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Ryan Switzer is more than a football player

You might know Switzer for his great football plays, but what he does off the field is even more important.

NCAA Football: The Citadel at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Switzer had four great years at UNC. He came out of almost nowhere to return five punts for touchdowns in his freshman year, and he finished with seven punt return touchdowns in his career. He was also an excellent wide receiver, with 2,903 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns. His senior year was especially productive, when he had 96 receptions, 1,112 yards, and sixsizx touchdowns.

However, Switzer was also exemplary off the field. He is a devout Christian, and that has guided his life since the beginning. Before he signed to play football for the Heels, Switzer played high school football for George Washington High School in Charleston, West Virginia. In middle school, he befriended Clifton Reid. Reid was afflicted with Autism and Down Syndrome.

Switzer met him when he saw Reid shooting basketball alone in the middle school gym, and he went to shoot with him. From there, the two became almost inseparable friends. Reid, who was before a quiet and introverted person who rarely spoke to others, became happy and very social with Switzer and his friends.

This special relationship continued into high school, as Switzer was beginning to find his stride on the gridiron. By this point Reid was a favorite of Switzer and his friends, and he hung out with members of the football team almost constantly. Reid accompanied Switzer on his official visit to UNC, where at one point he wandered off and was caught putting on Eric Ebron’s pads.

It would have been easy for Reid and Switzer to loose touch with Switzer living 300 miles away in Chapel Hill. However, that wasn’t the case. Switzer called Reid routinely, and the two friends could talk for hours. When Switzer returned to his home town in West Virginia during breaks, he always brought home UNC gear for his friend.

“He’s done more for me than I could ever do for him,” said Switzer about Reid, “He’s been my best friend for 11 years. He doesn’t care what I do on the football field. He loves me for who I am.”

After establishing himself at Carolina, Switzer found another friend in need of help. Back in 2014, three-year-old Mollie Jean Wade from LaGrange, North Carolina was diagnosed with a brain tumor that had to be removed by surgery. Mollie’s father, Jason Wade, sent Switzer a direct message asking for prayers for his family, and that message would turn into a multi-year ongoing friendship between Ryan and the Wade family.

After an exchanging of text messages, Switzer met Mollie Jean after her surgery in 2014. Like with Clifton Reid, he and Mollie Jean bonded almost immediately. Switzer invited the Wade family to the UNC-Pittsburgh game in 2014, a 40-35 win.

Mollie Jean, despite being clear of the tumor, still requires an MRI every six months. However, the Wades don’t mind, because it just gives them an opportunity to go see their favorite football player in Chapel Hill. Mollie Jean now considers Ryan Switzer her, well, boyfriend. His efforts surely mean a lot to her and to the entire Wade family.

“My parents have always tried to make me aware of my surroundings and what comes with being a football player or athlete,” Switzer said, “As I grow older and more mature, I can see how my life on the field can affect other people’s lives as well. Really, the Wades have helped me so much more than I’ve helped them. It only brings me more peace. I don’t do it because of what anyone might think about it. I do it because I formed a true connection with a little girl and her family that I hope lasts as long as I’m on this earth.”

Ryan Switzer will graduate UNC in May as one of the best wide receivers in school history. The speedy slot receiver is a solid NFL prospect, and he’ll likely go as early as the fourth round. However, for Clifton Reid and Mollie Jean, it isn’t what Ryan Switzer does on the field that makes him great. It’s his ability to care for and help those who need him, and to befriend those who others might forget or not even notice.

He does it not for good press or to make himself look good, he does it because he genuinely cares and loves those who need him the most. That’s what defines Switzer, his on-the-field actions are only part of a truly amazing person.