Ryan Swanson is Eagle High’s athletic chameleon.
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound senior excels at two sports from seemingly opposite realms, showing the brute physicality necessary to stand out on the football field but also the precision and steely focus essential to a good golf game.
Swanson, an all-5A Southern Idaho Conference second-team free safety last season, is off to another dominant start on the football field, and he already owns a team state championship in golf for the Mustangs.
“Golf is such a mental game. You have to have patience out there all the time,” said Swanson, whose shoulder-length, curly blonde hair is visible beneath his helmet.
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“I think that translates over to football because you’re going to have plays that are busts, so you need to stay patient and just know that you’re always going to have another shot or another play.”
Eagle football coach Paul Peterson can hardly wrap his head around the idea of a quiet, reserved Swanson on the golf course after witnessing him in action in the Mustangs’ 22-19 season-opening win over Mountain View last Friday.
“I thought Ryan Swanson was dominant in the first game. His ability showed up all over the field. It’s amazing how fast he can make up space in comparison to the rest of the guys on the field,” Peterson said. “He was an integral part of us being in that ball game because there were times when Mountain View had a good play going and then he just erased it for an average gain when it could have been big.”
Swanson had a team-leading 11 solo tackles, seven assisted tackles and two pass breakups in the Mountain View opener, limiting the two-time state runner-up Mavericks and Montana State commit Tucker Rovig to 104 passing yards and one TD.
“Before this game, Ryan was a hidden gem in this Valley. The secret is out after what he put on film Friday night,” Eagle assistant Nate White said. “He played very disciplined and used proper steps and reads to get him to all those tackles; it wasn’t like he was freelancing all over the place.”
Said Mountain View coach Judd Benedick: “It seemed to me that he made every tackle for their defense last Friday night.’’
Swanson began playing football in the third grade but didn’t pick up golf until the eighth grade with the encouragement of his grandfather. While his natural athleticism carried him during his first two years on both varsity teams, Peterson has noticed a more mature player this fall.
“I’m hoping that he’s finally making the decision to really desire to maximize his gif, and understand that we only get one shot at all this,” Peterson said. “Just because you have this genetic capability doesn’t entitle you to anything.”
Swanson was a part of Eagle’s sixth consecutive state golf championship as a sophomore, and the Mustangs earned a runner-up finish behind Rocky Mountain last season.
“Football is such a competitive sport and environment, and you kind of like to instill that in your golf team as well,” Eagle golf coach Jeff Dunn said. “Just to be able to go out, compete and do whatever it takes to win.”
Meanwhile, the football team has fallen in the state quarterfinals to Highland at Holt Arena in Pocatello the past two seasons, a team the Mustangs host at 7 p.m. Friday at Thunder Stadium.
After last Friday’s win over Mountain View, the Mustangs took over the No. 1 spot in the state media poll. Swanson aims to help Eagle stay there.
“It was sweet seeing us get to No. 1. It leaves high expectations for everybody when you see that No. 1 in the poll,” Swanson said. “Everyone’s out there to beat you. I think it’s a good challenge.”
Although he didn’t play basketball as a junior, Swanson is considering a return to the hardwood this winter, and he said he may attempt to compete for both the track and golf teams this spring.
“He’s just genetically blessed. I have no idea how a person can go out and be capable of shooting between 70 and 75. That just boggles my mind,” Peterson said. “But you go watch him catch footballs or run or jump or just change directions and accelerate. He’s got fast-twitch muscle fibers, and he’s very flexible. ... I don’t care if it’s golf or baseball or whatever, he’s got that.”