But the ease with which Swilling moves can be confused with lack of effort, and his finesse sometimes looks more like hesitancy, strange qualities for a man of his size and speed. When he was a freshman, critics questioned his toughness.
"He doesn't really have that rough nature," says safety Eric Bellamy. "I guess because he's bigger than everyone, he figures they'll run into him and fall down."
Swilling may have acquired his nature, which happens to be an appealing one off the field, from the sultry, southern-hamlet atmosphere of Toccoa. He is a self-described "sheltered country boy, an ordinary old Joe," who spent most of his time hunting or fishing. "I can see why he has the dreams he does, coming from that atmosphere," Clay says. Ken's father, Jerry, works in a General Motors factory; his mother, Judy, in a textile plant.
Swilling may never acquire a rougher nature. He is the gentle giant who doesn't know his own strength. His teammates are afraid to wrestle playfully with him because he bruises them unwittingly. Every now and then, something will excite or anger him on the field to such an extent that his voice sinks to an indecipherable bass, and he will jump up and down and try to yell around his mouthpiece. The effect of this is not what he intends. Usually his teammates collapse in helpless giggling at the sight of him trying to holler.
"But you know, you listen, because he's Ken Swilling," Clay says. "And you respect that."