Switzer, UNC’s All-America punt returner, is one of the few players across the college landscape that can reference such a trophy without eliciting a dramatic roll of the eyes. After all, the diminutive sophomore tied the NCAA single-season record for punt returns for touchdown and establishing a new ACC single-season record with five.
Switzer also set UNC single-season records for punt return yardage (502) and punt return average (20.9).
“Any time you can get in the end zone as many times as I did and any time you can perform like I did, your confidence is going to skyrocket,” Switzer told reporters at the Kenan Football Center recently. “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.”
While Switzer is on record as “definitely” wanting to break his own NCAA single-season record for punt returns for touchdown (also shared by Hawaii’s Chad Owens, ‘04), he doesn’t have a set number of touchdowns that he’s aiming for this fall.
“If we’re winning and we’re beating teams pretty bad, then my numbers will come,” Switzer said. “I don’t like to set a limit on one because if I hit that limit, I may get satisfied and I don’t want that.”
The 5-foot-10, 180-pound A-back became UNC’s first true freshman to earn first-team All-America honors in 2013. Those rare accolades, however, have only served to provide Switzer with more fuel this offseason, both on and off the field.
According to quarterback Marquise Williams, Switzer gets in 2-3 workouts a day. Two weeks ago, the Charleston, W. Va. native penned a letter to the Tar Heel fan base seeking support. The following day, he wrote a second letter to his teammates, telling them that he was tired of losing and ready to deliver a breakout season.
UNC head coach Larry Fedora and his coaching staff selected Switzer, among others, to join the program’s leadership team, which was originally restricted to seniors.
Those off-the-field efforts match what Switzer did on the field as a rookie and what he plans to do this fall.
“He is fearless,” Fedora told reporters at the ACC Kickoff media event last week. “He’s got that little man syndrome, ‘I’ll just show you, watch.’ He’s going to prove it to everybody. He can be from point A to B, at full speed in a matter of two steps. But he can also stop on a dime and be going laterally and be at full speed in two steps, also. And then he’s got great vision on top of that.”
Senior bandit Norkeithus Otis spoke to the difficulty involved with containing Switzer defensively.
“He’s tough to tackle,” Otis said. “He’s explosive. He’s quick. He can make a lot of guys miss.”
For all of the hype and praise directed Switzer’s way, it’s important to note that it was his punt-return skills, not his wide receiver play, that drew the attention. Switzer was penciled in as UNC’s A-back during his recruitment despite playing running back his entire career.
Switzer caught 32 passes for 341 yards and three touchdowns last season. Two of those scores, along with five catches and 118 receiving yards, came in UNC’s 80-20 throttling of overmatched Old Dominion.
His offseason emphasis has been route running, which was admittedly a difficult transition from high school.
“I feel a lot more comfortable in the offense this year,” Switzer said. “I knew it well last year, but I was just trying to not mess up. And now that I have that confidence in my ability and I have the offense down pat, I’m looking to do a whole lot more, whether it’s out of the backfield or in the passing game.”
Switzer is also making a play to join fellow sophomore and return phenom T.J. Logan (26.9 ypr, 2 TD) on the kickoff return team, actively tweeting at Fedora for an opportunity at the job.
Regardless of the stats or the various positions available, Switzer, above all else, wants to win, and he wants to win now.
Williams recalled a recent conversation with his younger teammate that highlighted that desire.
“If I don’t have a good year and we still win 10 games, I’m fine with that,” Switzer said.
Williams, understanding what his teammates, the fan base and the media already knew, replied: “Ryan, you’ve got to have a good year for us to win 10 games.”
Double-digit wins and similar production as last year would make the preseason Heisman chatter more of an actual conversation for Switzer when December rolls around.