CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- He calls himself a West Virginia homeboy. Football fans and pundits are calling him the next everything: the next Danny Woodhead, the next Devin Hester, the next Wes Welker.
Take your pick, but it is difficult to deny that Ryan Switzer is blossoming into a college football star.
The former George Washington High School student-athlete and two-time Kennedy Award winner generated more buzz Saturday with a three-touchdown effort in North Carolina's 80-20 win over Old Dominion.
Switzer tied a career high with five receptions, set a new career high with 118 receiving yards and had his first multi-touchdown game on offense. Then, he added a 64-yard punt return for a score, tying the ACC record for punt return touchdowns in a season (four, by Maryland's Steve Suter in 2002) and tying the NCAA mark for consecutive games with a TD on a punt return (three).
Switzer has taken four of his last nine punt returns to the house. In the past three games, he has 320 yards on punt returns and is now the nation's leader in punt return yardage (414). He needs one more score on a punt return - in either UNC's regular-season finale this weekend against Duke or the bowl game - to tie the NCAA single-season record (five, set by Hawaii's Chad Owens in 2004).
Switzer is already halfway to the NCAA career record of eight, set by Ted Ginn (Ohio State), Antonio Perkins (Oklahoma) and Welker (Texas Tech).
If he stays healthy, the true freshman Switzer could play 37 more regular season collegiate football games, plus bowls and league title games. He is on pace the break the career record of eight by sometime late in his sophomore season.
"I wouldn't punt to me," the ever-candid Switzer said Saturday.
He might be short in stature, but not on confidence.
"I think the game is slowing down for me," he said in a phone interview last week. "I'm learning how to watch film and how to read coverage and the more reps that I've gotten, the more it has slowed down.
"The speed is a lot different than high school."
Indeed. Switzer said he was frustrated at times this season when he couldn't get his hands on the ball more often.
He had 63 yards on nine punt returns through seven games, and this past Saturday's 118 yards receiving eclipsed the total from the first six games combined (108). The Tar Heels were 1-5 at the season's midpoint, but have reeled off five consecutive wins.