Former UM hoops star Erik Swoope learning tight end with help of ‘Madden 25’

04/24/2014 12:01 AM

09/08/2014 7:16 PM

Like millions of people, Erik Swoope has been spending a lot of time playing the Madden 25 NFL video game.

But Swoope, a senior who just completed his final season for the University of Miami basketball team, isn’t doing it for fun. He was invited to work out for the Dolphins on Thursday, even though he never has played a minute of organized football. So, he is studying the Madden playbook as part of his crash course on how to play tight end.

Swoope is a muscular, explosive 6-5 power forward with good hands and good grades. He figured he’d be playing basketball somewhere in Europe next fall. He is “so shocked” to find himself on the must-see list of at least a half-dozen NFL teams.

Scouts are trying to unearth the next Jimmy Graham, the 6-7 former UM basketball player-turned-Pro Bowl tight end. Over the past few weeks, Swoope has worked out for the Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars. The Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs are also interested.

The first call came from the Broncos in March, just before the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. Adam Fisher, the UM basketball director of operations, took the call and passed it on to Coach Jim Larrañaga, who shared the news with Swoope on the plane ride back from the tournament.

“I was completely shocked when Coach L told me because I’ve never played football, not even as a kid,” said Swoope, a Southern California native who started the last 10 games for UM this past season. “It was so flattering that an NFL team would even be interested in meeting me. I had to figure out if the Broncos were serious about this. Once they confirmed they were, I put all my energy and focus into it.”

He sought advice from Graham, who offered tips about what to expect from the workouts, and told him to enjoy the moment. He hit the gym, hoping to add 10 to 15 pounds to his 233-pound frame.

He tuned in to NFL Network. He tracked down every YouTube video he could find of the NFL Scouting Combine. And he took copious notes on tight end routes from the Madden game (“It’s a decent study tool, like Football for Dummies,” he said.)

He also began catching passes from his older brother, Devin, a Barry University grad student who played football at Northwood (Mich.) University.

The first week of April, the Broncos sent a scout to the UM campus and he put Swoope through a battery of tests. Hurricanes quarterback Stephen Morris threw passes to Swoope, and according to Larrañaga, he didn’t drop a single one. The UM basketball staff and Graham watched the workout and lent support.

“From what I heard, his numbers registered very high,” Larrañaga said. “Next thing I know, a bunch of teams, including the Dolphins, were calling. I am so excited for him.”

Tight ends take more punishment than wide receivers. They typically catch the ball in traffic, in the middle of the field, with no sideline escape and get nailed by fast, strong linebackers. They also have to block.

Larrañaga believes Swoope can handle the pounding.

“Erik loves contact,” Larrañaga said. “I could definitely see him as a football player. He’s such a bright kid. He played four positions for us, so I would think he’d be able to pick up football routes.”

Swoope turns 22 on May 8, the first day of the NFL Draft, and graduates with an economics degree that same weekend. There is only one gift he wants: an NFL phone call.

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