From laughing on the bus to winning the Outland, T'Vondre Sweat has grown on, off field for Texas Longhorns

Photo by Paul Knight | Edit by DCTF

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NEW ORLEANS – Huntsville head coach Rodney Southern thought former star pupil T’Vondre Sweat was too big when the two met up two off-seasons ago in Sweat’s hometown in East Texas. After all, Sweat was an edge player for the Hornets in high school who began his prep career as a tight end on the junior varsity team. He once recorded 4.5 sacks in a game against A&M Consolidated. 

Sweat left Huntsville at roughly 240 or 245, according to Southern. Sweat now tips the scales at over 350 pounds. 

“Boy was I wrong,” Southern joked about Sweat getting too big at Texas. “The difference between this season and last season is night and day. I knew he had that type of potential. It was a matter of getting him to know it, too.” 

That journey took time for Sweat, as it does with a lot of young players. He was a three-star recruit out of Huntsville in the 2019 cycle. He was the 45th-ranked defensive tackle and the 605th-best overall prospect in the country, according to the 247Sports Composite. He needed to grow in size to play on the interior of the defensive front, and he needed to grow up off the field. 

Sweat was the Longhorn laughing on the bus who set off defensive tackle coach Bo Davis for his legendary rant after an Iowa State loss in 2021 that included 16 cuss words in 47 seconds of leaked audio. He’s grown by over 100 pounds since leaving Huntsville, but when asked on Thursday at the Sugar Bowl where he’s grown the most as a Longhorn, Sweat replied simply with, “maturity.” His defensive coordinator echoed that sentiment in New Orleans. 

“His level of maturity and growth as a teammate has been awesome to watch,” Texas defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said at the Sugar Bowl press conference on Thursday morning. “He’s a very influential guy in that locker room.” 

The Davis rant is a fulcrum moment in the history of Texas football. Steve Sarkisian jokes that athletic director Chris Del Conte will erect a statue of the assistant coach one day because of how important that was for the program. The Longhorns went 5-7 in 2021 and the defense was soft, allowing 31.1 points per game and 5.15 yards per rush. The 12-1 Big 12 champion Longhorns in 2023 allowed just 17.5 points per game and 2.87 yards per rush. 

Southern saw that potential in Sweat when he moved him up to junior varsity as a 14-year-old freshman at Huntsville. Sweat eventually grew into an all-district defensive lineman who controlled whole sides of the line of scrimmage. Coaching Sweat was easy, Southern said. He describes the Outland Trophy winner as fun-loving and happy. Conducting practices against Sweat was a different story, however. 

Southern’s son was the Huntsville quarterback during Sweat’s senior year. He’d come home lots of days frustrated because of how little the offense was able to accomplish at a given practice because of Sweat’s disruptive nature. If All-Big 12 offensive linemen struggle to move Sweat off his spot, imagine doing so directly after 11th-grade Algebra class. 

“We couldn’t get anything done in practice unless we took him out of the team drills,” Southern said. “There were times he’d back off in practice because he knew that we couldn’t get anything accomplished offensively. He was a different breed.” 

Southern says only three players in his long career of coaching high school football possessed the type of Sunday potential of Sweat. One is on the Miami Dolphins – tight end Durham Smythe. The other was quarterback David Ash, who played at Texas before concussions ended his career. Sweat will hear his name called in the 2024 NFL Draft, maybe in the first round. 

That’s rare air for a kid from Huntsville. The town has a population of just over 45,000 and is best known for the giant Sam Houston statue that’s viewable on I-45 while driving from Houston to Dallas. The poverty rate is over 14 percent and the main economy driver in town is the Texas State Penitentiary, which opened in 1849 and houses the execution chamber that operates all the executions within the state of Texas. 

The last star football player to make it out was cornerback Justin Gilbert. Sweat returned home over the Christmas break for his inaugural Tee Sweat Christmas Toy Giveaway, which took place on Dec. 23 and provided toys for kids aged 3 through 13 at Emancipation Park on Martin L. King Drive. 

“I just want to let the kids know that this is a way to get out of Huntsville because it is hard growing up there,” Sweat said. “My hometown means a lot to me.” 

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