The Eastern Kentucky University football team and several individual players were recognized throughout the 2016 season for major academic accomplishments.
As a team, the Colonels earned high ranks in the latest NCAA Graduation Success Rate report. Individually, student-athletes such as Jeffrey Canady, Avery Pitt and Tyler Swafford brought national distinction to the program for their work in the classroom and the community.
In November, the NCAA announced that EKU had the highest Graduation Success Rate of any football team in the Ohio Valley Conference. The graduation success of the football program plays a key role in EKU student-athletes maintaining a much higher graduation rate than the University’s student body as a whole.
Also in November, Canady was chosen to the 2016 College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) Academic All-District® Football Team for district two. The Barbourville, Kentucky native has a 3.61 grade-point-average while majoring in environmental health science. Canady earned a spot on the 2015-16 OVC Commissioner’s Honor Roll.
The linebacker had a career-high 17 tackles at Tennessee Tech (Oct. 1) and matched that with 17 against Murray State (Nov. 5). Canady finished second in the OVC and seventh in the nation with an average of 11.2 tackles per game.
To be nominated, a student-athlete must carry at least a 3.3 cumulative grade-point-average (on a 4.0 scale) for his career. District two includes all NCAA Division I schools in Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Washington D.C.
In September, Pitt was chosen as a semifinalist for the 2016 William V. Campbell Trophy. The award recognizes an individual as the absolute best football scholar-athlete in the nation. Each nominee must meet the highest of standards based on their performance in the classroom, on the field and as outstanding leaders and citizens in the community. The candidates come from all levels of play in the NCAA and the NAIA. Pitt was one of only 36 semifinalists from Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) teams and one of only three from OVC schools.
Pitt, a redshirt senior defensive lineman from Henderson, Kentucky, has a 3.45 grade-point-average and is majoring in occupational safety. This year he had 33 tackles, including 1.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for a loss, while starting all 11 games. In addition to his success on the field and in the classroom, Pitt is involved in several campus organizations and community service projects. He is a member of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) and Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. Pitt has worked with the Hands and Feet project, traveling to Haiti in May 2015 to help build the foundation to a hydroponic system at a Jacmel orphanage, helped organize food donations for the on-campus food bank, participated in the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation “Roaring for a Cure” walk, worked with students at Model School’s activity day multiple times and read books to students at local elementary school on Read Across America day.
Swafford garnered not only a major football award, he also earned a historic academic scholarship.
On Nov. 19, Swafford was chosen as EKU’s first Mitchell Scholar, and the first from a public institution of higher learning in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The George J. Mitchell Scholarship Program is a national, competitive scholarship sponsored by the US-Ireland Alliance. The scholarship has become so popular that in the previous three years, of the 10 individuals to be offered both a Mitchell Scholarship and Rhodes Scholarship interview, eight opted for the Mitchell. He will spend the 2017-18 academic year working on a postgraduate degree at University College Dublin in Ireland.
In December, Swafford was chosen as the winner of the 2016 Doris Robinson Scholar-Athlete of the Year award. The award is given each year to a FCS student-athlete who excels not only on the field and in the classroom, but in the community and beyond.
In addition to being a George J. Mitchell Scholar, Swafford has a 4.0 cumulative GPA, is an EKU Honors Scholar and will earn his degree in just three years (May 2017). He is a recipient of the Ohio Valley Conference Academic Medal of Honor (given annually to the student-athletes who achieves the highest grade point average in a Conference-sponsored sport) and is on the OVC Commissioner’s Honor Roll.
Swafford plans to pursue a career as an international human rights attorney after he graduates. Two experiences at EKU – one as a member of the Honors Program and the other as a member of the football team – galvanized his career choice. He was part of the University’s Honors delegation to the Salzburg Global Citizenship Seminar this past May, an experience that included a “profound” trip to the Dachau concentration camp. In May 2015, Swafford joined 19 football teammates and three coaches to serve with the Hands and Feet Project in quake-ravaged Haiti, where he was “deeply impacted” by the Haitians’ “innocent love for life, sports and people.”
This past summer, Swafford helped resettle a family of six Syrian refugees through Kentucky Refugee Ministries.
On the field this season, Swafford had 940 passing yards, five passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown. He went 5-for-6 with a touchdown pass at Purdue, threw for a season-best 289 yards versus Murray State and tossed two touchdown passes while helping EKU tie the program record for points in a game (67) at Austin Peay.
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