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2016 Sun Bowl: Switzer one of many talented North Carolina wide receivers

The Stanford secondary will have their hands full

North Carolina v Florida State Photo by Jeff Gammons/Getty Images

“He’s a little man with a big heart.”

The phrase above has been used as a label for almost every undervalued, under-appreciated athlete under the sun. However, it does carry some degree of relevance when we consider the case of one receiver who has exceeded his expectations.

Tar Heels senior wideout Ryan Switzer stands 5’10” tall, but the legacy the Charleston (WVa.) native will leave from his four years at North Carolina will be even bigger than he could possibly imagine.

UNC rejuvenated the role of the “little man” wide receiver in college football over the past four years after reeling in Switzer into the Heels’ 2013 recruiting class. As fans of the sport have seen, his blossoming rapport with roommate and fellow freshman quarterback Mitch Trubisky would later become an integral part of Carolina’s 2016 success.

A three-star athlete from George Washington High School, Switzer embraced a role as the Heels’ primary punt returner. Even though he was lured to UNC as a scat-back who could line up as a slot receiver, the freshman worked to excel at his craft, returning five punts for touchdowns. His unprecedented performance was reason enough to merit a first team All-American nod and All-ACC selection as a returner, the third Tar Heel to earn that honor in the school’s history.

As a sophomore, Switzer was worked into the offense and began seeing an immediate uptick in targets, almost doubling his receptions in his sophomore year (32 to 61). The junior version of Switzer added two more punts for scores to his long ledger of accolades and school records in Chapel Hill.

Which brings us to 2016.

Switzer has been the spark plug for the Heels’ passing attack this season, compiling 1,027 yards and five touchdowns on a whopping 91 receptions.

Keep in mind that Switzer could’ve gashed ACC secondaries for more had fellow senior Mack Hollins (16 receptions, 309 yards, four touchdowns) not broken his right collarbone against Miami in mid-October.

Hollins, an All-ACC selection and the nation’s leader in yards per reception in 2015, would’ve drawn extra attention to allow the shifty Switzer to reach and exceed the century mark in receptions. However, Bug Howard (48 receptions, 768 yards, seven touchdowns), the third man in the senior trio, has found the consistency he lacked in his last three years and proved to be a tall target in the red zone.

Austin Proehl is the x-factor to watch in this group. While defenses key in on Switzer and Howard, Proehl has quietly put together an admirable 36 catch, 506-yard season. The son of two-time Super Bowl champion Ricky Proehl, Austin has seized control of the inside receiver rotation.

Carolina’s tight ends are used as more of a wall in the rushing attack than a bullseye in the passing game. None have over ten receptions, the closest being redshirt freshman Carl Tucker (nine receptions for 130 yards and one score).

All in all, Quenton Meeks, Justin Reid, Frank Buncom IV and Dallas Lloyd face their toughest task to date this season: holding Switzer and company well under their average of 289 passing yards per game.

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