Four years ago, life blindsided Messiah Swinson when his father, popular Bay Shore resident, star high school athlete and former NFL player Corey Swinson died suddenly of a heart attack at age 43. A young teenager had to grow up fast.
“I was 13. You’re in your prime growing up, kind of becoming a man. So it was a big hit,” said Swinson, a senior tight end at Long Island Lutheran and a major college recruit. “It was my dad, my best friend. It was a lot to get used to not having him around; not talking to him every day at home; not having him on the sideline telling me the right thing to do. It was tough, but I definitely valued all the time I had with him.”
Much of that time was spent on football fields, where Swinson’s father was his youth coach in the Bay Shore PAL. “Learning from him was the best, an invaluable experience. He was motivational and pushed me to do better things than he did,” said Swinson, who clearly has heeded his dad’s words.
While Corey Swinson was massive — 6-5 and more than 300 pounds — he was lightly recruited while at Bay Shore High School. The defensive tackle played at Hampton University and was with the St. Louis Rams for one season.
Messiah Swinson he has narrowed his college choices to North Carolina State, Missouri and Arizona State among the more than 10 scholarship offers he received. “Based on the offenses those teams run, I feel like I would fit in best there,” Swinson said.
Hard to imagine him not being a good fit at any number of Division I schools. At 6-8, 253, Swinson is a dominant two-way end for LuHi, which plays an independent schedule. His skills are growing along with his body and colleges have noticed. “He looks like he’s about 205, that’s how well-built he is,” said Lutheran first-year coach Chris Wagner, a retired physical education teacher who coached football for the past 23 years in Port Chester. “He’s very mature and extremely talented. Big hands, big wingspan. Fine speed. I’ve been coaching since 1976 and he is the most athletic and incredible young man — in all aspects — I’ve ever had. A special kid, a rare kid, both from an athletic and character standpoint.”
Coaches like to say, “You can’t coach size,” but in Swinson’s case, being the biggest kid on all the teams growing up wasn’t always a benefit. “When I was little, I wasn’t as slim and athletic as I am now. I was kind of chubby,” he said. “I was always taller than everybody else but I had the body and moved like a lineman.”
Like father, like son . . . until sixth grade. “Dad said, ‘You’ve got the hands for it. Now it’s time to make you a tight end,’ ” Swinson recalled. “He had me catching passes all the time. I started playing a little tight end for him in PAL and then full time in middle school.”
Swinson said his body began to “stretch out” in the eighth grade. “I started losing the body fat, got taller and quicker and looked like an athletic tight end.” His only problem was trying to keep weight on once he started playing varsity basketball for coach John Buck and the Crusaders’ nationally known program.
“Playing basketball, you’re running, running, running. You don’t even realize it and the weight just comes off,” said Swinson, who weighed 225 last football season but only 208 last spring after basketball season, where he was a valuable sub. “I realized if I wanted to play football in college, I had to put on some weight.”
So last winter he joined Lindenhurst’s Jeremy Ruckert, who signed in July as a tight end prospect at Ohio State, in training together at Superior Athletics in Farmingdale, where a speed and strength program helped Swinson pack pounds onto a frame that can handle his current weight and perhaps even more when he gets to college.
“The adjustment to college football, no matter how good you are in high school, is something different,” Swinson said. “You’re playing with grown men, the best of the best, and guys who are going into the NFL draft. I’ll definitely have to adjust and get used to it. My body will change again — I’ll be lean with more muscle mass. I definitely think that with my talent and skill set, I can play with almost anybody. I’ll be well prepared when I get there, but I’m always looking to get better.”
He said his points of emphasis at Lutheran this season are “getting off the ball better and getting in and out of my routes faster.” He bluntly admitted, “I was kind of lazy a couple of years ago because I was bigger and taller than everybody and could just go up and catch the ball. Now I’m working on being quicker with my route running, my feet, my agility, opening my hips. Going against college linebackers will be a big challenge for me. And I’ll definitely have to work on my blocking.”
Working hard and meeting challenges is in his DNA.
BY THE NUMBERS 2016
15.9 yards per catch
21 solo tackles
3 tackles for loss