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Texas DT T’Vondre Sweat enjoying breakout senior season

The Huntsville product opted to return for a fifth season on the Forty Acres and is raising his draft stock as a result.

NCAA Football: Kansas at Texas Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

AUSTIN, TexasTexas Longhorns fifth-year senior defensive tackle T’Vondre Sweat is the team’s jokester, known as the class clown who always has a smile on his face and always brings up his teammate’s energy. In fact, if you ask Texas senior linebacker Jaylan Ford about Sweat’s funniest moment, it’s hard to pick just one.

“I think he’s got so many jokes, it’s hard to tell one specific one,” Ford said on Monday. “I think with him he just says the right thing at the right time and everyone starts busting out laughing just because he’s a funny guy. If he starts laughing, everybody else laughs with him.”

On the field, however, Sweat is known for his business-like approach beyond an occasional crack on the sideline.

“Not on the field,” Ford said of Sweat’s joking demeanor. “On the sideline, he might. Usually on the field, he’s pretty much business. So I will say for Sweat, even though he’s a funny guy, he has a switch where he knows when he can turn it on and when to be serious.”

But it’s not the on-field, off-field switch for Sweat making jokes that is currently defining the Huntsville product — it’s the flip he’s switched from last season to this season after announcing his return for a fifth season on the Forty Acres in late December after the Alamo Bowl loss to Washington.

The 6’4, 362-pounder was a consensus three-star prospect in the 2019 recruiting class ranked as the No. 608 player nationally and the No. 45 defensive tackle, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. In early 2018, Sweat committed to Texas over 16 other offers, including Alabama, Arkansas, Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, TCU, and Texas A&M.

Listed at 249 pounds in high school, Sweat began his career with the Longhorns at 320 pounds before playing at 335 pounds or more over the last three seasons. A surprise contributor as a freshman, Sweat played in all 13 games, recording nine tackles, two passes broken up, one sack, one tackle for loss, and one fumble recovery. In 2020, Sweat’s production increased to 22 tackles, four tackles for loss, one sack, one pass breakup, one quarterback hurry, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery before notching 22 tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack, and three pass breakups as a junior. Last year, Sweat started eight games and was productive for the Longhorns with 29 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, six quarterback hurries, and three pass breakups.

So Sweat has been a longtime contributor for the Longhorns, entering the 2023 season with nine starts over 48 appearances, but the difference now is just how disruptive Sweat has been this year with an impact that goes far beyond the stat sheet, which shows 15 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, one sack, one pass broken up, and three quarterback hurries.

While the big defensive lineman is a half tackle for loss away from tying his career high in that category, it’s his consistency holding down the middle of the Longhorns defense from play to play and game to game, something he’s arguably doing better than any other Power Five interior defensive lineman.

And when Sweat flashes, he really flashes, like he did in a play against Kansas that featured a snatch and swim move against a three-year starter for the Jayhawks that showcased Sweat’s powerful hands, strong technique, and quickness for his size.

The play probably didn’t go into the stat sheet for Sweat, but it does demonstrate just how difficult opponents have found blocking him with one offensive lineman.

Sweat has seen his stock rise the highest and the fastest of any Texas defensive linemen this year, but he’s part of a group that has been extremely difficult to block for every opponent and is allowing the Texas linebacking corps the ability to make plays free from offensive linemen consistently climbing to the second level.

“What they’re doing is making it easier for me to go make plays. Week in and week out the opposing team has to scheme, ‘Okay, how are we going to get away from these guys?’ Because for the past five games, that’s what it’s been, trying to stay away from T’Vondre, Murphy, the rest of those guys on the D-line just because they’re so dominant,” Texas senior linebacker Jaylan Ford said on Monday.

“It’s hard to single block those kind of guys, so I think it makes it harder to scheme and it makes it easier for guys like me, a linebacker, who don’t have to worry about O-linemen always getting to you and it kind of lets you play free. So what they do doesn’t go unseen, especially on the defensive side.”

It’s a team effort in the trenches for the Longhorns that has seen Sweat and Murphy develop throughout Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian’s time with the Longhorns.

“I think the first thing that jumps out to me is their development from where they were in year one and how far they’ve come in the program not only as players, but as people, as leaders in the program,” Sarkisian said in September. “I think they’re very impactful, one in their play, right? And they make really critical plays at critical moments, but to who they are on a daily basis, I think they set the tone in that defensive line room, in our entire defense, and a lot of times on our team. I think that they’ve helped change kind of the mindset of a lot of the other players in that defensive line room and their development.”

Position coach Bo Davis, who has a reputation as one of the best defensive line coaches in the country, deserves credit for the development of Sweat, according to Sarkisian, helping him make impact plays for the Longhorns. What the two interior linemen are doing goes deeper than the influence of Davis, though.

“I do think it starts with Murph and Sweat and what they’ve done and the work that they’ve put in for three years to get themselves to this point to play this style and this brand of football and then most notably to be able to make those plays that they’re making a critical moments. It’s one thing to play well, but how well do you play when you’ve got to have it and we’ve seen it from Sweat now I think he has two fourth-down stops where he’s literally just defeating a block. It wasn’t so much a scheme, it was him making a play. And so on that front, you know, I’m proud of those guys for what they’re doing on the field, but I’m probably equally as proud of them of who they are off the field and what they’re like on a daily basis in our buildings.”

Making those type of plays catches the attention of scouts and evaluators.

There’s even talk about Sweat playing his way into the first round.

Not bad for a jokester.