The Sleeper of the Year: Dan Van Sweden

Every year it happens: a player not on the radar has a breakthrough senior season and becomes a coveted commodity. In the Beehive State, the breakthrough player of the year was Dan Van Sweden who has BYU coaches privately saying he's the best kept secret (until now) in the West.

You have to give it to coach Fred Fernandes, the head coach at Northridge High in Layton, Utah. The former Utah State receiver under Bruce Snyder knows how to win, capturing the last three Utah 5A state titles.

Fernandes also knows how to crank out big receivers who can catch the ball. Last year it was Dan Coates, who redshirted at BYU this season, and for the '02 title winners it was Dan Van Sweden, a 6-foot-4, 220 pound senior whose stock has steadily climbed the charts.

Escaping Coates' shadow this fall, Van Sweden earned 1st team all-state honors at tight end with 29 catches for 532 yards and four touchdowns. But that's just half of his talents: on defense he was Region 1 Defensive Player of the Year after recording 39 solos, 46 assisted tackles, 10 sacks and 22 QB hurries.

Ironically, Van Sweden almost never made it to the football field. He's only played the game three years after being spotted by Fernandes at a basketball camp.

"He asked me, 'Would you be interested in trying out for football?' the athlete recalls. "I gave it a try and now I hate basketball. Football is definitely my future."

His future appears to be in BYU blue. Van Sweden says he's leaning strongly to BYU, but the Cougars scholarship shortage could derail his ending up in Provo.

"Right now the thinking is I'd grayshirt next fall, work out with the team but not take classes. I'd enroll in January (2004) and get a scholarship then, but if BYU doesn't have any scholarships down the road I don't want to go there and later transfer. It'll come down to what school gives me the best offer."

Van Sweden is scheduled to visit BYU on the Jan. 24 weekend. He says he'll likely visit Utah State also; the Aggies have also offered. Utah expressed heavy interest before the coaching change and other offers have come in from Wyoming (also underwent a coaching change) and Utah State.

According to Fernandes, his two-way star posed serious matchup problems for opponents of the 11-2 team.

"Dan has the perfect combination of size, strength and speed," the coach said Tuesday afternoon. "He has great upper body strength to keep blockers off his body on defense making him hard to block. He has great speed and the ballcarriers couldn't get outside on him. On offense he has great hands with the ability to get off linebackers trying to slow him down and he can outrun DBs."

That athleticism could pose a problem for coaches on either side of the ball who will fight for Van Sweden's services.

"Colleges are looking at him to play outside linebacker," says Fernandes, but Van Sweden says he likes tight end quite a bit because he causes mismatch problems due to his size and 4.5 speed.

Tonight, Van Sweden will line up at center for the 1-3 Northridge basketball team. He's averaging around 13 points and nine rebounds per game and plays center, even though he's a smallish 6-foot-4.

Off the playing field, Van Sweden carries a 3.5 GPA

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