It’s not as though the 5-foot-10, 185-pound dual threat option’s aspirations were unfounded. Nine months prior to the Heisman declaration Switzer had capped his rookie season by tying a NCAA record with five punt returns for touchdowns and breaking a seemingly unbreakable school record with a single-season average of 20.9 yards per return.
All five punt return scores came in the final five games of 2013, catapulting the Charleston, W.Va. native to freshman All-America honors and onto the short list for a number of postseason awards.
The late-season explosion was followed by unrealistic expectations by fans and media and an abundance of confidence for Switzer entering 2014.
“I don’t know if it was too easy; I think it just came to me so fast,” Switzer said on Monday. “All of the success hit me at once. Being an 18-year-old kid, you’ve got to deal with all of that.”
Last season, Switzer averaged 4.65 yards per punt return, good for ninth in the ACC, and his longest return was 31 yards. That return to normalcy overshadowed his production on the offensive side of the ball where he notched team-highs in both receptions (61) and receiving yards (757).
Once the season came to end at the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit and Switzer voiced his displeasure with locker room tensions, he went quiet for the bulk of the offseason.
“My main focus this summer was to stay focused,” Switzer said on Monday. “I tweeted that my main focus is to remain focused. That’s something that I’ve been living by for the past couple of months. Try to stay out of news headlines and get back to what I did in high school, which is just grind and work on myself.”
That’s quite a shift in approach coming from a young man that told reporters last August “if people aren’t talking about you, you’re not doing something right.”
Switzer attributes the change to growing up and maturing. As a result, he says he feels more at peace entering his junior season without any self-induced additional pressure.
“You don’t have to let people know what you’re doing,” Switzer said. “It will show what you’ve done in the offseason come the season.”
He did offer some insight into his summer gains. His body fat is down to 4.3 percent, his bench press is up to 300 pounds and he’s running 22-23 miles per hour on a GPS system built into a tech vest.
Beyond the physical work involved, Switzer has spent even more time learning coverages and how to adjust on the move.
“A guy like him, he really should never be covered,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora said. “He really shouldn’t. And if he understands the nuances of the coverage and how he fits into the route and the concept, he’s going to get open.”
Against zone coverage, for example, Switzer’s route may call for him to find an open hole and sit down. Against man coverage, the same exact route may require him to keep moving.
“Sometimes [the quarterbacks] will lead you, sometimes they will keep you,” Switzer said. “If I’m on the run and I’m supposed to be sitting in a hole, sometimes they will put the ball where I need to sit and then we’ll come back and talk about it after the play.
“That’s just learning from experience.”