Program Spotlight: J.R. Sweezy
Dec. 6, 2011
Raleigh, N.C. - The genesis of a diehard springs not overnight, but from a constant accumulation of memories, experiences, and sensations focused narrowly on one collective unit. For some, that accumulation may begin the moment they step onto campus as a freshman. For others, the process commences part way through a memorable game. For J.R. Sweezy, the transformation occurred near birth.
The senior defensive tackle came into this world with two parents crazy for Wolfpack athletics, and a grandfather, Roger Sweezy, who suited up at linebacker and fullback for NC State.
"I grew up a State fan. Papa went here," said Sweezy. "I've been bred Wolfpack all the way."
Though many share the experience of growing deliriously attached to a program during childhood, few possess the ability to one day add to their chosen team's legacy. That unique opportunity occupies a special place in Sweezy's heart. Growing up in Mooresville, N.C., Sweezy spent weekends hanging on his grandfather's stories and coveting Roger's vast collection of NC State memorabilia.
"My grandpa would wear NC State gear all the time," said Sweezy. "He had some Bill Belichick-type sweatshirts with the sleeves cut off that he passed down to me. He gave me a bag they used to carry their cleats in. I spent a lot of weekends with him, just asking him questions about NC State, asking for NC State stuff, I was completely infatuated with it. He had his scholarship letter framed with a team picture. He finally broke down and gave it to me a couple of years ago and now I've got it hanging in my room.
Back in the days when he played, they wouldn't give you water. They'd give you salt tablets, lemon juice. It's kind of crazy more people didn't get sick back then."
Though his conviction never swayed, Sweezy's dream of playing for the Wolfpack nearly failed to come true. Mooresville High rarely produced division one athletes, but Sweezy managed to buck the trend with help from some maternal resolve.
"My mom's a huge part of my life, and she's the reason I'm here. She got me recruited pretty much," said Sweezy. "I was the first person in 20 or 30 years to get a scholarship from my school. She put the film together and sent it out for me. That's the type of mom she is, she's always doing stuff like that.
"It was a big deal to get the offer. I had only heard from one or two small schools. As soon as NC State offered, I committed here. Even before my senior year of high school, I knew that this was where I wanted to be."
Sweezy's mother certainly deserves credit for garnering NC State's attention, but his father took responsibility when it came to developing Sweezy's on-field skills.
"My dad's been my greatest coach," said Sweezy. "Even now he'll tell me things he notices, using my hands more, not crossing my feet. Little things that I might not pick up on, he notices because he knows how I play and what I do. He's been doing that since I can remember. In pee-wee football I was a running back. I'd come home from practice and dad would have me out running hills. It's funny to look back on, because I was just a little kid out in the backyard running hills. It wasn't funny at the time, but he was out there making me, spending time with me, and helping me get to where I am today."
Now that he's a member of the Pack, Sweezy carries a reminder of his parents' dedication every time he takes the field. With extremely good eyesight, or a pair of binoculars, you might just catch a glimpse of a rather unusual undershirt peeking through beneath his shoulder pads: a Grateful Dead-inspired, 1992 Lithuanian national basketball team t-shirt.
"My mom used to come to practice when I was in pee-wee football, and she couldn't find me because we didn't have practice jerseys and we all kind of looked the same," said Sweezy. "So my dad gave me a tie-dyed shirt to wear so that I'd stand out. He cut the sleeves off and cut it short so it wasn't extremely huge. I wore it every day in practice. In middle school I didn't wear it, but I found it a couple of years later and remembered it was my good luck shirt and I've worn it every game since high school.
"It's not even like a t-shirt anymore, more like canvas because it's gotten so fragile. It's got holes in it that I've sewed back together. It gets ripped a lot under my arms and I keep sewing it up. There are probably 30 different colors of string it's sewed up with. It ripped last game and I've got to get it ready for the next one. I hand wash it before every game and have to let it air dry. It gets stiff as a brick and it's not elastic at all anymore."
With his days at NC State dwindling to a close, Sweezy takes time to appreciate every opportunity to suit up for his favorite squad. An injury just before the season served as a reminder that each day represents a gift, but also opened the possibility of returning one day to the NC State sidelines, perhaps as a coach.
"I had an injury two weeks before the season, which is certainly not something anybody wants to hear especially as a senior," said Sweezy. "I'm a leader on the team, so I couldn't let people see that I was frustrated and upset. I had football taken away from me. It's something that I truly love, and it's not fair, but it happens. God had a plan, and I really got to see the other side of things. I was pretty much a graduate assistant out there, coaching up the younger guys.
"It was pretty cool to see the other side of college football. I actually enjoyed it, and I thought that there might be a career in there for me, because I really valued the experience. It's exciting to see young guys grow. T.Y. McGill, when he first started, he was getting thrown around and doing high school stuff, but he's gotten better every week and it's so cool to see a guy grow from back then to now."
As for Sweezy's place within the NC State narrative, the importance of the Pack's fifth-straight win over rival North Carolina holds special value. Now that providing bulletin board material for the opposition no longer concerns him, the diehard spirit comes out.
"We're tied for the most times beating North Carolina, so it's a point of pride to be able to say there's only one other group of guys that have ever accomplished that," said Sweezy. "It's a great honor to say that I've never lost to them, since I really hate those guys."
Spoken like a true Wolfpacker.
By Cavan Fosnes