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Swinford finds alternative to promising football career

by: File Photo / Vern Uyetake, 
This was the last football game that former Lakeridge star Steven Swinford played in. Not long after catching this pass against West Linn, Swinford collapsed on the field with a concussion that was sustained during a prior game. Swinford is now a member of the Stanford University baseball team.

Early during his senior year at Lakeridge High School, Steven Swinford appeared to be on the fast track to earning a football scholarship at Stanford University.

As a strapping, 6-foot-5 tight end with good hands and a 4.0 GPA, Swinford seemed to be a perfect fit for one of the most prestigious schools in the nation.

Well, Swinford did wind up going to Stanford. He was a shoe-in with his grades. But his dream of playing football for the Cardinal was dashed long before the national letter of intent day rolled around.

Halfway through his senior football season in 2005, Swinford suffered a severe concussion that came incredibly close to leaving him with permanent brain damage. Fortunately, Swinford made an almost miraculous turnaround just as doctors were contemplating drilling a hole in his skull to relieve pressure on his brain.

Even though his life was no longer in jeopardy, Swinford was forced to walk away from a potentially promising football career. Those doctors feared another vicious blow to the head would be the last hit he would ever endure on the gridiron.

But that didn't put an end to Swinford's athletic career.

With football no longer an option, Swinford decided to turn his attention to baseball. He tried out for Stanford's team as a walk-on and wound up making the squad last spring. It shows the kind of versatility Swinford has as an athlete, to succeed at a sport that was barely on his radar screen two years ago.

Health-wise it was probably smart move since baseball is typically a much safer sport than football.

'My parents are much happier,' Swinford admitted.

Unfortunately, landing a spot on the Stanford baseball team didn't automatically include a full-ride scholarship. That's largely due to the fact that he's backup outfielder at this point. If he eventually works his way into the starting lineup, a scholarship could follow.

For now, Swinford is just glad to be playing a sport that he enjoys - and doing it at the Division I level.

With a majority of their players returning, the Cardinal should have a good team in 2008, especially on offense. Among the returnees, there will be five outfielders, including Swinford, so he's not sure how much playing time he'll see this season.

But he had a decent summer season, hitting about .250 with the Moses Lake Pirates of the West Coast League. Swinford followed that effort by hitting a home run in Stanford's annual game against the alumni last fall.

Even though football was Swinford's favorite sport, and probably his best sport, he made it his long-term goal as a Lakeridge freshman to eventually play baseball at Stanford.

'Now, all I have to do is get on the field,' he quipped.

Even though he's turned his attention to baseball, Swinford still misses playing football, especially when he attends Stanford's games.

'It's weird sitting in the stands and seeing a guy drop a pass that you could have caught,' he said.

Of course, it's hard not to think about the reason that he's not playing that sport.

'It's tough to have to sit out because of an injury,' he said. 'It takes a lot of determination to come back.'

Swinford was referring not only to the concussion he suffered but also a pair of prior injuries that sidelined him as well. During his junior football season, Swinford sustained a dislocated kneecap that required surgery to repair. That caused him to miss the second half of the season. Then, during the following spring while playing baseball, Swinford was hit in the mouth with a bad-hop throw to first. The impact of the throw cut open the inside of his lip and required 22 stitches to close the wound. But he only missed two weeks of action with that injury.

Hopefully, all of Swinford's serious mishaps are behind him. But if baseball doesn't pan out, he'll still have his education to fall back on. To date, he has a 3.5 GPA at Stanford and he's on track to earn a pre-med degree.

'I'm very pleased with that,' he said. '… But I've got to keep my studies going. That's the hard part.'

When he looks back, Swinford knows that things could have worked out better. But he's not complaining.

'I'm grateful it's all worked out the way it has,' he said.