The season Tim Swanson had this fall would've been a good year on any team in the state. But for a 1-9 struggling program, where every player, coach and parent at the game knew the ball was going to Swanson early and often, his numbers were remarkable.
Fifty one receptions, 1,010 yards receiving and 13 touchdowns at the split end position, not to mention his contributions on the defensive side of the ball (42 tackles) as a starting safety. He is only the second receiver to reach 1,000 yards in a season during Millburn head coach Carmen Guarino's 11 seasons.
"Individually for me, it was definitely a token season. It was pretty amazing. I think I played pretty well. Ryan [Bednarski] got me the ball, he threw up some great passes and I made some great catches," Swanson said. "I knew me and Ryan were going to be a force to be reckoned with this season, but I didn't know how well we were going to do."
Swanson was the only Miller to make the All-Liberty Division first team this season (he was also selected last season) as he torched team after team in the league. With his two point conversions scored this season coupled with his touchdowns, Swanson's 82 points scored accounts for better than 61 percent of the team's total scoring this season.
"The offense that we ran, a lot of it was built around Timmy because we knew he was our best receiver and return man," Guarino said. "Coaches have to build their offense around the players that they have coming back ... If he could've driven the bus, he would've done that too."
Swanson credits the time he put in with Miller starting quarterback Ryan Bednarski and the connection they've developed as the key factor in his breakout season. Swanson scored two touchdowns as a sophomore and six last season before exploding this season.
"I think that what really did it was my connection with Ryan," Swanson said. "We've been playing together for so long and we're really so well in tune that we can do so just so much."
Once Millburn got within about 20 yards of the end zone this season, their bread and butter play was to have Bednarkski throw a high fade pattern—or "drop it in the bucket," as they call it—into either corner of the end zone and let Swanson go over the top of the defense and make the grab or make the catch over his shoulder. His catching ability was one of his greatest assets this season; he almost never dropped a pass.
"Catching the ball was number one [for Swanson]," Guarino said. "Timmy had an excellent knack for running routes and getting the most out of them ... He has deceiving speed because he doesn't move his legs that fast but he has tremendous stride. I've never seen anyone catch him from behind this season."
But for much, if not all, of the fall it was tough for Swanson to enjoy the success he and Bednarski were having. They were being productive in the passing game, but it wasn't enough with the Millers losing nine games by an average of over 23 points. Millburn ended the season on a five game losing streak.
"It was a heartbreaker," Swanson said of the past season. "We were so optimistic and so hopeful at the beginning of the season that we could do some stuff with a lot of returning backs. We just sort of fell a part and everything went south."
In his best game of the year, Swanson caught four touchdown passes on seven catches and gained 214 yards against Livingston. It was supposed to be his breakout performance in the opening game of the season, but instead it ended in a heartbreaking loss.
Some of his other big time performances include him grabbing 10 catches for 152 yards and a touchdown at Shabazz; eight receptions, 155 yards and a touchdown against East Side; 84 yards and a score against Madison and two touchdown grabs against Barringer.
"In all of those games, I did so well, it still was crushing not to win those games," Swanson said. "Scoring four touchdowns just by myself and still losing the game, it sort of deflates you."
Swanson's three years as a starter did not produce much team success (5-25), though it has produced some individual success for him. During the winter he swims and during the spring he's an outfielder for the Miller baseball team. While neither of the other two sports are racking up state championships, they aren't struggling like the football program. Learning to fight through the losses is something Swanson said has been difficult to do.
"I think a major challenge has been playing with a team that has been so unsuccessful," Swanson said. "It's how you deal with mistakes that are being made and how it affects you. I think bouncing back and being able to keep playing and keep playing hard to the best of my ability, that's probably been the most challenging."
It's made even tougher because of the time commitment involved in playing football is greater than it is for the other sports. For four years he had to sacrifice summer mornings and afternoons, watch hours of film, practice everyday, hit the weight room during the off-season and then not see it materialize into wins.
"A lot of times you get the feeling like all of this work and effort that you put into it wasn't worth it," Swanson said. "But I think at the end of the year, even though we lost, the whole season, all of the work we did, yeah we didn't win, but still we had a good season. We played pretty well."
He heads into the winter ready for his final season as a Miller swimmer, where Swanson competes in the 50 meter freestyle, the 50 butterfly and the medley relay. He's also looking forward to one final baseball season this spring.
"I'm pretty optimistic about baseball. I've played baseball since I was 8 or since I was 7. I've always been playing baseball," Swanson said. "This year is probably going to be my last year playing baseball. I'm pretty pumped for it."
Swanson hasn't committed to a college yet, but said he intends to play football at the next level. He said he could play Division-I if he went to an Ivy League school, which he has the grades for. If he does not go Ivy, he'll likely not play DI ball.
"He has the grades, he has everything you could possibly want in terms of getting into an academic school and being a student-athlete," Guarino said. "Wherever he lands, he is going to be successful—not only in sports and his career, but in life."