It was the moment Erik Swoope had imagined over and over for the past two years as he toiled in obscurity on the Indianapolis Colts practice squad — Andrew Luck scrambling, looking his way, and delivering a pass into his arms as the crowd roared.
That is exactly how it played out last Sunday with 10:52 to go in the game against the Houston Texans. The Colts led 20-9 and faced first-and-10 at their own 30-yard line.
Swoope, the former University of Miami basketball player, found himself on the receiving end of Luck’s pass and did what he had practiced so many times.
He shed a defender, stayed in bounds and raced up the sideline for a 35-yard gain until he was forced out of bounds.
It was Swoope’s first NFL reception since joining the league as an undrafted free agent in 2014. He savored every moment.
“I was trying to run as fast as humanly possible; and I kept repeating to myself, ‘I actually have the ball. I actually have the ball!’ ” Swoope said by phone on Wednesday.
“Coach [Chuck] Pagano always says, ‘Prepare like a starter,’ because anything’s possible, guys go down, and you never know when they’re going to need you. This happened to be the week for me.”
With starting tight end Dwayne Allen listed as “week to week” with an ankle injury, Swoope moves up to the No. 2 spot at tight end behind Jack Doyle. He played in 41 snaps last Sunday and is expected to be called upon again this Sunday against Tennessee.
“I think we all have [seen progress] from where he started,” Pagano said of Swoope, who is 6-5 and 243 pounds. “For a guy that’s never played football, the guy’s doing a nice job, run game and pass game.”
Swoope has been working tirelessly and getting guidance from another Canes forward-turned-tight end, Jimmy Graham.
“When I first started to embark on this journey, Jimmy took me under his wing,” Swoope said. “I study everything he does, every time he’s targeted. In the offseason, we work out together in Miami. He’s been an amazing mentor.”
Swoope never considered switching sports during his UM basketball career. Despite Graham’s NFL success, Swoope did not figure that was an option. He never played football as a kid because he was much bigger than his friends (6-2 and 200 pounds at 12) so he would have been placed on older teams.
He focused on basketball and soccer, where he was a decent midfielder. Growing up in the Los Angeles area, his sports heroes were Shaquille O’Neal of the Lakers and Cobi Jones of the L.A. Galaxy. Swoope, 24, wound up at UM in 2010 and became an important role player.
As a senior, he averaged five points and 2.7 rebounds, and the last 10 games he averaged 9.7 points and 4.4 rebounds. He was known for his strength in the weight room with a bench press of 360 pounds, and he squatted 495 pounds.
A scout from the Denver Broncos saw Swoope play and was intrigued. He put in a call to UM baskeball coach Jim Larrañaga, who suggested Swoope give football a try. Eager to take a crash course in the sport, he began playing the Madden 25 video game. He tuned into the NFL Network, and watched every video he could find of the NFL Scouting Combine.
He also began catching passes from his older brother, Devin, who was attending Barry University at the time and had played football at Northwood (Michigan) University.
In early April 2014, the Broncos sent a scout to the UM campus and put Swoope through a battery of tests as the UM basketball staff and Graham watched and lent support. Other teams found out and also inquired about him. He felt the Colts were the best fit, partly because there are so many UM connections.
Pagano was an assistant at UM. Swoopes’ first Colts tight ends coach was former Cane Alfredo Roberts.
Offensive coordinator Rod Chudzinski played tight end on UM’s national championship teams in 1987 and 1989. Frank Gore and Phillip Dorsett are his teammates, and Reggie Wayne and Andre Johnson were there in previous years.
“I’ve learned so much,” Swoope said. “It’s my new passion. I barely watch basketball anymore. Only to support ex-teammates. And being with so many UM guys, I am experiencing the ‘U’ football legacy that everyone talks about.
“Switching to football was the greatest decision of my life.”