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Arkansas' Swanson set to make 50th career start

AP - Sports

FAYETTEVILE, Ark. (AP) -- Travis Swanson has seen just about everything during his time in college, from a BCS bowl game to the depths of the Southeastern Conference.

The Arkansas center's career will come to an end on Friday when the struggling Razorbacks (3-8, 0-7 SEC) close out their season at No. 15 LSU.

Swanson will make his 50th straight start, a streak that encompasses the entirety of his playing career. The Texas native redshirted his first season in 2009 before taking the field to begin the 2010 season - and he hasn't missed a start since.

''It goes by quick,'' Swanson said. ''That's the biggest thing; it goes by quick. To me, that obviously is an honor to not miss any games.

''... It's been a great ride.''

Swanson's first two seasons came with a great deal of team success, a combined 21-5 record that included trips to the Sugar and Cotton Bowls.

Arkansas has fallen on hard times since then, going 7-16 over the last two seasons, and it will miss a bowl game this year for the second straight season.

While the Razorbacks have struggled as a team, Swanson has shined under first-year coach Bret Bielema. The former Wisconsin coach has said repeatedly that he considers the 6-foot-5, 318-pound Swanson the best center in the country, and the best he's ever coached.

Bielema has also praised Swanson's knowledge of the game on the field, as well as his leadership away from it - particularly during the transition from interim coach John L. Smith last year to a new coaching staff this season.

''I had no idea the blessing that was waiting for me,'' Bielema said.

Swanson's career at Arkansas hasn't come without its share of ups and downs, even if his high level of performance has rarely wavered.

Looking back, it will be impossible for Swanson to think of his days with the Razorbacks without remembering the turmoil he went through with his teammates in the wake of Bobby Petrino scandal. Petrino's firing brought with it a season of uncertainty under Smith, but Swanson was one of the constants who guided Arkansas' players through the difficult times.

''He's a guy that has seen everything from as much success as you can pretty much have to being pretty low,'' Arkansas senior fullback Kiero Small said. ''He's never wavered. He's always been himself, and that's a guy I can see a lot of the younger guys patterning their game after, patterning the way they live after.''

Arkansas was picked to finish last in the SEC West before this season, but the low expectations didn't damper Swanson's enthusiasm. Even as the Razorbacks' fortunes turned - losing a school-record eight-straight games - Swanson embraced new opportunities to lead.

One of those included serving as a mentor for freshmen offensive linemen Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper, who have each started alongside Swanson as guards since playing Texas A&M on Sept. 28.

''He's been even better than what I thought he was,'' Arkansas offensive line coach Sam Pittman said. ''... He's really rubbed off on the two freshmen. Those guys just continue to play better each week, and I attribute a lot of that because of Travis being in there and pushing them.''

As Arkansas' season comes to a close, Swanson is reflecting more on the little moments that have made each week special during his career. Those have included his last full-pad practice this week, his last home game in Fayetteville against Auburn earlier this month - and even his final weekly gathering with the media.

''It's the little things that go into it,'' Swanson said. ''This time next week, I'll be looking back on it (and thinking), 'Dang, wish I could go back.'''

While Arkansas' record this season isn't what Swanson would have liked for his senior year, he's sincerely thankful for the opportunity to learn under Pittman and Bielema - particularly given the stability they've brought to a program accustomed to anything but over the last few years.

''I've been able to enjoy every second of it,'' Swanson said. ''... Obviously, this new coaching staff has just done wonders, I think, not only with me individually, but laid the foundation of this program for years to come.''

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