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    Thursday, February 02, 2023

    Swenson’s story an inspiration to UConn football teammates

    Connecticut's Ian Swenson (6) chases down North Carolina State's Thayer Thomas (5) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)
    UConn's Ian Swenson talked to media members as the Huskies began preparations for the Myrtle Beach Bowl against Marshall on Dec. 19 in Conway, S.C. (Photo by Gavin Keefe/The Day)
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    Liberty wide receiver Demario Douglas (3)d is tacked by Connecticut linebacker Ian Swenson (6) during the second half of an NCAA college football game in East Hartford, Conn., Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

    Storrs – Ian Swenson is one of the feel-good stories of UConn football’s remarkable turnaround season.

    No one on the roster has experienced what Swenson has during his rollercoaster playing career.

    Since arriving in 2017, Swenson stuck it out and stayed at UConn despite enduring perhaps the worst seasons in program history.

    He’s finally enjoying success in his sixth season, helping the Huskies earn their first bowl appearance in seven years.

    The UConn coaching staff and Swenson’s teammates couldn’t be happier for the veteran linebacker from Wilmette, Ill.

    “Ian is inspirational to everybody, because Ian has had battles on and off the field that everyone understands and has seen first-hand,” coach Jim Mora said on Wednesday. “He’s like that pillar. This is the guy that stuck it out. This is the guy that walks in every morning with a smile on his face. This is the guy that’s always saying, tell me how to get better. He works hard every day and is a guy that you can count on.

    “On the field, he’s consistent. He’s dependable. The players like him and they really respect him. We point to him a lot. A lot of these guys feel a responsibility to Ian and to others, but primarily to Ian to send him out the right way because he’s the guy that’s been here the longest and been through the most.”

    Swenson will finish his career by playing against Marshall in the Myrtle Beach Bowl in Conway, S.C., on Dec. 19.

    He wouldn’t trade his experience for anything.

    “It’s been fantastic, honestly, especially this year,” Swenson said. “Being able to play past Thanksgiving and go to a bowl game, it’s been unbelievable.”

    Bowl preparations are underway for the Huskies who’ve been practicing at their facilities. They’ll leave for Myrtle Beach late next week.

    Swenson is having a career-best season, ranking fifth on the team in tackles (84) and grabbing one interception. He had a season-high nine tackles in a Nov. 12 upset of nationally-ranked Liberty that enabled the Huskies to become bowl eligible.

    He brings contagious energy, playing every play like it is his last, according to senior defensive Tre Wortham.

    “He’s a locomotive,” Wortham said. “He runs to the ball no matter what. He just makes plays.”

    Prior to this fall, the Huskies won only seven games during Swenson’s career. He sat out as a redshirt in his first season and UConn elected not to play in 2020 due to the pandemic.

    UConn (6-6) has a shot at finishing with a winning record for the first time in 12 years.

    “It was definitely difficult,” Swenson said of the losing seasons. “There were a lot of ups and downs. The thing that really got us through that was each other, the guys and those relationships and always being able to talk to them. I still talk to guys that were on the team five or six years ago. They want this win because they lost to Marshall in 2015.”

    UConn lost to Marshall in its last postseason appearance, falling 16-10 in the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Bowl.

    Those hard times make the good times even sweeter for Swenson

    Swenson is glad he stuck around. He briefly considered his options after the coaching change but decided to return after meeting with Mora and the new coaching staff.

    He’ll appear in his 48th career game against Marshall.

    “I really love it here at UConn,” Swenson said. “It’s a great environment, a great school and great people here. Adding football, it’s really like a cherry on top. It’s so much fun to be around the guys and play with them.”

    His teammates love him, too. Some even sometimes call him “Grandpa.”

    “He’s ‘The Guy’ ,” Wortham said. “He’s played with (graduate assistant) Luke (Carrezola). He’s been here so long. It means the world that we were able to help get him a bowl game in his final year.”

    News and notes

    An added benefit of qualifying for a bowl game is the extra practice time. Mora figures the team will get about 18 additional practices. “That’s more than you get in a spring,” Mora said. “I think it’s going to help the development of our team down the road and certainly it helps us right now.” … Receivers Cam Ross and Keelan Marion both continue to work their way back from injuries. They saw limited action near the end of the season and practiced the last two weeks. ... Sophomore running back Brian Brewton, who’s been sidelined with an elbow injury since late September, appears to be more of a long shot to play in the bowl game. “He got an x-ray (Tuesday),” Mora said. “He’s not as far along as we thought he was, but they’re going to do a CT-scan. … I know he’s working hard but it’s a healing process so there’s not a lot he can do.” … Freshman quarterback Zion Turner showed up to Wednesday's media session wearing a t-shirt that commemorates UConn qualifying for a bowl. “This is what we worked for, so I wear it like it is a trophy.” … Sophomore Nathan Carter, who started out as the starting running back before suffering a season-ending injury, entered his name in the transfer portal. He rushed for 405 yards in five games. “As long as he ends up happy and playing somewhere, then good for him,” Mora said. “Between now and Monday, we have four running backs coming in out of the portal, so we’re going to fill that spot immediately with a really good player.”

    g.keefe@theday.com

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