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April 24, 2012

Tyrone Swoopes - The quiet competitor

Tyrone Swoopes Sr. remembers well the day he realized his son had what it takes to be a successful football player. The physical talents of the younger Swoopes, a five-star quarterback out of Whitewright, were obvious at a young age. But it wasn't until the sixth grade that his father began to see that his son had the mental strength to go along with his raw athletic tools.

At the time, the younger Swoopes was playing with the Sherman Boys Club. His team was in the city finals, competing for a championship. In the third quarter, Swoopes decided he wanted to quit. Mr. Swoopes was having none of it.

"I told Tyrone, you will get out there, you will get in the game and you're going to play. The next play, he returned a kick-off 93 yards and they won the game," Mr. Swoopes said.

That game was a defining moment in Tyrone Swoopes' very young career because it seemed to ignite an inner fire that had at times been flickering. The following summer, Mr. Swoopes decided to really put his son's dedication to the test.

"I kept asking him, 'Is football what you want to do?' And he kept saying 'Yes sir, I want to play football,'" Mr. Swoopes said. "So I took him through some two-a-days that we used to do at Dallas Carter. I got him out in an open field and I mean I dogged him and dogged him. And I kept asking him, 'You sure you want to play football?' And he kept saying yes, and he wasn't going to quit.

"The ability was never really a question. He was always the best on the field growing up. It was just the mental part of it, and I still teach him that now. Football is not just physical, there's a mental aspect of it. His seventh-grade year is when we found out that he was not only physically prepared to play the game, but he was mentally prepared."

Since that time, all Swoopes has done is blossom into one of the country's best prep football players, while also dominating in basketball, baseball and on the track. An early commitment for the Texas Longhorns, Swoopes is the nation's top-ranked dual-threat quarterback prospect. His picture is regularly featured on websites, newspapers and magazines. His press clippings are extensive. He's still a junior in high school, but he's already recognizable to football fans around the state. You'd never know it to talk to Swoopes.

A soft-spoken and humble teenager, Swoopes is always gracious with his time, be it to fans or quote-hungry reporters. He's always respectful of opponents and the colleges that recruited him prior to his February commitment to Texas.

It's not an act, his coaches say. He's the same guy every day and he sets a great example for the other, less-heralded players in the Whitewright program. In the team's off-season workouts last year, his high school coaches purposely paired Swoopes with some of the program's senior players so they would see his dedication, hoping it would inspire the older players.

"We put some guys specifically in his group so they could see our best athlete and his work ethic," Whitewright head coach Jack Wylie said. "It's the first thing I would tell recruiters when they would call. I would tell them obviously you can see his ability. What you can't see is what kind of kid he is. He's every bit as good of a kid as he is an athlete. He's straight A student, a yes sir, no sir kid. He has outstanding work ethic."

Swoopes is described by his coaches as "just another kid" in the way he carries himself. He has no ego, he's not flashy in the locker room, he takes nothing for granted and he works hard in everything he's asked to do. He not only sets an example for his teammates, he tries to make it spill over to the younger kids in the community. He's involved in the district's Peer Assistance Leadership (PALs) program, where Swoopes and a couple teammates go to the elementary school to mentor young students.

Wylie gives a lot of credit to Swoopes' development to his parents, including his mother Elizabeth Swoopes, a single mother who teaches at the middle school and coaches at the high school. Ms. Swoopes says she and Tyrone's father, who lives about an hour away but is still heavily involved in Tyrone's academic, athletic and social upbringing, couldn't do it without the help of the other people in Tyrone's life, including the Whitewright community.

"I'm very proud of him. People compliment him all the time, or sometimes compliment me about the way I raise him. It's not all me. I could not have done it by myself," Ms. Swoopes says. "With God's help, family, friends, everybody in the community, being a single mom it all has helped me tremendously. I'm proud of the young man he is now and more proud of the man he'll still going to become."

SOMETIMES MISTAKEN

Swoopes is not an extremely vocal leader. He isn't one to yell and scream in teammates' faces. He's not one to show up an opponent after a big play. Instead, he usually keeps a level head and blends in with his teammates, as much as his impressive 6-5, 220-pound frame will allow.

From a distance, his composed personality can be mistaken for a lack of competitiveness. His opponents sometimes make that very mistake and wind up paying for it. It's one of the few areas cited by his critics, but the people close to him say it's an error in judgment by anyone questioning Swoopes' drive to win.

"Those two aren't even connected," Wylie said of Swoopes' calm nature and his competitive fire. "He's very humble. You would never know from him that he is who he is. But I'm telling you, there's no one that tries as hard as Tyrone. If every kid we had played as hard as him, there's no telling what we could do."

Swoopes' parents both admit they're fiercely competitive. The two met in college when Mr. Swoopes, who played quarterback at Tarleton State, was in the gym playing 1-on-1 with a friend of his from the football team. Ms. Swoopes and Tyrone's aunt walked in the gym and it turned into a male vs. female game of 2-on-2.

"His mother is very competitive also. When me and his mother first met, I was in the gym playing basketball at Tarleton. In comes Elizabeth and his aunt," Mr. Swoopes said. "To make a long story short, his mother and aunt ended up beating me and a friend of mine, and we were both on the football team, very athletic. They beat us 12-6.

"That was how we first actually met ... That made me not want to talk to her for a while."

Recently, the parents matched up with Tyrone and his seventh-grade sister, Zada (also a skilled basketball player) in a little 2-on-2 action. The young siblings won the first game. After putting their heads together for adjustments to their strategy, the parents roared back in game two for a 12-0 win. It was supposed to be best out of three, but the parents decided to quit while they were ahead.

"I wanted to be able to walk the next day," Ms. Swoopes joked.

Swoopes, who led Whitewright to a 7-4 record and playoff berth in 2011, understands why people sometimes misinterpret his steady demeanor, but he says losses stick with him far longer than do the wins and he's always rethinking ways to get better when his team doesn't come out on top.

"I can see where people could misunderstand that with not being competitive. I'm super competitive. Just because I'm not out there yelling and screaming doesn't mean that I'm not competing and doing the best I can to win," Swoopes said.

"In those sports that I'm doing, it always feels good to win. I just try to not let it go to my head too much. Because I don't like losing at all. I always have a feeling I could have done something different, done something better to put my team in position to win."

RARE SKILL SET

On the football field, Swoopes is a dynamic athlete who makes it look easy at the high school level. He excels as a quarterback and as a safety. He's vital to Whitewright's special teams, where he helps on punt and kick returns, kick-offs and at punter.

As a junior, Swoopes finished the season with 2,267 yards and 29 TDs on the ground on just 170 carries. He added 1,394 yards and 15 TDs against just 7 INTs through the air. Swoopes also turned in roughly 40 tackles on defense and recorded 3 interceptions. At times, he was nearly a one-man wrecking crew for Whitewright in all phases of the game.

Swoopes' size and his ability to make big plays with both his legs and his arm have drawn natural comparisons to former Longhorn great Vince Young. Like Young, people sometimes question Swoopes' overall skills and view him more as a runner than a passer. Another misguided label, according to those who watch him the closest.

"For a kid his size, he just has tremendous athletic ability. He's big and strong enough to run over you and he can also run around you," Wylie said. "He's every bit as fast in pads as he is outside of them. Some kids can't say that.

"He's obviously a very gifted runner, but he's every bit as good a passer in my estimation. People spread you out and you still need to be able to run the football. If the run's there, that's what we call. He had few more opportunities running the ball last year as passing. But he's every bit as good a passer if given the opportunity."

This spring, Swoopes has been busy fine-tuning his craft and he has put his passing skills on display for all to see, including an appearance at an Elite 11 Camp and the Dallas Nike Football Training Camp. He performed well enough at those events that he was invited to the 2012 Elite 11 QB Camp. Swoopes will also participate in the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge in June.

Swoopes said he's not necessarily trying to prove anything to his doubters. Instead, he's just taking advantage of a chance to compete, something he relishes. He also wants to meet some new people and visit parts of the country that he has not previously seen.

"I want to compete and just have fun," he said.

Mr. Swoopes accompanied Tyrone to the Dallas camps and he backs up Tyrone's claim - the camps aren't about eliminating doubts, they're more for the love of the game.

"I don't think Tyrone has ever tried to prove anything to anybody. We've talked about it, he never gave me the impression he's trying to prove anything," Mr. Swoopes said. "He just wants to show everybody that he's a student of the game. He's never really tried to prove anything, he just does it because he loves it. I don't think he ever doubts his ability, that's a key thing. He wants to improve and he's steadily trying to improve every day. He's always learning."

A LONGHORN AT HEART

Prior to his commitment to Texas, Swoopes was one of the hottest prospects in the country. College coaches have been watching his every move since he burst onto the scene as a sophomore and when he committed to UT, Swoopes was already holding offers from the likes of Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Stanford, TCU, Texas A&M and Texas Tech.

The ultra-talented quarterback kept an open mind as the scholarships continued to pour in, but he always knew he'd like to stay closer to home. As he continued to weigh his options in his mind, Texas was the team that continued to come out on top.

"I kind of had a feeling pretty much the whole time that I'd wind up there," Swoopes said. "I wasn't completely sure and didn't want to act on it too soon. I wanted to visit a couple other places just to make sure it was the right place."

Swoopes continues to talk to Texas co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin nearly once a week and their conversations run much deeper than just football talk. The two talk about academics, each other's family and sports unrelated to UT or Whitewright football. The comfort level with the Texas coaches, which really began building during a three-day Texas summer camp last June, was a big factor in Swoopes choosing the Longhorns.

"The times I went down there, like to the camp, I've always been comfortable with all the coaches," Swoopes said. "I knew I'd be safe and they'd take care of me down there. I'm glad I've made it official to go there."

Swoopes has never shown one ounce of indecision since his commitment, and Wylie said he has not had a single phone call from college coaches (other than Texas) in the two months following Swoopes' decision. His parents' never steered him towards any one college, or away from any others. But they're both happy with Tyrone's decision and everyone is enjoying the relative peace and quiet that has come with an early announcement.

"I know it was a bit overwhelming for him, the whole process," Ms. Swoopes said. "Being able to make a decision early and having that weight lifted has been a big relief.

"When he was trying to decide, I told him wherever you go, I may not be able to be at every game, but I will be at the ones I can. Whatever you decide, we support you 100 percent. Just make the right decision for you, and that was Texas."

Prior to announcing his commitment, Swoopes was constantly fielding questions on where he was going to play his college ball. Be it from teammates, reporters or fans passing him on the sidewalk, everyone wanted to know his plans. The soft-spoken Swoopes isn't one to go around giving unsolicited information about his college destination, but when he's now asked, he's thrilled to have a definitive answer.

"When people ask me where I'm going, I have a for sure answer. I can just tell them I'm going to Texas," he said.

Longhorn fans could likely sit and listen to that answer all day, every day.



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