For eight years, Erik Swoope ’10 devoted week after week to becoming fluent in the language of basketball. Swoope studied up to perfect his game on both ends of the hardwood day-in and day-out. But starting this month, Erik Swoope will attempt to translate high-flying dunks into leaping end zone catches, strong rebounds into clutch first down receptions and ball screens into bulldozing blocks. Swoope, a basketball star at Harvard-Westlake who continued his basketball career at the University of Miami, declared for the NFL Draft seemingly out of nowhere on April 15 in a tweet.
In his senior season as a Wolverine, Swoope averaged 21.8 points and 8.9 rebounds per game and was named to the California All-State Basketball Second Team. Swoope was in contact with several professional basketball teams overseas before making his decision to put his name into the NFL Draft.
Not only did Swoope never suit up on Friday nights for Harvard-Westlake, but he also never played a single game of organized football throughout his childhood. The first time Swoope puts on pads for an NFL squad will be the first time he has ever put on pads.
“A part of me regrets not playing football in high school,” Swoope said. “I know the experience would have been outstanding and toward the end of my tenure there the football team needed just a little bit more to take them a bit further and a few of my teammates were interested in also playing, so I think it would have been an awesome experience.”
The possibility of playing football never even crossed Swoope’s mind until his coach at Miami, Jim Larranaga, approached him after the ACC Tournament to tell him the Denver Broncos were interested in seeing him workout.
“It was mainly just the opportunity that pushed me towards the NFL, and it really came out of nowhere,” Swoope said. “At first I wasn’t really sure if it was legitimate or if it was just a joke. I was able to exchange numbers with the scout that was interested in me and found out that this wasn’t a laughing matter, so I ran a workout and things were very positive so I figured I should pursue the opportunity.”
After being contacted by the Broncos, Swoope only had a week to prepare for his workout and make the huge transition.
“I just wanted to try my best and just try to be an athlete,” Swoope said. “With the basically no experience that I had, the only thing that I could control was just trying to work hard and just do my best. I had very little familiarity with each drill, so my main focus was just to be as good an athlete as possible.”
Standing at 6’5″ and weighing 225 pounds, Swoope’s size, strength and athleticism are easily translatable to the NFL, so Swoope is focused more on learning the intricacies of the game, like perfecting his footwork, to ease his transition. Scouts have told Swoope that in order to be successful in football he would have to put on 10 to 15 pounds of muscle.
“Playing above the rim like I have for a very long time and getting used to timing up passes in the air or on the move, route running is very similar to cutting and reading a defense,” Swoope said. “Some of the things carry over, but a lot, I would say when it gets to the real technical aspects of football, in terms of the efficiency with your feet, that’s where it’s a bit more torn.”
Swoope chose to dedicate all of his efforts to basketball growing up, but football was still a big part of his life, as his older brother Devin played college football, giving him an understanding of football’s culture and easing his adjustment.
“Just understanding what it takes is key for my transition,” Swoope said. “Understanding the lifestyle, the methods of training, just the whole mindset. It’s just much different from basketball because it’s skill specific, you don’t have to worry about defense, you just have to worry about running your routes properly, blocking, and catching the ball. It’s a little bit simpler, but it’s something you have to become an expert at if you expect to be good or dominate in the pros.”
Swoope’s decision vaulted him into the attention of the national media, earning him an interview with CBS sports radio host Jim Rome and a host of other coverage.
While certainly unconventional, Swoope’s move is not unprecedented. Swoope is following the path of basketball turned football stars Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham. Gates has had a Hall-of-Fame-worthy football career after playing only basketball in college, while Graham has become one of the football’s most dangerous tight ends after focusing primarily on basketball prior to his career in the NFL.
Swoope’s story is a near mirror image of Graham’s, who also played basketball at Miami.
“I’ve had the chance to meet with Jimmy Graham a few times,” Swoope said. “I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can and get as much information from him as possible.”
Swoope is not new to transitions. Coming to Harvard-Westlake in ninth grade from a public school, he had to adjust to a completely new culture and set of expectations.
“Harvard-Westlake helped prepare me for life in pretty much in every way,” Swoope said. “The experience I had at Harvard-Westlake, coming from a public school far away from Los Angeles I had to adopt different things: speaking to people that are in positions of authority, testing your boundaries, testing your competitive nature, being willing to try new things.”
If Swoope could give any advice to a Harvard-Westlake student athlete it would be to find what you truly gravitate towards, and once you find that, be relentlessly committed.
“I would tell any high school player that it’s your mindset, it’s what you find gives you purpose,” Swoope said. “If you want to be a professional basketball player or just a professional athlete, it’s about dedication, effort, it’s the thing you do when no one’s watching, the things that you focus on and dedicate yourself to. If you really want to be a part of something special, it has to go more than just when people are watching. It has to become a lifestyle.”
Although Swoope would be “shocked” if he got drafted due to both his lack of highlight film and experience, he believes the most likely scenario is that he signs as an undrafted free agent and plays