AUSTIN (AP) — Two years ago, Tyrone Swoopes was the can’t-miss prospect and quarterback of the future for the Texas Longhorns.
Now that he’s the starter, Swoopes resembles more of a project while yet another hotshot freshman waits behind him for a chance to play.
Swoopes will get his second career start Saturday night when the Longhorns (1-1) play No. 12 UCLA (2-0) at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. His first start was a 41-7 home loss to BYU in which the sophomore completed his first eight passes but otherwise couldn’t move a scaled-down offense decimated by the loss of three starters on the line.
“I think I did pretty well being my first start and all,” Swoopes said. “This Saturday, I will be more confident and ready to go.”
Swoopes was thrust into the starter’s role because David Ash reported headaches and dizziness shortly after playing most of Texas’ season-opening win over North Texas. Ash missed most of 2013 because of concussion injuries, but had been cleared to return this season.
Swoopes was one of the top-rated quarterbacks in the country in high school when he was recruited by former Texas coach Mack Brown. He was invited to the “Elite 11” quarterback camp and played in a high school All-America game, though his Whitewright high school team went 1-9 his senior year in one of Texas’ smallest divisions. Asked this week to name a career football highlight, Swoopes noted a game in his junior year — a “dog fight” against a Class 1A opponent in which he threw the winning touchdown pass in the final two minutes.
Last week, Swoopes made his first college start in front of about 93,000 fans and a national television audience.
Swoopes dismisses questions about whether a quarterback from a small school like Whitewright is prepared to compete at the highest levels in college. Colt McCoy came from a small West Texas high school and finished his college career as one of the best players in program history.
“Being at Texas is a lot different than being at Whitewright. In high school, I didn’t have the guys around me,” Swoopes said. “I feel I’ll be just fine.”
Texas fans look at the 6-foot-4, 243-pound Swoopes and hope he can be the athletic playmaker Vince Young was from 2003-2005. In high school, Swoopes ran for more than 5,000 career yards, almost doubling his passing numbers.
Swoopes said he still considers himself a better runner than passer, but so far hasn’t shown he can match Young’s quick burst or elegant speed in the open field.
The previous coaching staff burned his redshirt as a freshman for just a handful of plays. New coach Charlie Strong took over in the spring and Swoopes was given the snaps with the first team when Ash broke a bone in his foot. His development has been slow if steady.
Strong at first said Swoopes would play against the No. 1 defense in the spring scrimmage. But on game day, Strong changed his mind and sent out the No. 2 defense, a decision he later said was made to boost Swoopes’ confidence, but Swoopes had a rough outing. Instead of creating a preseason battle for the position, Strong declared Ash — who hadn’t played in almost a year — the starter before training camp began.
Given his chance against BYU, Swoopes ended the night a respectable 20 of 31 for 176 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He also was sacked six times and Strong said he liked how Swoopes managed the game.
The only other scholarship quarterback on the roster is freshman Jerrod Heard, who won consecutive Texas Class 4A state championships the previous two years.
Swoopes insists he won’t be looking over his shoulder if Texas has another rough outing against UCLA. Texas fans are quick to point to the bench — and have been known to boo — if the quarterback struggles. Strong didn’t mention the possibility of playing Heard this week.
“Tyrone is our quarterback, and he’s going to be our quarterback, and we’re just going to go with him,” Strong said.
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