The first time they met was during a recruiting visit to another school. Ryan Switzer walked out of the head coach’s office at Penn State and there, he said, was Mitch Trubisky, waiting to go in. They shared a few quick words and moved on.
“We didn’t put two and two together,” Switzer said, “until we got here.”
“Here” is North Carolina, where Trubisky is the Tar Heels’ starting quarterback, at last, and Switzer their most productive, reliable receiver. Before they arrived they barely knew each other.
Now they have lived together for four years, close friends and roommates. They have, at times, served as a counselor for the other, there to stay up in the wee hours to offer support amid difficult moments. Sometimes, they’ve just gone out to the practice fields late at night, wanting to work.
“Man, we’ve thrown everywhere,” Switzer said earlier this week, standing on one of those fields. “We’ve thrown out on these fields at 10 o’clock at night, we’ve thrown in the indoor at 12 o’clock at night. We’ve thrown on the beach. I mean, me and Mitch have gotten over 10,000 reps.
“It really seems like that. That’s why we’ve got the connection that we do.”
They’d both been waiting for this. Trubisky, after three years of serving as a backup, had been waiting to become the starter. Switzer, after three years of playing a more prominent role, had been waiting nonetheless for his good friend to become the quarterback.
Switzer earlier this week spoke about that connection with Trubisky, tried to describe it. The numbers make their own case. In UNC’s past two games, dramatic victories against Pittsburgh and Florida State, Switzer has caught 30 of Trubisky’s 66 completions.
To put it another way, Switzer will enter the Tar Heels’ game against Virginia Tech at Kenan Stadium on Saturday on a kind of receiving run previously unseen in the 63-year history of the ACC. No player in league history has ever caught more passes in consecutive games than Switzer the past two weeks.
“Sometimes we’re out there, it seems like it’s just me and him out there playing catch,” Trubisky said. “The defense doesn’t want to cover him. I’m just going through my reads and he seems to be open, a lot.”
Sometimes we’re out there, it seems like it’s just me and him out there playing catch. The defense doesn’t want to cover him. I’m just going through my reads and he seems to be open, a lot.
UNC quarterback Mitch Trubisky on Ryan Switzer
After five games, Switzer ranks fourth nationally in receptions, with 47. The 6-3, 220-pount Trubisky, meanwhile, is on pace for 4,100 passing yards and 31 touchdown passes. He hasn’t thrown an interception. He has emphasized his trust in all of his receivers but he acknowledges it’s different with Switzer.
They share a history. A bond. A roof.
In some ways, games have been like throwing and catching sessions at Myrtle Beach in the summer. Switzer and Trubisky have been there together several times. They’ve spent days on the beach, Switzer running routes in the sand and Trubisky passing to him in stride.
They went unnoticed, Trubisky said. If people walking by recognized them, this pair of college football players who would one day become one of the most prolific quarterback-receiver duos in the country, nobody said anything. And so it was just two college kids throwing a ball around without a care.
Which is sort of how it is now. During the Tar Heels’ 37-36 victory against Pitt two weeks ago, Switzer caught 16 passes, which was seven more than he’d ever caught in a college game. One of his receptions went for a 19-yard touchdown and two of them, on fourth down, kept alive UNC’s final drive.
That final drive against Pitt – which ended with Trubisky’s touchdown pass to Bug Howard with two seconds remaining – will endure in UNC football history. So will Switzer’s second fourth down catch, when he jumped and stretched his 5-foot-10 inch, 185-pound frame to its limit and landed with possession.
That catch, in particular, exemplified something Trubisky spoke about later, the characteristic that motivates Switzer, a senior. Trubisky would know, after all, after spending four years living with him.
“He’s just hungry,” Trubisky, a junior, said. “He always plays with a chip on his shoulder. His whole life he’s trained and worked and people told him he can’t do it – he’s not big enough. He can’t do it. So he just plays with that chip on his shoulder, he just brings so much passion and energy to his team.
“And he’s just got that attitude about him that no one can cover him.”
It’s that way even in practices, Des Lawrence said. He’s a senior cornerback.
He arrived at UNC in the same recruiting class as Trubisky and Switzer – the class that coach Larry Fedora brought in after his first full recruiting cycle at UNC. At times in practices the past four seasons Lawrence has been tasked with stopping Switzer, or at least limiting him. Now it’s more difficult.
The long wait
Trubisky and Switzer, Lawrence said, “have some bond that most quarterbacks and receivers don’t. And Switz being such a shifty and crafty guy, he’s going to get open a lot of times … Switz will tell you he’s always open.”
Lawrence laughed at that line, that confidence stereotypical of most receivers. They all pretty much think they’re always open. And yet that confidence hasn’t always been at the surface.
At times during the past four years Switzer would go back to the apartment, down about not being as involved in the offense as he might have liked. Trubisky would look at Switzer, unsure how to relate. At least you’re playing, Trubisky would tell him.
And so they waited, nurturing their on-field connection mostly during practices or late-night throwing sessions, and growing closer the more time they spent as roommates. Describing their connection last week, Fedora surmised that Trubisky and Switzer “know some unique things about each other.”
Switzer laughed when he heard it.
“I know the good, the bad and the ugly about Mitch,” he said.
Switzer went deep, but not in the way the term is usually applicable to a receiver.
“Mitch is low key and a hopeless romantic,” Switzer said. “I mean, he’s going to laugh and he’s going to be like, ‘Man, why’d you say that?’ But I’m telling you, Mitch is going through life and he’s playing football and he’s going to school, but at the end Mitch just really wants a nice wife, and he’s going to drive a minivan when he’s older. I’m telling you, he’s just looking for that camaraderie with a female.”
Switzer found that, at least. He became engaged last summer, not long before the season began. Besides understanding Trubisky’s minivan-driving aspirations, Switzer over the years has developed an appreciation for one of Trubisky’s alter egos.
It emerges, Switzer said, before games. It comes out when Trubisky puts on his headphones.
“Mitch likes to think he’s a rapper,” Switzer said, “so when he puts his Beats on, he’ll rap to himself.”
Trubisky could tell some stories, too, about Switzer’s love of the movie “Frozen” – Switzer said he’s seen it now “countless” times – and about how Switzer spends nights before games watching romantic comedies, or sappy dramas. Last Friday, before the Florida State game, it was “Dear John.”
It’s a movie based on a Nicholas Sparks book about the romance between a solider and a young woman who write each other love letters. Switzer said he watched it on his phone. He wasn’t sure, he said, what Trubisky watched – but it was not “Dear John” or anything in that genre.
Switzer and Trubisky are different that way, with their pregame movie preferences, but similar in a lot of others. They arrived with similar aspirations and a similar vision, one that looks a lot like their reality now.
It did take a while. Trubisky waited three years to start. Switzer waited three years to be on the other end of passes from his roommate. They both waited for the bond they’d created years ago to translate onto the field on game days, week after week, and now they’re seeing it happen. Everyone is.
Switzer described their connection as a “security blanket.” It has worked both ways. In tense moments, Trubisky has trusted Switzer to make plays. Switzer has trusted Trubisky to put him in position to succeed.
All those late-night throwing sessions, ones on the beach, have led to this. It’d been a long time coming. After a practice early last week, Switzer grinned and shook his head slightly at the thought of what he and Trubisky had done the past two weeks. Two wild, last-second victories.
More than 400 yards passing in each of them for Trubisky. Thirty catches for Switzer. They’d talked about this sort of thing a time or two during late nights in the apartment, listening to music, looking forward to a future that has become the present.
“It’s about time,” Switzer said.