PULLMAN – Following a recent Washington State practice, Mike Leach made two brutally honest assertions about Kyle Sweet.
“Of our group, he’s one of the slowest guys,” the WSU coach said, “but he’s always one of them that’s the most open.”
The senior wide receiver wouldn’t take offense to the first assertion, either. A few days earlier during a group interview in Pullman, Sweet was at the center of his own jabs.
Describing how he’s made route running a priority, Sweet said, “The speedy (receivers) don’t usually need it because they’re just faster than everyone,” before qualifying, “a slow guy like me needs to be able to run a pretty good route.”
“Slow guy” of course is a relative term. Some amount of agility and endurance is needed to play either of the slot receiver positions in Leach’s Air Raid offense, which can be as physically demanding for the guys catching the ball as it is for those throwing it. But to Sweet’s point – and Leach’s – the fourth-year receiver doesn’t exactly look like a cheetah next to zippy position mates Jamire Calvin, Renard Bell or Travell Harris.
That’s why he’s taken a religious approach to learning and mastering WSU’s route trees.
“He has to be crafty, right?” inside receivers coach Dave Nichol said. “Sometimes you don’t know how strong you are until that’s all you got, type of deal.”
A senior who’s started for the Cougars each of the last three seasons – and has played in 37 of a possible 39 games – Sweet has caught 106 career passes at WSU, with more than half coming during his junior campaign when he recorded 58 receptions for 533 yards and two touchdowns. Once again, he’ll have a prominent role in the Air Raid as one of the team’s four primary inside receivers, alongside fellow “Y” receiver Calvin, and “H” receivers Bell and Harris.
Even without top-end speed, Sweet, as Leach alluded to, seems to have a knack for just appearing in open space – usually without a defender trailing him. The WSU coach attributes that to his ability to “stem” routes better than most other wideouts.
“The first part of his route, he sets up the end of it,” Leach said. “And he’s really good at setting it. … It has to do with his ability to stem and lean routes.”
Leach also suggests receivers like Sweet can make up for their lack of speed by being able to come out of their cuts quickly. One isn’t necessarily synonymous with the other.
“There’s a difference between being fast and quick at coming out of your cuts,” Leach said. “So I think he’s pretty even with most of those guys as far as being quick at coming out of his cuts. So I think that makes up for quite a bit. You know, Wes Welker was a 4.8 guy. Well, he’s real quick at coming out of his cuts and he’s real good laterally on both sides and that made up for a lot.”
Route running can be instinctual and while it does come fairly natural to Sweet, the WSU receiver also credits two important mentors. Anyone close to Sweet may need just two guesses to discover who they are.
“I actually learned from my brother and River Cracraft when he was here,” Sweet said. “so I had some good mentors and guys to watch.”
His older brother, Logan Sweet, played in 27 games during a four-year career at UCLA, from 2014-17, as a receiver and special teams contributor. Cracraft was a four-year starting slot receiver for the Cougars, from 2013-16, and finished his career second all-time at WSU in receiving yards. He’s now auditioning for a 53-man roster spot with the Denver Broncos.
The comparisons between those two – Cracraft and Sweet – are almost too easy. Both come from the poshy, beachy Orange County region of California. Both claim Rancho Santa Margarita as their hometown. Both attended the Santa Margarita High School that also gave the Cougars Riley Sorenson, Nick Begg and Klay Thompson.
And both share the nonchalant, low-maintenance personality folks in “the OC” are commonly associated with.
“They’re both bros from SoCal,” Nichol said.
Cracraft is 6-foot, 198 pounds. Sweet is 6-foot, 190. Both make up for any deficiencies they have athletically – again, it’s a relative term – by outworking their peers and discovering subtle ways to beat bigger, faster defensive backs.
“I think (Sweet) has been coachable and listens and then he’s got some natural stuff with his head fakes that’s really helped him,” Nichol said. “He’s incredibly consistent, though, that’s what’s unique about Kyle, too.
“He’s still not afraid of man coverage. I told him, ‘Don’t be that system guy that some of us like to label some of us as. You’re better than that and let’s play like that.’ So that’s the challenge.”
And if it’s not asking too much, Nichol might like to see Sweet adopt one more Cracraft tendency in his final season with the Cougars.
“River, his last year, he played with an edge,” Nichol said. “He played with a little bit more of an edge than he had – in a good way – and that’s what I want out of Kyle.”
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