Former Tomcats lineman Gary Swiney poses in his new uniform with Ashland coach Tony Love

Brainy All-Area senior offensive lineman Gary Swiney of Ashland conducted a thorough search before making his college decision.

“Gary’s one of those guys that really researches from top to bottom where he’s going to commit his next four or five years to,” Tomcats coach Tony Love said. “He’s looked at a lot of places. He has such a high ACT score, there were numerous options in front of him.”

In part, the stellar student considered Ivy League schools, checked out Rice of Conference USA and contemplated Georgia Tech.

In the end, he wound up right back in his home state with a different Atlantic Coast Conference institution. Swiney made up his mind in late January to accept a preferred walk-on offer from Louisville.

“They have an excellent engineering program. That’s a must for me,” said the computer-oriented Swiney. “I tested well, 32 on the ACT. It helps me not having to worry about money. I got it paid for with money back. Me and the seniors clown about it. They call me an academic commit.”  

As for football, Swiney feels confident that a high-caliber Ashland program prepared him well for the challenge waiting at the major-college level.

“Mainly just because of how hard we work,” Swiney said. “I won’t be shell-shocked because of what I’ve gone through here. I know I can stick to something once I decide.”

Swiney can also lean on Love — a former walk-on himself at Morehead State — to help navigate the waters.

“That was quite a while ago, but I understand what a walk-on is probably more than most people,” Love said. “There’s a lot of guys that come in on scholarship that can’t make it. Those scholarships open up as you are fighting through.

“Obviously, it’s very challenging from a mental standpoint. You have to prove yourself. Sometimes it takes a year, two years or three years. You have to be mentally strong to overcome that.”

Ashland senior running back Blake Hester — the All-Area Large School Player of the Year — is also weighing a preferred walk-on offer from the Cardinals. Love accompanied him on a visit to the campus with Swiney and his father.

“So we went through the whole process together,” Love said. “Louisville’s facilities are impressive. To me what was more impressive was how accessible the coaches are.

“They have a pretty inclusive walk-on program at U of L that makes it very appealing,” Love continued. “Scholarship or walk-on, it’s up to the player. That’s what I took from the visit. There’s nothing to hold you back as far as what can enhance you as a player. It’s, how much do you want to work?”

Swiney broke Ashland’s power clean record with a lift of 325 pounds. The three-year starter took his game to another level last season, blocking for a 10-win team that had Class 3A’s No. 3 and 17 rushing leaders — Hester and junior Keontae Pittman.            

But the 6-foot-3, 270-pounder’s greatest asset is probably his intellectual ability, according to Love.

“He really understands concepts, schemes and strategy,” Love said. “Close to that is his work ethic. That’s something he came to us with. Sometimes he would walk from downtown Ashland to practice as a sophomore.”

After helping the Tomcats rack up 31 wins over the past three seasons, Swiney is looking forward to taking the next step.

“Everybody dreams of that opportunity,” he said. ”I’ll be reporting in August with everybody else and redshirting my first year.”   

Ashland’s coach said Swiney will need to add weight and increase his foot speed.

“He’s a little light for a college offensive lineman at that level,” Love said. “Gary’s a younger senior. As he matures I don’t think he will have any problem developing his size, especially when he gets into their training program.”

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