Sweet, a lightly recruited player out of Southern California, also has punted for Washington State. He has been thrilled with his choice of WSU and thinks the team could surprise people this year.
PULLMAN — With steady improvement over his first three seasons, it appears that Washington State senior receiver Kyle Sweet could be on the verge of something special his senior season.
But after piling up 106 career catches, and also punting the past two seasons (likely the only player in the country to perform that double duty), he is more focused on victories than individual stats.
“As a player, you just want to keep getting better and better, so more catches would be awesome,” said Sweet, who had 58 receptions for 533 yards last season. “But I am at the point in my career now where personal stats and individual achievements don’t mean as much to me anymore. I want the team to be good.”
Sweet, 6 feet and 190 pounds, did a little bit of everything on the football field for Santa Margarita Catholic High School in Orange County, Calif. He caught 153 career passes, played cornerback, punted and returned kicks. As a junior, he even played some at quarterback.
But even though he had 89 catches for 1,341 yards and eight touchdowns as a senior, he was not highly recruited. His only other FBS offer came from Hawaii.
“They wanted me to play safety, and I didn’t see myself as a safety and playing defense in college,” he said. “Washington State called me in December – I was on Christmas break – and they said, ‘We’re going to give you a scholarship, and let us know soon.’ … I called the coach a minute and a half later, and said, ‘I’m coming.’”
Sweet has played with a few high school teammates at WSU, including receiver River Cracraft and center Riley Sorenson, who were seniors in 2016, and current teammate defensive lineman Nick Begg.
“It made the transition a lot easier,” he said. “Being from Southern California, I had never seen a wheat field before or rolling hills like that. So when I got here, I was a little shocked. But having those guys, it was like having a home away from home.”
It was a move that has paid off for both WSU and Sweet, who got into the receiving rotation as a true freshman. What the Cougars didn’t know at the time was that they also had found a punter.
One day early in his sophomore season, he was “messing around punting before practice.” Eric Mele, who was the special-teams coach, happened to notice, and Sweet told Mele that he had punted in high school.
“He then asks me, ‘Can you can punt rugby (style)?’ and I said, ‘Sure,’” Sweet said.
Never mind that Sweet had never actually punted rugby style (running toward the sideline and then launching a low kick that bounces).
“I punted a couple times for him and I guess he liked what he saw, and that week, I was punting,” Sweet said. “I’ve always been fascinated in different stuff football-wise, and I wanted to do as much as I can. Once they allowed me to do that, I was pretty stoked.”
It appears the Cougars might switch to conventional punting, and Sweet might no longer punt (“but I am always ready,” he said). Either way, he will see plenty of time on the field as a leader of a receiving corps that most think is the deepest position on the roster.
“Absolutely,” he said when asked if he feels like a leader on the unit. “That comes from just being an older guy. I am not much of a vocal leader, but I try to lead by example. We have a lot of young guys, especially at receiver, and they are all capable of playing, and they can all have an impact on this team. I can show them the ropes, on what to do and not to do.”
With so many key players having left, including quarterback Luke Falk and defensive star Hercules Mata’afa, many are predicting the Cougars to fall back a bit after records of 9-4, 8-5 and 9-4 the previous three seasons.
“It is somewhat annoying,” Sweet said of the predictions, which included WSU being picked fifth in the Pac-12 North by the media. “People will make judgments and opinions, and they just don’t know.”
Sweet said WSU might be even better this season than last year.
“I do feel that way because we have so much depth now,” he said. “We have a lot of talented guys, and we’ve been down on the (predictions) before. That’s nothing new to us, and we don’t care. We are going to have a blue-collar mentality and just work and punch people in the mouth on Saturdays.”
And whatever happens, he will leave with fond memories.
“Pullman has really grown on me,” he said. “I am real happy that I grew up in a big city, and very happy that I went to college in a small town.”