QB AJ Swann is built to be Vanderbilt’s signal-caller

AJ Swann enters his sophomore season with lofty expectations, hoping to drive Vanderbilt to their first bowl appearance since 2018.
AJ Swann is built to be Vanderbilts signal caller for seasons to come. (Hustler Multimedia/Lexie Perez)
AJ Swann is built to be Vanderbilt’s signal caller for seasons to come. (Hustler Multimedia/Lexie Perez)
Lexie Perez

“Postseason play.”

AJ Swann is poised to lead Vanderbilt Football to a bowl game appearance, and it’s all he thinks about.

Swann comes into the 2023 season looking to prove that he deserves to be Vanderbilt’s signal-caller this season and beyond.

“Going into fall camp last year and even the season, I did not have much of a leadership role,” Swann said. “I was kind of watching Mike [Wright] do his thing and learning from him and learning from Ken [Seals] and older guys in the room. I think going into the season, a leadership role has been a big deal I’ve been trying to take on.”

The last time Vanderbilt had the same starting quarterback in every game was in 2020 when Vanderbilt went 0-9 under the command of then true-freshman Ken Seals. This time, the narrative is different. The Commodores come off a 5-7 season that included wins over No. 24 Kentucky and Florida. Vanderbilt also will have a quarterback in Swann with experience against the nation’s best teams.

Last season, Vanderbilt insiders expected Swann to be the No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart, but Swann was placed as the backup to starter Mike Wright a few days before their season opener. Swann — the 23rd-ranked quarterback in the Class of 2022 — proved that youth would not constrain him on the football field. The Georgia native made his collegiate debut late in Vanderbilt’s game against Hawaii, completing three passes for 51 passing yards. 

Fast forward two weeks. Vanderbilt was 2-0, but trailed 35-10 to No. 23 Wake Forest in the third quarter. Swann was thrust into the game. He scored two touchdowns, converted a two-point conversion, completed 72.7% of his passes and threw for 146 yards. Unfortunately for Swann, the game was not salvageable. Although the Commodores did not win, Swann won the hearts of Lea’s coaching staff and was named the starting quarterback before the ensuing week’s game.

Swann played his first-ever collegiate start like a veteran, leading Vanderbilt to a remarkable 38-28 comeback win over Northern Illinois that included 255 passing yards and four passing touchdowns for the freshman. His commanding performance led to him being named the SEC Freshman of the Week. He started the next five games until he suffered a lower-body injury in the first half of the South Carolina game. He would miss the Kentucky and Florida game, but saw action at the tail-end of Vanderbilt’s season finale against Tennessee

He finished his freshman campaign with 1,274 passing yards, 10 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Swann may have only had one win as a starter, but he consistently avoided turnovers, especially in the games against No. 1 Georgia and No. 4 Alabama.

This year, with Wright at Mississippi State, this team is Swann’s team. The moment is big, but that does not seem to affect Swann. In fact, Swann craves the big moments. He has always been a pure competitor. To help elevate his performance for the 2023 season, Swann tried to contact Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow for advice on decision-making and mechanical strategies.

Swann was unable to speak with Burrow but was connected with renowned quarterback coach David Morris. Swann went to Morris to ask for help on mechanical issues such as having a firmer landing when the football makes it to the hands of Swann’s receivers. After talking with Morris — who trains Eli Manning, Mac Jones and Daniel Jones — Swann said his mechanics improved. Improving his throwing mechanics and working on team chemistry with his teammates will be vital for Swann.

“Probably chemistry with receivers and chemistry with the O-line,” Swann said when asked what he worked on this offseason. “Seeing coverages pre-snap was a big thing that I wanted to work on this season.”

Swann takes the helm of a team that ranked 13th of 14 in the SEC in passing yards per game last season. To improve that statistic, the sophomore will need to throw to playmakers like Will Sheppard, Quincy Skinner Jr., Jayden McGowan and Gemarion Carter.

Lea is eager to see the growth of Swann from his freshman year to now. The head coach is pleased with Swann’s leadership and his command of the offense. Swann’s ability to make checks, audibles and adjustments at the line of scrimmage has drastically improved in addition to his timing as a passer.

“AJ is uber-talented,” Lea said. “He works well with Joey Lynch, our offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Their chemistry has built chemistry within the offense, and I’m really excited to see him get it all to come together on Saturday.”

When people think of AJ Swann, the sophomore wants to be known as a gritty competitor. He also wants to debunk the narrative that he’s slow. When asked what he wanted people to know about him, he told The Hustler that he ran at a speed of 19.6 mph in practice this summer. Whether it be with his underrated speed or his accurate arm, Swann will do anything to compete for postseason play.

As Swann and the Commodores hope to secure their first bowl game appearance in five seasons, they will need to start strong in their nonconference slate. Vanderbilt’s 2023 journey begins this Saturday at 6:30 p.m. CDT with a game against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors.

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About the Contributors
Andrew Wilf
Andrew Wilf, Former Sports Editor
Andrew Wilf (’24) is Sports Editor for The Vanderbilt Hustler. He is from Livingston, N.J., and is majoring in history and minoring in business. He joined the sports staff his freshman year, previously serving as a Staff Writer, Assistant Sports Editor and Deputy Sports Editor. Beyond writing for The Hustler, he is also the host of Anchor Analysis, Commodore Clash and Live From West End. In his free time, Andrew enjoys watching the NFL and playing golf. He can be reached at [email protected].
Lexie Perez
Lexie Perez, Graphics Editor
Lexie Perez (‘26) is from Northern Virginia and is majoring in climate studies and human and organizational development and minoring in business in the College of Arts and Science. She enjoys listening to 70s and 80s pop music, doing the daily Wordle and rooting for the Nashville Predators and Cincinnati Bengals. She can be reached at [email protected].
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