A Houston Swan song: A QB playing beyond his years and taking Eastern Hancock with him
CHARLOTTESVILLE – Houston Swan last year played like a freshman quarterback. He threw 11 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. The Royals won three games and lost seven.
"Coming from middle school to high school, it’s a whole different game," he said. "It took a few games before I got used to it.”
This year he plays like anything but a sophomore.
His numbers are eye-popping: 27 touchdown passes, nine interceptions, 271 yards per game. And the Royals are reaping the rewards. They've won six of their first seven games, averaging 43 points per contest.
So what changed? Swan's biggest asset isn't his arm but what's between his ears.
“It’s 90% football IQ," Eastern Hancock offensive coordinator Michael Galyan said.
This is the anatomy of a quarterback playing well beyond his years and what could keep him and his team going all the way to Lucas Oil Stadium.
Growing behind the scenes
Without the growing pains of last year, this year doesn't happen.
The Royals have five receivers with three or more touchdowns and more than 250 receiving yards each. Three are sophomores, and two are juniors. They all started last season.
“They’re a little more experienced than what their age shows," Galyan said.
Swan took his lumps last season, too. He had just one game where he threw more touchdowns than interceptions and just two games with more than 200 yards. His completion percentage was 54%.
But the numbers didn't matter as much as what happened behind the scenes.
“That year of experience really helped," he said. "I had a year under my belt and knew what to expect. I really wanted to cut down on the interceptions, make sure I threw good balls to the receivers so they could make plays.”
He dove into film over the offseason, worked on his mechanics and came into the summer without the jitters he had felt a year ago. The result showed almost right away.
Galyan could tell something was different when the team scrimmaged Richmond.
“He started seeing the field in a different way," he said. "Rather than picking a guy and going there pre-snap, he started reading the defense and making audibles at the line of scrimmage. I knew he understood what he was looking at.”
For the 6-1, 190-pound sophomore, there's a clear winner in the battle of brain versus brawn. And it's making all the difference.
"He’s a good athlete, but he has to work very hard for the physical part of it," Galyan said. "He’s a very smart person, and he knows that by working in the classroom that can set him apart from other quarterbacks. He’s not going to be the 6-5 guy that can sling it 80 yards down the field. He’s a very intelligent player.”
Making adjustments on the fly
Coming into the season, Eastern Hancock's coaching staff knew what they had going for them.
“We said, ‘We’ve got a bunch of speed. We’re going to spread it around and start airing it out,’” Galyan said.
So that's what they've done. Cole Rainbolt has 32 catches. J.P. Fuchs has 24. Landon O'Neal has 22. Cayden Sotelo has 19. Zach Arnold has 17. Swan doesn't need a favorite receiver. He can go to any of them.
During the Royals' first drive Friday night against Eastern Hancock, Swan completed all five of his passes, marching down the field for a touchdown. But the next three drives resulted in two three-and-outs and a pick-six.
The defensive scheme Swan and the offense saw in the first half was completely different than the one Monroe Central had shown two weeks ago against another pass-happy team.
"Teams will play one spread team one way and play us a totally different way," Galyan said. "Some teams will bring as many guys as possible and make him throw it fast, and some teams will only bring three and drop a bunch of guys to make him throw picks. He’s able to read those things pretty quick and make those adjustments.”
He threw three touchdown passes on the first three drives of the third quarter and ended up throwing for a season-high 307 yards in a 48-29 win. Two of his touchdown passes came on plays he audibled at the line.
Indiana high school football: Lessons learned in a game no one wanted to play
Roundup: Scores, statistics and highlights from Week 7
“This was one of the best defenses we’ve gone up against this year," Swan said after the game. "They knew what we want to do. We had to find ways to get around it.”
Opposing defenses are often discouraged from blitzing because the Royals have so many receiving threats. But a strong offensive line helps, too. Coming into Friday's game, Swan had been sacked six times in 170 dropbacks.
“The o-line has been phenomenal this year," Swan said. "They’re the whole reason we’re having this much offensive success.”
During the spring Swan would grab five or six receivers and practice routes before school. After practice, he and the same group spends 20 minutes doing the same thing. After games, the group all ends up at someone's house and spends the night together.
Their success isn't confined to what happens between the lines on Friday night.
"They’re going to hold each other accountable," Galyan said.
It's not just limited to the quarterback and his receivers. The whole roster wants to improve.
“Houston has learned and progressed quite a bit, but our entire team has done that," coach Doug Armstrong said. "Our receivers, our linemen. The boys made an offseason commitment to progressing.”
Now, they're reaping the rewards of work they put in months ago.
“Our weight room has been tremendous. Our offseason was tremendous," Galyan said. "We have JV linemen squatting more than what our varsity starters did last year. They didn’t want to be 3-7 again.”
There's plenty of season left and plenty of work to do. The Royals hit the road for two games before the tournament starts, and then they begin a quest for their first sectional title since 2014.
Swan isn't thinking about sectionals. He spent the weekend watching film of what happened Friday night. Once Monday hits, the page turns to next week's opponent.
All he will concede about his season thus far? “We wanted to be really good this year. We’re slowly getting there.”
But it's hard not to think about what the future holds, both for the rest of this season and for the next few years. That's thanks in large part to a quarterback excelling and a group around him playing its part.
“Our offensive linemen love to see our skills guys succeed. Our skill guys push our offensive linemen. It’s all them working together," Galyan said. "This group is a special group because they’ll do anything for each other.
“We can be playing at Lucas Oil. That’s our ceiling.”
Follow IndyStar sports reporter Matthew VanTryon on Twitter @MVanTryon and email him story ideas at [email protected]
WATCH 'FRIDAY NIGHT LIVE'
This Friday, tune into indystar.com from 7-9:30 p.m. for a first of its kind live show for Indiana high school football. "Friday Night Live," presented by Bath Experts. The show will provide live look-ins, up-to-the-minute highlights and analysis from games across Central Indiana. You can also watch North Central vs. Pike, presented by Central Indiana Honda Dealers, live at 7 p.m. on indystar.com, courtesy of the MIC Network.