Clock ticking on Switzers punt return record run

The Tar Heel star is still only one punt return touchdown away from tying the FBS career record, but hes running out of time to get it

Bob Donnan—X02835
Nov 19

CHAPEL HILL — Ryan Switzer began the season needing only one more punt return for a touchdown to tie the FBS career record of eight, held by Texas Tech’s Wes Welker and Oklahoma’s Antonio Perkins. It’s an accomplishment he has openly coveted. His North Carolina teammates have been equally as vocal about their desire to help him get it. The only problem is that opposing teams haven’t been as supportive Wary of Switzer’s explosive return potential, they’ve consciously tried to keep the ball away from him. In his estimation, the senior wide receiver has seen three, maybe four returnable punts all season. The result is that Switzer is still just that one touchdown away from the record. And the clock is ticking as his college career dwindles down to its final few games. “I hear it, because all the guys are saying ‘we want to get it for you, we’re going to do our best,'” Switzer said. “But it is what it is.” Switzer thought he had tied the record earlier this season against Pittsburgh, a team against which two of his touchdowns return have come, when he fielded the ball at his own 11, took off to the far sideline and darted 89 yards into the end zone. But the play was called back because of a holding penalty by teammate Anthony Ratliff-Williams. It was the third (or fourth, depending on who you talk to) touchdown return Switzer has had nullified because of a penalty in his career, a stat that clearly bothered him even after he helped the Tar Heels rally in the final minute for a 37-36 victory. “I’m just tired of seeing flags on the ground,” he said at a postgame press conference. After watching the play again on tape a day later, Switzer conceded that the call on Ratliff-Williams “could have gone either way.” That doesn’t mean the sting of coming so close to the record has subsided. Like a golfer who remembers every critical putt he’s missed, Switzer has total recall of the circumstances surrounding each of his nullified touchdowns — right down to the identity of the player that committed the penalty. The first came on Oct. 5, 2013 at Virginia Tech during a freshman season in which he set an ACC record by bringing back five punts for scores that counted. “That was a pretty blatant block in the back,” he said. “It wasn’t really necessary. It was on the long snapper.” The next came the following season, on Nov. 1, 2014 — a 79-yarder that still sticks in Switzer’s craw because, in his opinion, the illegal block on Donnie Miles that nullified it “was just a missed call.” “Notice how I remember everything?” he said. Switzer also counts a punt return against Wake Forest that was called back last season because of a disputed illegal fair catch signal, even though he was knocked out of bounds before reaching the end zone. “Honestly, I heard the whistle blow five yards into the run, but I thought maybe they could review it so I kept running,” he said. “If they wouldn’t have blown the whistle my guys would have kept blocking and I’d have scored.” Switzer set a UNC and ACC record by returning five punts for touchdowns during a breakout freshman year in which he was named a first-team All-American. He’s taken only two more for the distance in the three years since — both last season — in part because opponents are taking precautions to keep the ball out of his hands. According to coach Larry Fedora, luck hasn’t always been on his side, either. “There are situations on a punt return when you have everything set up, everybody blocked and the guy punts it 30 yards, so you don’t get a return,” Fedora said. “Or the guy punts it to the other side or he punts the heck out of it and somebody gets turned loose. You have to take advantage of the opportunities and know that they don’t come very often.” Fedora said he can sense Switzer’s frustration growing as he runs out of time to get the record. But as the coach added, “frustration is not going to help you.” One thing that has helped ease some of Switzer’s anxiety about his lack of punt returns is the contribution he’s made to the offense as a receiver. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound West Virginia native leads the Tar Heels with 78 receptions and 856 yards while becoming his school’s all-time leading pass catcher. “He’s such a dynamic playmaker,” said quarterback and roommate Mitch Trubisky, who like the rest of his teammates hasn’t given up on Switzer breaking at least one more big one in the return game. “I still think he’s going to break the record if somebody gives him a chance,” Trubisky said. It