Walker Valley's Skyler Swafford, center, loves football more than any other sport, but he's also a member of the school's basketball, wrestling and soccer teams. The son of teachers, he also finds time to maintain good grades in the classroom. Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.
Skyler Swafford began his junior year by leading the Walker Valley football team in tackles, but he was just getting started.
Now he is well on his way to becoming the Bradley County high school's first athlete to earn four varsity letters in a single school year.
After football season, Swafford turned his attention to basketball but then found out the school's wrestling team needed a 195-pounder.
"He asked me about it first, and I said by all means," Mustangs basketball coach Bob Williams said. "If he wanted to do that, then go for it. He usually practices with us and then with (the wrestling team)."
Although he is at the moment a 6-foot reserve post player, basketball remains a winter priority. And while winter is a great time to be in the weight room for numerous football players — and football coach Glen Ryan would love to see more of him there — Swafford is enhancing his skills in other ways.
Walker Valley's Skyler Swafford wears a concussion helmet during the game against Cleveland Thursday, October 1, 2015 at Cleveland High School.
And he might miss some of Walker Valley's spring football practices, too, because as soon as winter sports are concluded, Swafford moves on to soccer season.
"He's been our starting keeper since his freshman year and looks to be our starter again this year," Mustangs coach Tom Bayliss said. "He's fearless and has been called upon to make some tremendous saves for us."
Bayliss echoed what other coaches had offered in their assessment of Swafford.
"First and foremost, Skyler is a great young man with an excellent work ethic. He is obviously a driven individual and highly self-motivated," he said.
Added Walker Valley athletic director Mike Turner: "What he does is amazing. It's hard to find three-sport people, let alone four. He's been an awfully good football player for us. Then when he gets through winter, he's out there on the soccer field. He has pretty much dedicated his life to athletics and his grades — he's probably close to straight A's. He works just as hard in the classroom as he does in athletics."
The academic side of life has to come first in the Swafford household. Swafford's dad, Eric, an assistant coach for football and wrestling, teaches chemistry, physics and aquatic biology; Swafford's mom, Nikki, teaches biology and oceanography.
"Right now my life revolves around school and sports. That's my focus," Swafford said. "You can only do these things for so long — either you're too busy with life or too old."
Swafford's schedule is already busy. Some days begin at 6:15. Others — when he's attending a class at Cleveland State Community College as a dual enrollment student — don't begin quite so early.
Yet it is often later than 7 when he gets home each night.
"This time of year it's go to basketball and then to wrestling, and then I go work out," Swafford said. "On days when we don't have a game or a match, I usually get home about 7:30. Then on days we have games or matches, it's later than that."
And yet he still finds time to maintain a report card that's more than acceptable.
"I try to get homework done during class. If I don't, then I do it at night," he said.
Everything, though, is done with his first love in mind. The other sports lend themselves to improvement on the football field.
"Originally it started just because I love the competition," Swafford said. "But each sport helps me in football — soccer is quick thinking, wrestling is balance and basketball is agility."
Despite his standout missing time in the weight room, Ryan is making the best of the situation.
"The best thing about him being in all those sports is that he's competing. Nothing takes the place of competition, and he's competing in a lot of different settings. That's what helps make him a 'gamer' for us on the football team," the coach said.
"He's in great shape, and he has learned to play wide-open and give us everything he's got on every play."
Contact Ward Gossett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-886-4765. Follow him on Twitter @wardgossett.