(STATS) - To say sports has taught Tyler Swafford teamwork, sportsmanship and drive is an understatement. Especially when his life's work may be to stand up for the most vulnerable and foster freedom and democracy in places where they are fragile.
The Eastern Kentucky University quarterback, who aspires to be a human rights attorney, was announced Tuesday as the 2016 recipient of the STATS FCS Doris Robinson Scholar-Athlete Award. Named after the wife of legendary Grambling State coach Eddie Robinson, the award is presented to an FCS student-athlete who excels not only in the classroom, but in the community and beyond.
Swafford will be honored at the STATS FCS Awards Banquet and Presentation Jan. 6 in Frisco, Texas - on the eve of the national championship game.
The 21-year-old rose through a crowded depth chart at Eastern Kentucky to become the Colonels' starter during this past season. A redshirt sophomore athletically, the 4.0 honors scholar is on pace to graduate after the spring semester in only three years at the Ohio Valley Conference university.
Although Swafford could return as the starting quarterback next fall, he will forsake the opportunity, and likely his playing career at EKU, for his calling in life. He will attend University College Dublin as one of 12 winners in the United States of the prestigious George J. Mitchell Scholarship sponsored by the U.S.-Ireland Alliance.
"Your education is what you make of it, your football career is what you make of it," Swafford said. "But certainly you benefit from people who invest in you and who care about you, and I certainly have at Eastern" - crediting coaches, instructors and administrators.
Swafford is majoring in globalization and international affairs with a minor in business. The interdisciplinary studies have combined political science, economics, history and religion and helped shape his desire for humanitarian service. His masters study in Ireland will be geopolitics and global economy.
"Since I started at EKU, I've developed a passion for human rights and international security issues," said the resident of Franklin, Tennessee. His parents, Tony and Tara, are attorneys.
"I think the United States has an indispensable role in the world to lead, to fight for human rights, civil liberties and freedom. Obviously, we shouldn't get in every quagmire around the world that is out there and look for conflict; I know we're still war-weary in this country. But I think being the United States, we have a moral high-ground and a special responsibility in the world to provide freedom and widespread opportunity and human rights protection, when they are so under assault today."
Swafford was part of his football team's mission trip to Haiti in May 2015, where they worked at an orphanage to build a fish and plant farm system that would become self-sustainable. He also was part of EKU's honors delegation to the Salzburg Global Citizenship Seminar in Austria last May, an experience that included a "profound" trip to the Dachau concentration camp. He completed an independent research project on the evolution of human rights law, from the Nuremberg Trials through the present-day International Criminal Court.
At the seminar, professors challenged the students to become more involved in their local communities. After returning from the trip, Swafford worked with Kentucky Refugee Ministries to help resettle a Syrian family of six to Lexington.
During semester break in January, Swafford will study American diplomacy overseas and be part of a select group of students visiting U.S. embassies in Paris and Rabat, Morocco, and the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium.
"I knew from the moment I met Tyler as a freshman that he was a young man marked for great things," EKU president Michael Benson said, "given his intellect, his work ethic, and his ability to relate to others. I also saw in Tyler someone who would thrive in an international studies environment, given his own perspective and world-view."
Swafford was chosen as the Doris Robinson Award recipient from a list of finalists comprising all 13 FCS conferences. The other finalists: Dayton linebacker Christopher Beaschler (Pioneer Football League), New Hampshire cornerback Casey DeAndrade (CAA Football), Saint Francis place-kicker Lance Geesey (Northeast Conference), Liberty offensive lineman Lucas Holder (Big South Conference), Alcorn State linebacker Michael Hurns (Southwestern Athletic Conference), North Dakota linebacker Brian Labat (Big Sky Conference), Wofford place-kicker David Marvin (Southern Conference), Delaware State offensive lineman Ernest Mengoni (Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference), Northern Iowa defensive end Karter Schult (Missouri Valley Football Conference), Stephen F. Austin safety Marlon Walls (Southland Conference), Penn wide receiver Justin Watson (Ivy League) and Holy Cross wide receiver Jake Wieczorek (Patriot League).