North Carolina wideout Ryan Switzer was certain he’d be taller. So certain, in fact, that he wagered a nice steak on it.
"I’ve been telling him since he got here that he (wasn’t going to measure 5-9),” UNC head coach Larry Fedora said. "And he still doesn’t believe it."
Fedora knew his star receiver wouldn’t measure the height he wanted at the NFL Combine this March. So, naturally, the coach bet a steak dinner that Switzer would come in below the 5-9 mark.
Switzer came in at 5-8 3/4 inches. Fedora won the meal.
MORE: NFL Mock Draft 2017
“I thought they would give me a friendly spot,” Switzer said. “So I’m out about $100 on a dinner for coach.”
The bet is all fun, but Fedora says it perfectly captures the spirit of one of the most dynamic offensive weapons UNC has ever seen.
“That’s the thing about Ryan. All you gotta do is tell him he can’t, and he’s that kid that comes back and says, ‘I’ll show you.' People can say he’s 5-8, in his mind, he’s 6-0. You won’t be able to convince him any differently.”
Switzer has been a confident guy from the second he traded in soccer cleats for football spikes. After finally convincing his dad to let him play football in the fifth grade, he was a cut above.
“It was love at first sight,” Switzer said. “It was just something I was better at than the kids I was playing against. It’s just always been like this."
“Anybody that says size is an issue in sports doesn’t know sports.”
Overcoming his 5-8, 181-pound frame, Switzer was heavily recruited, receiving offers from Florida State, Penn State, Arizona and his home state school of West Virginia.
But Switzer, thanks in large part to recruiting efforts by Fedora, wound up at Chapel Hill. And from his very first season there, the lightning-quick receiver was a sensation.
Over a four-year career, Switzer left North Carolina as the Tar Heels’ all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards, while ranking first in ACC history and tied for second in NCAA history with seven career punt return touchdowns.
Still, even with all the proof of his explosiveness — Switzer has 17 career plays of 60-plus yards on just 370 touches — he feels people doubt his speed.
“I think they underestimate (my speed) a whole hell of a lot more than they should,” Switzer said. “I think if you watch the tape, I was never caught from behind in college. You don’t lead the country in 70-plus-yard all-purpose plays for the four years you’ve been in college and be slow.”
Switzer ran a 4.51 40-yard dash, a good time for someone his size and a better time than Steelers wideout Antonio Brown, who Switzer considers the best wide receiver in the NFL.
Brown isn’t the player to whom Switzer is typically compared, though. Anyone who logged onto Twitter when Switzer made a big play in college would see the same joke: Future New England Patriot.
NFL DRAFT: Stars you never saw coming
The punch line, of course, is rooted in the fact that New England recently has fielded shorter, quick, white wide receivers. Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola come to mind, while guys like Austin Collie and Griff Whalen got temporary looks from the Pats.
It’s low-hanging fruit, but Switzer takes it in stride.
“Those guys are Super Bowl champions and making millions of dollars in the NFL, so if you wanna compare me to someone that’s got rings and got money, then by all means, go ahead,” Switzer said. “They’re at the pinnacle. I don’t take the comparisons negatively or positively.”
Switzer says he’s his own player. But he also acknowledges that those guys helped open gates for his NFL shot.
“The last 10 years there have been guys my size or smaller doing incredible things in college and the NFL,” Switzer said. “So I think that they’ve done the work, they’ve paved the way for guys like me to have success.”
Ask Switzer which play best sums up his play, and you won’t get a show-stopping touchdown grab or an electrifying punt return, despite the many he has to choose from.
Instead, it's a simple first down from a regular-season game in 2014 against Virginia Tech.
Switzer was running across the middle of the field, briefly open. Tar Heels quarterback Marquise Williams saw him and threw across his body. The throw was going to leave Switzer vulnerable.
Switzer snagged it. And he paid the price.
“I took the hardest hit that I have ever taken in my career. It was something, wow, I can still feel it,” Switzer said. “But I completed the catch, I stood back up. I think that just shows the resilience that I have, the toughness.”
NFL DRAFT: Browns open to moving up from No. 12 pick to draft QB
Switzer, who never missed a game in college, understands durability will always be a concern for someone his size. But he is sure it won't be a problem, as is his higher-profile teammate, quarterback Mitch Trubisky.
“(His size) is not gonna matter,” said Trubisky, who might be the first quarterback selected this year. “That hasn’t stopped him this far. Nobody could cover him one-on-one. He’s definitely gonna translate to the next level.”
UNC cornerback and draft prospect Des Lawrence also doubts size will impact Switzer’s ability to succeed.
“He’s, if not the hardest worker, one of the hardest workers I have ever met in my life,” Lawrence said. “His will to be better and be the best is going to separate him. He’s quick, he’s fast, he can catch, he can go across the middle, he can do it all.”
Switzer won’t be having a big draft party this week, or going out and celebrating. He’ll be at home in Charleston, W.V., watching the draft with his mom, dad, four sisters and fiancée in his childhood living room.
He’s prepared to go anywhere from Round 2-7, but don’t expect him to play with a chip on his shoulder if he falls.
“I don’t play to prove anything. I play because I love the game,” Switzer said. “And I think I’m pretty good at it."