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ATLANTA - The Peach State will be well represented in the 2011 Army All-American Bowl, and the East team will benefit from the impressive depth of defensive backs in Georgia. With Avery Walls and Corey Moore already being announced, a third member of the secondary was added this week in Damian Swann.
The 6-foot, 180-pound Rivals100 prospect got his invitation Tuesday afternoon in the Grady High School gymnasium, and for his head coach Ronnie Millen, it was a moment he had seen coming for a long time.
"It was great. Damian has worked hard and been pretty much a star for us for four years," said Coach Millen. "The kid came in as a ninth grader making plays. It is good to see him get an honor he truly deserves."
Swann contributes across the field for the Grey Knights, starring at quarterback, wide receiver, kick returner, punt returner, cornerback and safety. Coach Millen did not hesitate to thrust the talented athlete into the mix in his first year of high school.
"As a freshman, he came in his first game and had to defend some big-time playmakers and you could not tell he was a ninth grader. In another game he had three interceptions; so we knew we had something special. He has gotten better and better each year, and now the whole team feeds off of him," said Millen.
The Army All-American Bowl has built up an impressive list of alumni over the past ten years, from Tommie Harris in 2001 and Vince Young in 2002, to C.J. Spiller in 2006 and Eric Berry in 2007. Now with Swann added to the list, Coach Millen is excited about the opportunities this game will open up for his star player.
"It means a lot for Swann to be mentioned in the same breath as some of the greats to play in this game," said Coach Millen. "It also means I get to take a nice vacation out there and get a chance to see some new things and probably learn more about football as well. Damian has the skill level to where if he continues to work hard and get stronger, I think he will accomplish as much as the guys before him in this game have."
For Swann, the Army All-American Bowl provides a national platform for him to make a name for himself as well.
"This is a big step and those are some big shoes to fill," said Swann. "Those guys are in the NFL playing, and one day I hope that can be me. I was hoping one day to be picked for this Army All-American game, so maybe one day they will be saying my name when they are selecting guys down the road."
Standing nearby with a camcorder in hand, Swann's father proudly held back tears of joy while watching his son's years of hard work start to pay off.
"I am overwhelmed by all of this," said Mr. Swann. "It is the best thing that could ever happen to me in my 42 years of life, and I wish him the best. It was very exciting experience seeing my son get this great honor today."
Swann's father has watched his son's development from the sidelines and now from the stands, and he admitted he is not overly surprised with the accolades that have been bestowed upon Swann the past couple of years.
"I coached from age four all the way up to 12, and the whole time I tried to instill discipline, hard work ethic, and teamwork in him. Knowing that he was that high caliber type of kid back then, we knew he was going to go far. This kid has played on the big stage for most of his career. We have dreamt of things like this happening for him, so I want to say they are all coming true," said Swann's father.
That his son chose this All-American game to play in added an additional opportunity to not only get out and enjoy himself, but also to honor the men and women who are working hard to protect the United States as well as freedom across the world.
"Really I am glad he has this chance to represent the Army, first and foremost. I think it is a great opportunity for an inner-city kid to experience something of this magnitude," said Mr. Swann.
His son echoed those words by expressing his gratitude towards the Army and all of the soldiers who put their lives on the line each day.
"It means a lot for me to represent guys who are across the world fighting and defending our country and keeping me safe and better the United States, so it is an honor to represent those guys," said Swann.
As Swann took the podium to accept the invitation, he was quick to show his appreciation to everyone who has helped him along the way.
"I would like to thank the U.S. Army for supporting high school football, and allowing me the opportunity and the honor of playing in the Army All-American Bowl," said Swann. "I would like to thank my parents, the coaching staff, my teammates, and I would like to thank the fans and the teachers at Grady High School."
As the 50th best prospect in the country, Swann is known as one of the top overall athletes in the 2011 class. That is why he was chosen as one of the select few to play in this prestigious game. The Atlanta native is excited about the chance to help the East get back in the win column after last year's 30-14 loss to the West team.
"It feels good to be one of only 90 guys across the whole country to be selected for one very talented game, and I am looking forward to it. I am going to try and help this East team win. I will try and lock a couple guys down, and hopefully we can come out on top," said Swann.