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Ryan: Switzer for Heisman? A bit premature

AP photo
North Carolina’s Ryan Switzer runs for a touchdown against Old Dominion last fall.

Ryan Switzer had a good freshman football season at North Carolina. Wait, make that a great one.

Switzer, the former George Washington flash, led the country in punt return yards last year (502) and tied an NCAA record with five returns for touchdowns. He was rewarded with first-team All-America honors by three organizations (Football Writers Association of America, ESPN.com, Athlon).

All done as a true freshman, one year removed from high school. All done with that trademark Switzer sizzle — a stop, a start and a sprint to score.

Hard to argue there’s a player his size (5-foot-10, 180 pounds) who made a bigger impact as a mere teenager in Division I football.

But there’s impact and then there’s impractical. Switzer recently told UNC-area reporters that he thinks he can win a Heisman Trophy.

“Anytime you can get in the end zone as many times as I did and anytime you can perform like I did, your confidence is going to skyrocket,’’ Switzer told Greg Barnes of Inside Carolina and Scout.com.

“I set some big goals for my freshman year and I’ve set even bigger goals coming into my sophomore and junior seasons. I feel like if I can continue to do what I’ve been doing, I can possibly win a Heisman.’’

Whoa there, pardner. Don’t let the cart get ahead of that horse.

Switzer has displayed uber confidence much of his football career, but this is a bit premature.

Yes, he was selected as an All-American, but that was for his punt-return skills. His five TD returns last season (all bunched into his final five games) tied an NCAA mark and left him three shy of the career record, which he should overtake.

A kick-return specialist isn’t typically Heisman fodder. Yes, Switzer played receiver, too, but his contributions there were more modest (32 catches, 341 yards, three TDs), including one huge game against overmatched Old Dominion (five catches, 118 yards, two TDs in an 80-20 rout).

Bovada has already released 2014 Heisman odds for 29 players and Switzer’s not on the list (though Marshall’s Rakeem Cato is 75-1).

Heisman contenders get their hands on the ball more than 67 times in a season, as Switzer did (32 catches, 24 punt returns, 10 carries, one pass attempt). That averages to a bit more than five touches per game.

Sure, Switzer will likely become a more vital part of the passing game in future seasons with the Tar Heels. He hadn’t played the majority of his snaps as a receiver since his sophomore season at GW — 29 catches, 602 yards, six TDs. (There was that little stint of two years at running back with the Patriots when all he did was win two Kennedy Awards as the state’s top high school player).

In addition, now that he’s earned a reputation as a game-breaking punt returner, you’d think opponents would wise up and kick away from him or kick it out of bounds. Remember, he had no TD returns through his first eight games, so word didn’t get the chance to spread.

People have doubted Switzer much of his career because of his smallish stature. Personally, I always thought someone in his Class AAA days would land a big lick on him and knock him out of a game, but they could never catch him. The only game he missed at GW was due to a concussion from falling onto a rock-hard sideline at Oakes Field.

Am I saying it’s impossible for Switzer to one day earn a trip to the Downtown Athletic Club as a Heisman finalist? No.

Am I saying let’s see a little more production first before making that claim? Yes.

It’s like saying Packers running back Eddie Lacy had a strong rookie season (1,178 yards, 11 TDs), so let’s nominate him for the Hall of Fame. Maybe one day, perhaps, but we need a broader sample.

Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickryan@wvgazette.com.


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