linebacker. It’s about making more money, lasting longer and the wear and tear on my body. It’s a decision that in the end, what will be better for me. You don’t want to die early. You want to live as long as possible, so it’s about whatever it takes for me to live longer and have my future remain bright.”
Remembering your first love
Jordan-Swilling began his career at Brother Martin splitting time between the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
As a freshman, he was one of a handful of running backs coach Mark Bonis utilized in the backfield, while also starting at linebacker. That trend continued for his first two seasons, which resulted in All-District honors as a sophomore in 2014.
The four-star prospect shifted to running back on a full-time basis last season, and the results spoke for themselves.
The then-junior amassed more than 2,000 yards and 34 touchdowns in 2015, and eclipsed the century mark rushing with 20 total touchdowns a month into the season. That included a Week 2 contest in which Jordan-Swilling shook loose for 344 yards on 19 carries and found the end zone in the first half against in an out-of-state battle against St. Stanislaus (Bay St. Louis, Miss.).
Jordan-Swilling has a feel for the running back position, and he’s making it pretty difficult to ignore.
“First of all, I’d say this a running back next year,” his brother, Tre’, said. “When a big person is able to move like that, fast and violent, and put his talent to use, it’s really amazing.”
Louisiana’s No. 6 overall prospect in the Class of 2017 is gearing up to remain in the backfield his senior season, despite what position he may wind up at in college.
During Brother Martin’s spring practice session on Thursday, Jordan-Swilling received the team lead in carries and emerged as a pass-catcher out of the backfield.
In April, Jordan-Swilling told SEC Country he likes to get the ball, which is exceedingly obvious when you watch him.
Asked about a future in which he’ll play stopping ball-carriers instead, Jordan-Swilling couldn’t hide his true feelings.
“Yeah, I’ll definitely miss being in the backfield,” he said. “That’s my first love.”
High ceiling on either side of the ball
Jordan-Swilling is rated as the nation’s No. 8 outside linebacker, which comes as high praise for a prospect that has starred on the other side of the ball for what will be two years this fall.
If he does in fact keep his plan to play linebacker in college, Jordan-Swilling will remain focused on the running back position for the length of his senior season, then shift his focus to defense next summer.
Still, it’s hard to simply forget a 2,000-yard campaign like that.
Bonis didn’t, and he’s hoping Jordan-Swilling maintains an open mind to playing running back in college, too.
Because of the success he’s had in the Brother Martin backfield, Jordan-Swilling’s head coach believes colleges may recruit him as either a running back or a linebacker, but may decide that ultimately his future should be on the offensive side of the ball.
“I hope he doesn’t shut the door on the possibility of playing running back, because obviously people hear that and some opportunities may not be out there,” Bonis said. “I want to make sure that Bruce finds a place that’s the best fit for him. Right now, he may feel as if linebacker is the best spot for him, but ultimately, college coaches are going to make that decision, and he needs to be open to playing on both sides of the ball to give himself the best opportunity to be successful at the next level.”
For now, Jordan-Swilling is weighing the idea of getting hit versus delivering the hit, a decision that has not come easy to one of the nation’s elite prospects.
Jordan-Swilling knows that his future in football and the longevity of his life are first and foremost, but there are other factors that creep into play as well.
One of them, naturally, is the opportunity to join his brother should the unique tandem decide to attend the same college.
Tre’ Swilling is rated as the country’s No. 35 cornerback and holds a number of the same scholarship offers as his brother. At times, it has seemed like a given that the Swilling brothers would continue their football careers together.
That notion has crossed Jordan-Swilling’s mind a few times when trying to figure out what position he’ll wind up at, and not surprisingly, it has favored defense.
“My dad played linebacker and was just telling me that it’s literally fun to play,” said Jordan-Swilling. “It will be fun to play defense with my brother, whatever we do. For us to be on the same side of the ball, running around, winning games, winning championships and having fun with him.”
Tre’ has had the opportunity to play alongside his brother and also defend against him in the secondary.
That puts him in the unique position to know that there’s a clear and obvious path here, but also one that’s quite difficult.
Tre’ understands that linebacker may lead to a longer life, but he also is aware of the exceptional type of talent that his brother possesses — and what may be lost if he doesn’t pursue an opportunity to play running back.
“Well, my whole thing is that he’s a great athlete, one of the best — if not the best — in the country, and he could excel at either linebacker or running back,” Tre’ said. “I kind of told him to do whatever his heart feels. If it’s about longevity in his career, lean toward linebacker. But he wants the ball the way that big-time players do, so play running back and do whatever he likes.
“I think he’s really starting to get good at running back. If you watch last year’s tape, he started to get the shiftiness in his cuts and made people miss, and if he gets in front of you he’ll run over you. His versatility to play either linebacker or running back is just amazing.”
A decision to be made later
Running back or linebacker is a decision that doesn’t need to be finalized right now.
In fact, Jordan-Swilling has yet to tell any of the college coaches recruiting him that he has decided either way in that matter yet.
Of the 10 schools that cracked the four-star athlete’s top 10, only LSU, Oklahoma and UCLA are courting him as a linebacker. Both LSU and UCLA are open to Jordan-Swilling playing on either side of the ball, while Oklahoma wants him strictly as a linebacker.
“I haven’t talked to any of the colleges about playing linebacker yet,” Jordan-Swilling said. “Even though I’m playing running back now, Oklahoma, UCLA and LSU have talked to me about playing linebacker.”
Jordan-Swilling is high on the in-state Tigers, particularly because he’ll have the freedom to play running back or linebacker. To him, it’s about starting a legacy at either position he elects to be at.
The uncertainty is obvious, and for good reason.
Jordan-Swilling is choosing between a position he not only loves to play, but is exceptionally gifted at. But it’s hard to put life expectancy and an NFL future to the side.
Jordan-Swilling’s coach will support him no matter what positions he plays and whatever school he lands at, and expressed confidence in his player to make the right decision.
After all, few prospects are in the position that Jordan-Swilling is in at this stage in their recruitment. Then again, few prospects have been through what Jordan-Swilling has been through in their lives overall.
The type of man that Jordan-Swilling has matured into assures Bonis that whether it’s running back or linebacker, it will inevitably lead to success.
“It’s obvious that he’s one of the best players in the state, but there are a lot of people with a lot of talent out there. What impresses me about Bruce is the other intangibles to make the next program he’s involved in better because of that,” Bonis said.
“It’s awesome that Bruce is making the most of every opportunity he’s got. All of the cliches about what makes great kids, you could say that about Bruce. Seeing how hard he’s worked to put himself in this situation … Hopefully, everything continues to go that way because that’ll make him successful. Because of the events that have happened in his life, he has a chance be to be successful in an athletic arena, or because of the principles learned from his family and in this program, successful in life.”
Sam Spiegelman covers LSU football recruiting for SECCountry.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play in Tigers Stadium.