Most NFL prospects first donned shoulder pads and a helmet while playing for a local youth league team or for their high school.
Erik Swoope's first football practice will be at a slightly higher level.
Swoope, a power forward on the University of Miami's basketball team the past four years, signed with the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted free agent Saturday night and is considered a candidate to make the team's practice squad as a developmental prospect at tight end. The 6-foot-5 California native has never played so much as a snap of organized football at any level before.
"It's pretty exciting," Swoope said Sunday. "The past few days have been crazy. My birthday was Thursday. Graduation was Friday. I got an opportunity with Indianapolis on Saturday and now I just got off a plane in Indianapolis."
Swoope recognized his lack of football experience made him a long shot to be selected in the draft, so he wasn't too disappointed when the seventh round came and went without his name being called. Green Bay, Denver and Indianapolis were among the teams who called Swoope's agent and expressed interest in giving him a chance as an undrafted free agent.
"I had worked out with the Colts and they had shown a high degree of interest," Swoope said. "As things were progressing, I had hoped they would be one of the teams that would take interest in me when the free agent opportunities presented themselves. The chemistry the University of Miami has with the coaching staff also brought some comfort. Quite a few of the coaches had either played at or coached for the University of Miami. It just felt like it would be a good home and a place where I could grow and learn."
Signing with the Colts is the culmination of the six-week football crash course Swoope embarked on after an unexpected phone call alerted him that he was somehow on the NFL's radar.
Miami basketball coach Jim Larranaga informed Swoope in March that someone from the Denver Broncos had left a voicemail asking whether the senior had interest in scheduling a workout before the NFL draft. The Broncos believed his long frame, explosive athleticism and aptitude for learning gave him a chance to make the same transition from undersized power forward to NFL tight end that stars Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham once did.
Swoope had initially planned to attempt to latch on with a professional basketball team overseas, but he quickly scrapped that plan and dove headlong into trying to familiarize himself with a new sport.
He lifted weights to add strength to his already muscular frame, did basic drills to improve his pass catching and route running and sought advice from athletes who have made a similar jump from basketball to football. In recent weeks, he also has worked out with Graham and ex-University of Miami linebacker Jonathan Vilma.
"They tried to teach me some basics and help me get a feel for the reads I'd be making as I ran my routes," Swoope said. "I know it's going to be a bit of a process, but the thing I have control of is I need to be an athlete when I'm out there and I get my opportunities. If anything, that's the key takeaway they both tried to hammer home when they spoke with me."
All the hard work helped Swoope perform well enough in his initial workout with the Broncos that a handful of other teams expressed interest. Among those were the Colts, who also put him through a workout and apparently liked what they saw.
Thus Swoope now has the most unlikely of opportunities — the chance to play in the NFL even though his only football experience prior to six weeks ago consisted of games of two-hand touch in the cul-de-sac outside his childhood home.
In grade school, Swoope was already too heavy to meet the weight restrictions to play Pop Warner football with his friends. In high school, he turned down frequent recruiting pitches from the football coaches because basketball was already his focus.
Now, at last, the timing may be right.
"My goal is just to be a part of the Indianapolis Colts at the end of the summer," Swoope said. "I would think practice squad because I have a lot of learning to do. But maybe later in the season I can get an opportunity and get a chance to play. That would be a blessing."
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