As a UConn linebacker Ian Swenson When he returned with the program for his sixth and final year, he could not have imagined the journey that awaited him.
There would be more fights on Rentschler Feld in front of thousands of fans. He would spend more hours at the Burton Family Football Complex to get even better with his brothers by his side. But most importantly, Swenson had the opportunity to be one of the biggest factors in a new regime and the “Husky Revolution.”
He knew there was hope in the air. Since meeting the coach Jim Mora and as he met the man who would help lead the Huskies, the aura that surrounded him showed that the new UConn coach was a different football spirit than he had ever experienced. This was a coach who wanted to get the best out of his players. He wasn’t content with any kind of mediocrity and if you would give him any kind of minor effort he would leave it to you.
But words are just words. Mora has done more than that, especially off the field. Swenson spoke about his ability to connect with players and coaches, young and old. Even though he was no longer a coach, Mora never lost his ability to relate to his own players.
“He could come into the dining room, just sit with us and just talk. Chat about life. To be honest, that made us more closely related to him. He gets along very well with the players,” Swenson said.
But now, even with Coach Mora leading the way, Swenson still had work to do and this was the final year to cement his legacy. Everything was at stake and the UConn linebacker had been in the program since 2016. He’s seen many players come and go, whether it’s into the NFL or their next journey in life. But on that journey, Swenson himself has risen to become the leader his team needs from him, a position he said he never expected. He would be one of those players who would pick one of his teammates to get up after a bad game and get him back to where he needed to be.
Even with a new mantel that Swenson should wear as one of the older players in the dressing room, sometimes you need someone to help you become that leader. For Swenson, that help came from Marquez Bembry, one of the Kentucky side’s most recent transfers. As one of the older players in the dressing room, Bembry gave him some valuable advice that would help guide him throughout the season.
“All eyes on you,” Bembry said to Swenson. “You have to set a good example. We older ones have to show the younger ones how to work and do the right things.”
During his year with the team, Bembry always helped Swenson off the field. They would talk about life. He would share the importance of networking with people, especially on occasions like UConn’s alumni barbecue.
“He’s a special guy. This is one of my really good friends. He will repeat things. He will never let you throw yourself off course. He’ll say, ‘Hey, football isn’t always more than football. We’re human too,” Swenson said.
These values are also worn every day in the changing room. If someone walked into a practice, they would see a bunch of smiling faces committed to improving every step of the way. It might not have been easy at first to develop the chemistry in the first few games of the season, but as the team adjusted to the transition and got used to playing together, it all fell into place.
They won soccer games and had fun doing it. They exceeded all expectations of her. Some predicted two wins. Other people said three wins. Instead, the team now sits with 6 wins, bowl eligibility and a shot at their 7th win in their final matchup of the season against Army.
It was a new standard that the program rose to. Any challenge would be with maximum effort. The players would not submit to any weakness. That standard was finally realized after the team’s loss at Ball State, Mora says. At halftime of that matchup, the team held an 11-point lead, but instead of finishing the game, the Huskies lost the game 25-21. The team really felt the disappointment of the loss, but rather than seeing it through the lens of failure, Swenson agrees with Mora that it was a moment of growth.
“The way the culture is set up, it feels like losses hurt more. Winning feels a lot better. You just feel the connection to the players,” Swenson said.
Following the loss, the Huskies immediately went on a three-game winning streak that included a win over then-19th team in the country, Liberty University. At that point, fans believed in this particular group of players. Beyond the noisy atmosphere of Rentschler Field, where attendance was already increasing, Swenson was able to walk around the Storrs campus and get people to approach him, delighted with the team’s performance. The general atmosphere around campus was nothing he’d seen before in his six years as a player. He could look down on his phone and see a level of support he’d never seen on Twitter.
“One of the kids in my class came up to me and said, ‘Hey, great win! We’re just talking football and you’ve never seen this before. It’s just a new level of support from the students, the fans, everyone,” Swenson said.
Whether it was a new mini-movie from the UConn Football social media team or a simple tweet celebrating an incredible win, people everywhere were buying along with what UConn Football was doing. Swenson was certainly part of that. When it was time to have fun, he would laugh with his husky teammates. But when it came time to flip that switch to battle mode, he was ready to show any opponent what he was made of.
He credits Coach Siriki Diabate, the team’s linebacker coach, and helped instill that attitude this season. Both Swenson and Diabate immediately formed a close bond when the new UConn trainer was hired. At team meetings, they cracked a few jokes. He would keep players interested and never let them forget why they love football so much.
But when it comes to football, everything is serious. Swenson credits Diabate with helping him flip the switch to the play setting he displays every time he steps onto the field, whether it’s in the inviting confines of Rentschler Field or the large grounds of Michie Stadium. Diabate never let Swenson lose sight of the task at hand for UConn football.
“He’ll know if we come out with a little less energy than usual, and he’ll be like, ‘Hey guys, we’ve got to take this up now!’ He knows right away. He makes me walk,” Swenson said.
In his last home game at Rentschler Field against Liberty, not only did he act the way he did, but also emotional Rentschler field grass and a final moment in the locker room with his brothers as they celebrated the upset win over Liberty. The moment was surreal as fans stormed the field and players were emotional including Swenson.
He won the game for the boys who didn’t get to experience what the UConn linebacker did that year. Many of these guys texted Swenson after the game to offer their congratulations, icing on a night of love and joy Swenson had never experienced in his husky career.
As he prepares to make the final bow of his UConn career, Swenson opened up about the moments where he really learned to embrace the moment. Even in the exciting and incredible moments he experienced in his final season, he spoke about how he took the time to soak it all up.
“There were a few moments that I took. That seniors day, I felt the rush of emotions. I took photos for a few minutes. I took a photo with Coach Mora. I felt all the emotions, but then I had to I’m locking back in. A few days ago when I saw this mini film, I felt like my time here was coming to an end and I just wanted to leave as soon as possible,” Swenson said.