The senior class this fall is dominated by players that have racked up some huge yardage totals and have committed to some of the top programs in the nation.
While Navasota's Dexter Pratt and Madisonville's Chris Whaley are at the top of the heap, Austin Westlake's Ryan Swope is not far behind. Currently rated as a three star prospect and the No. 6 back in the state of Texas by Scout.com, Swope rushed for over 1,300 yards in 11 games as a junior to earn all-area honors and help guide Westlake to yet another postseason appearance in the Class 5A playoffs.
Swope and the Chaparrals suffered a 38-17 setback at home to Lake Travis last Thursday but Swope was not to blame as he had a top notch effort in the contest. Swope popped off several big runs finishing the night with a game high 145 yards on 24 carries despite being hampered by a leg injury.
Swope ended the recruiting process in March with his commitment to Texas A&M and it is clear that the Aggies have landed an outstanding football player to their 2009 recruiting haul.
STRENGTHS: Whenever a cat that has fallen out of a tree, or off of a roof, or wherever for that matter, the cat will always land on its paws.
That is the best way to describe Swope as his balance clearly shows and is one of his best qualities as a runner. No matter how hard he gets hit he always seems to keep his footing and keep on churning. Against Lake Travis it took a collective effort to bring him to the turf as he almost never went down after the initial hit.
When looking at his vitals at 6-foot-1 and nearly 200 pounds with speed that has been clocked as low as 4.32, it would be easy to assume that Swope is strictly an outside running threat. That is most certainly not the case as Swope is not afraid to lower his pads and fight for tough yards inside. Even when he does hit the corner, you never see him run upright until his is past the second level and he is in the clear.
An overused term when talking about running backs is their vision, but Swope grades high in this area. He does a really good job of being patient and he gives his offensive line time to set the table. With his speed and quickness he can afford to do this because once he finds a seam he is usually in the end zone a few seconds later.
Lastly, his versatility might be his best overall asset. He only caught one pass against Lake Travis but as a junior he was the Chaps leading receiver averaging over 23 yards per reception and scored seven times. He has without a doubt the best hands of any running back in Central Texas. He also started at cornerback as a sophomore, a sophomore season in which Westlake reached the Class 5A state championship, before moving exclusively to running back.
WEAKNESSES: The weaknesses of Swope's game and what he needs to work to give the Aggie offense a boost will largely determine where they play him.
If Mike Sherman and his staff decide to keep Swope at running back then getting bigger will be the first thing he needs to improve upon. He is solidly built and 197-pounds, but adding bulk will help him take those big shots around the line of scrimmage. In the I-formation Swope will definitely have defenders flying at him and the linebackers in the Big 12 bring the wood with much more force than they do in the Austin area 5A ranks.
He has great hands and along with his speed they make him a good candidate to move to receiver. He will however obviously need to work on his route running and the nuances of the position because it will be new to him should he be placed at the position.
OVERALL ASSESSMENT: How Swope develops at the college level will really depend on where the A&M staff decides to stick him.
I think right now Swope could initially carve out a niche as a third down back due to his pass receiving skills as (even if Michael is not in the picture) Bradley Stephens and Cyrus Gray have established themselves in the pecking order.
An interesting spot for Swope would be to make him a safety. Many in Aggieland talk about a revival of the ‘Wrecking Crew,' but one reason the A&M defense is not what it used to be is not just lack of a pass rush, but play in the secondary. Swope has played defense back before and could really become a ball-hawking safety that the Aggies could really use.
Regardless of where he plays, Sherman has openly talked about bringing more speed to College Station, a notion that suggests Swope will get a shot to play a significant role wherever he is placed.