CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Ryan Switzer has grown accustomed to being peppered with questions about his return game exploits, and for good reason. The North Carolina senior tied the NCAA record with five punt returns for touchdown in his freshman season, added two more last season and is one electrifying punt return score away from tying the NCAA career mark.
Switzer has piled up punt return records like no Tar Heel before him, ranging from the single-season school record (502) to the single-season record for punt return average (20.9) to the ACC career record for punt returns for touchdown (7).
What is often lost in the hype surrounding Switzer is his growth as a wide receiver. The Charleston, W.Va., product was a Parade All-America selection as a running back at George Washington High School.
“I’ve had a really big learning curve coming into college,” Switzer said at the ACC Kickoff media event on Thursday. “Everything in high school for me was just so simple. It was trap right, trap left. Those were the plays. Coming into college, your head just starts spinning. The game is faster, the plays are longer. The terminology, the coverages. There’s so much you’ve got to learn.”
His lack of technique was evident at times as a freshman in 2013, although the speed and quickness that made him a terror as a returner helped his transition to his new role as Larry Fedora’s A-back. Former tight ends coach and current Maryland offensive coordinator Walt Bell once described the 5-foot-10, 185-pounder as someone tough to tackle in a phone booth.
Switzer caught 32 passes for 341 yards and three touchdowns in his rookie season. After that initial taste of college ball, he fine-tuned his route running, sharpening his cuts while gaining a better understanding of defensive cues. In 2014, Switzer led UNC with 61 catches for 757 yards and four touchdowns. Last season, he tied Quinshad Davis for the team lead in receptions (55), adding 697 yards and six touchdowns.
“My growth over the past four years has been tremendous,” Switzer said. “I feel very comfortable where I am right now as a receiver. I haven’t hit my ceiling yet. I still know that there’s so much more that I can improve on and work on. The biggest thing for me has been the mental part, because once the mental aspect of the game slowed down, then I was able to just start playing football again.”
Switzer is no longer fazed by questions about his punt return records, or the ones currently just out of reach. He knows the stats, and he knows the players – Wes Welker (Texas Tech) and Antonio Perkins (Oklahoma) – that hold the NCAA career mark.
“The punt return record would be something I would love to have,” Switzer said. “The guys and I joke about it all the time. We technically already do have it. We got ten of them, but three of them have been called back. At least the 10 guys and I can be satisfied with that. Hopefully it happens. It would be nice to have.”
There are other records on the horizon, however, that many, including Switzer, have overlooked. He has averaged 58 receptions over his last two seasons, and only needs 57 to break Davis’s school record for career receptions.
Switzer, who currently ranks ninth in UNC history in career receptions with 148, was at a loss for words when told of his positioning in a different part of the record book.
“Career receptions? That’s… that’s very cool.”
Switzer is 411 receiving yards from fifth place in school history, and only 1,046 from Hakeem Nicks’s career mark (2,840). He’s also four receiving touchdowns from fifth place in school history, and 12 away from tying Davis’s career record (25).
“If you wipe out my freshman year offensively, what I’ve been able to do my sophomore and junior years, for me, it’s really amazing because I’ve come a long way as a receiver,” Switzer said. “To be able to have something like that, with only playing receiver for four years, would be something very special.”
It should only help that Switzer’s longtime roommate also happens to be starting quarterback Mitch Trubisky.