MORGANTOWN — It took about 10 years longer than many expected, but former George Washington star Ryan Switzer was on the WVU practice field this week donning a gold shirt with the Flying WV emblazoned on the chest.
The story has been told many times — Switzer was a prized in-state recruit, but did not get the attention many thought he deserved from then-WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen. Once Holgorsen and the Mountaineers got involved, it was too little, too late.
Switzer went on to break records as a punt returner at North Carolina, while also playing a big role at wide receiver on the Tar Heels’ offense.
After a four-year NFL career with the Dallas Cowboys, Oakland Raiders, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns, Switzer, 27, retired after injuries caught up to him, but he’s switching his pads for a whistle, and was invited to help WVU head coach Neal Brown and the Mountaineers during fall camp.
During his time at UNC, Switzer also worked with current WVU running backs coach Chad Scott, so there was a built-in relationship. Scott currently works with the Mountaineer returners, and though Switzer just arrived Sunday to camp, he’s already paying dividends.
Receiver Sam James appears to be the early favorite to handle kickoff and punt returns, replacing Winston Wright, and he’s definitely happy to have the help of Switzer.
“Thank God that Ryan is here to help with that,” James said. “His college career, he had a lot of punt returns and things like that.”
Switzer returned seven punts for touchdowns, including five his freshman year in 2013 at UNC, which is fourth all-time in college football history. He returned another during his rookie year with the Cowboys in 2017.
James, who was a punt returner in high school, hasn’t been asked to do it in five years. Unlike riding a bicycle, it’s a brand-new experience for him. Returning isn’t necessarily the problem, it’s everything before the ball winds up in your hands.
“You got to judge off the end of the ball, depending on how it’s coming down, where you need to place,” James said. “If it’s coming down in a straight spiral, it’s going to go a little bit left. If it’s wobbly, it’s going to fall right, and it’s going to fall short.
“My biggest thing was just tracking the ball off the punter’s foot. I’ve gotten a lot better at that throughout camp, and throughout spring, because I caught a lot during spring.”
Others who have worked out at punt returner are Preston Fox and Jeremiah Aaron.