High School Sports

Former Yelm High running back Jacob Swilley finding right path at Willamette

Former Yelm High running back Jacob Swilley, who is now the starter at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.
Former Yelm High running back Jacob Swilley, who is now the starter at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.

Jacob Swilley is exactly where he wants to be — finally.

He’s playing football at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, as a redshirt junior. And he’s starting at running back.

“Starting off, it was just getting into the rhythm of things,” Swilley said. “I didn’t feel like I was on my own. I felt like I fit in and was finally in a good situation.”

Swilley, a Yelm High School graduate, transferred from Central Washington University last season. He initially decided to commit to Central — a Division II school — over Willamette, which plays at the Division III level in the Northwest Conference against Pacific Lutheran and University of Puget Sound, among others.

“To me, it was wanting to play at the highest level I could at the time,” Swilley said.

Swilley played strictly defense at Central — he was an all-state selection at running back, defensive back and as an all-purpose player in high school — sometimes at linebacker, sometimes at safety.

Multiple coaching changes during his freshman season inspired the eventual transfer.

“Going through spring ball, the direction and the way it felt — it wasn’t the right fit for me anymore,” Swilley said. “It wasn’t how I felt when I came there.”

So, he reconnected with Willamette.

During his career at Yelm, Swilley rushed for 3,784 yards and 49 touchdowns. Last season at Willamette, he was an understudy to Dylan Jones — who holds multiple Willamette records, including single-game rushing yards (350) and single-season rushing yards (1,599).

Swilley has taken over the running back duties this season since co-running back Jimmy Sharpe (shoulder) was injured Oct. 17 against Linfield.

Swilley said the setup isn’t much different, but consistent carries have helped him improve. Last week against Pacific, he had six carries for 31 yards and one touchdown.

“I’m getting more into the flow of the game instead of being in and out,” he said.

But not much else about the game has changed, he said. And that includes moving from Division II to Division III.

“Honestly, I was kind of surprised,” Swilley said. “My dad and I, we talked about it. There really isn’t much difference at all.”

Swilley’s father, Randy — who coached Jacob all four years at Yelm and is now the head football coach at Tenino — was surprised enough at the level of play.

“D-III football is really good, it’s better than I thought it was going to be,” he said. “It’s as good — if not better — than D-II.”

His son certainly thinks so.

“There’s no drop-off like some people think there is,” Swilley said. “It’s a pretty high level of play in D-III, especially around here.”

Lauren Smith: 360-754-5473