Swift becomes quite the catch for Cornhuskers

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 25, 2008 - 9:26 AM

Hutchinson's Nathan Swift survived the tough times and is on track to be the all-time leader in receptions at Nebraska, where the run game usually rules.

Nathan Swift needs eight more receptions to pass former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers for the most receptions in Nebraska history.

Photo: Matt Slocum, Associated Press

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There were three big-time recruits for the 2003 Hutchinson Tigers: running back Nathan Swift, tackle Lydon Murtha and quarterback Tony Mortensen. They reached the Class 4A title game and were whipped 57-13 by Totino-Grace.

Swift was the Star Tribune's Metro Player of the Year. He went to Nebraska. So did Murtha after reneging on a commitment to the Gophers.

Mortensen went to Minnesota. There was speculation that the 6-4 and athletic Mortensen would be moved to tight end, but he was redshirted and has spent the past four seasons as a backup quarterback.

Mortensen has completed 14 of 38 passes in his career with a touchdown and three interceptions. He has participated in two games as a senior without throwing a pass or carrying the ball.

"I talk to Tony all the time," Swift said. "It's always tough being a backup quarterback, but the Gophers are winning this fall, and he's having a good time."

Murtha is a standout offensive tackle and figures to be taken in the early rounds of the 2009 NFL draft.

And Swift? He went to Nebraska knowing he would be moved to receiver -- and knowing the Cornhuskers' leading receiver in 2003 totaled 22 catches.

Frank Solich had replaced Tom Osborne and continued the Nebraska tradition of running the football. How deep was that tradition?

Irving Fryar is remembered as an extremely explosive receiver -- and he had a career total of 1,196 yards in his three seasons (1981-83) with Turner Gill as his quarterback.

"It is amazing," Swift said in a phone interview this week. "They definitely didn't throw the ball much here."

Swift told the Omaha World-Herald earlier this month: "I wasn't necessarily looking for a team that was going to pass a lot. That wasn't my first thought. I wanted to be somewhere where they were going to be a good team, a contender, and where I could play."

Solich was 58-19 in six seasons, including 9-3 in 2003. And then he was fired by athletic director Steve Pederson. Assistant Bo Pelini coached the Huskers to a victory over Michigan State in the Alamo Bowl.

Pederson decided what Nebraska needed was a modern offense built around throwing the ball. So he hired Bill Callahan, the fired coach of the Oakland Raiders.

Swift was redshirted in the fall of 2004. He had a big second half of the 2005 season, finishing with 45 receptions. And then Callahan decided there were other receivers -- Terrence Nunn and Maurice Purify -- to emphasize.

"I played more as a freshman than I did the next two years," Swift said.

The program came apart last season. First, Pederson was fired in mid-October and replaced by the legend, Osborne. And then Callahan was fired after a 5-7 season and a four-year record of 27-22.

"There was a lot of uncertainty, especially after the AD was let go," Swift said. "It's hard for the players to ignore the situation when you know there's going to be a coaching change."

Pelini had gone to Louisiana State as the defensive coordinator. He came back as Osborne's choice as the head coach.

"He's a very positive, fired-up type of coach," Swift said. "And we kept Coach [Shawn] Watson as the offensive coordinator, so we haven't changed much offensively."

What has changed is that Swift and Todd Peterson, a pair of fifth-year seniors, are getting more attention from quarterback Joe Ganz.

Swift has 33 receptions for 486 yards and four touchdowns in seven games. He also returned a punt 88 yards for a touchdown against Virginia Tech.

And here's the punch line:

Nathan Swift, a fifth-year senior from Hutchinson, Minn., is on track to finish his career as Nebraska's all-time leading receiver for catches.

He has 136 for 2,021 yards for his career. With eight more receptions, Swift will surpass Johnny Rodgers -- the 1972 Heisman Trophy winner -- and his 143 for the most in Cornhuskers history.

Swift had eight catches for 112 yards and a touchdown last week against Iowa State. Today, the Huskers (4-3) play Baylor in Lincoln.

"I've never seen the Big 12 like it is this year -- this tough -- but we have a chance for a good finish ... to play in a good bowl game," Swift said. "Nebraska has been the right place for me, without a doubt."

Patrick Reusse can be heard weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP at 6:45 and 7:45 a.m. and 4:40 p.m. • preusse@startribune.com

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