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The Hurricane Tight Ends That Transitioned From the Hardwood to the NFL

In a time where the most ambitious crossover in the history of film reigns supreme at the box office, SOTU examines a couple crossovers stars that developed in Miami.

Oklahoma v Miami Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images

We’re just weeks removed from what was touted as the most ambitious crossover film. Dating back to when Robert Downey Jr. first donned the red and yellow suit of iron, the movie industry has bowed to the dominance of comics being portrayed in film. This week marks the penultimate film in the Marvel Universe Avengers: Infinity Wars—a movie that promotes a major shakeup in future films with heroes in tights.

Ambitious crossovers are not limited to the silver screen, however. The University of Miami Hurricanes football programs has produced their fair share of team ups that should not go unnoticed. Is it as big as the Guardians of the Galaxy cozying up with Thor? Probably not. Yet there are some good stories to be told.

Jimmy Graham Joins Hurricanes Football as a Tight End

Miami v Texas
For Jimmy Graham, boxing out the competition would take on a different meaning from his days on Miami’s Mens Basketball team.
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The crossover between basketball players going to play football was in mid-bloom in 2009 when a young Jimmy Graham decided to use his final year of college eligibility to play Hurricanes football. In a time where the Chargers still called San Diego home, with TE Antonio Gates setting what would become the standard at the position today, the trend was to find the next star athlete to play the position.

Graham’s 15 rebounds and 5 blocks against North Carolina in 2009 still rank among the top five in each stat in UM’s single-game record book. After starting 40 games as a forward for the basketball program from 2005 through 2009, the Greensboro, NC, native shed his #00 jersey for an 80 as he looked to make the transition from the hardwood to the gridiron in 2009. In his lone football season, Graham caught 17 receptions for 213 receiving yards and five touchdowns. That season, only WR Leonard Hankerson caught more TD passes than the senior tight end.

In just a single season, Graham went from an unknown to a blockbuster hit, earning invites to the NFL scouting combine, followed by private workouts with interested teams. Keep in mind, Graham had not played football since his freshman year in high school. Praised for his soft hands and ability to bring an ‘above the rim’ mentality to the field, it was evident that the 6’8” 250 pound forward intrigued evaluators at the next level.

After being taken by the New Orleans Saints in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft, Graham has enjoyed a seven-year career that’s highlighted with one All-Pro and five Pro Bowl nods. Currently a member of the Green Bay Packers, Graham hopes that his crossover story concludes with a Super Bowl ring before he calls it a career.

Four-Year Hurricanes’ Hoops Starter Erik Swoope Makes an NFL Roster

Transitioning from basketball to football has become a more common practice it seems, especially regarding the tight end position. Not to be forgotten, Miami has also produced another basketball-player-turned-TE-prodigy in Erik Swoope. Standing at six-foot-five, Swoope was known for his versatility on the hardwood. It’s that same versatility that provided the opportunity for the Lake Elsinore, California, native to make a living corralling balls for receptions instead of collecting rebounds.

Erik Swoope
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

While there are similarities that can be drawn between Graham and Swoope, there’s a significant difference between the two tight ends in that Swoope did not have a football background before. Swoope was a basketball star at Harvard-Westlake High School in Los Angeles—a school which is known for producing Hollywood alumni the likes of Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal and Jason Segel, as well as hoop talent such as Jason and Jarron Collins. Swoope did not play football during his time at the U, though he did cross paths and befriend Graham after receiving many comparisons to him as he was transitioning to his first NFL season with the New Orleans Saints.

Yet, it was not one of Miami’s football coaches who recommended Swoope try on shoulder pads for the first time. Rather, after a season-ending loss in the ACC tournament, it was Jim Larranaga who informed the senior forward of the interest from the Denver Broncos, who wanted to work him out. That workout did not pan out with Swoope going to the Mile High City, yet his interest in making the change to the gridiron did raise eyebrows across the NFL, eventually leading to the Indianapolis Colts signing the project tight end after he went undrafted in 2014.

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Minnesota Vikings
Although he never played a single down for the ’Canes, TE Erik Swoope looks to payoff the Colts investment in the upcoming 2018-’19 regular season.
Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Swoope has bounced around the Colts’ organization for the past three seasons, after being waived and then claimed on the the team’s practice roster in his first two seasons. He suffered a season-ending knee injury that put him on the shelf for 2017.

For a player who went from a budding star above the rim to a mismatched chess piece on the gridiron, Swoope has made tremendous progress from his days of watching the NFL Network and watching clips from the NFL Scouting Combine.

Miami only got a taste of the potential that each of these TEs possessed. However, that talent was ultimately discovered and cultivated while each were at the U. Perhaps there are more flamboyant crossovers in the entire history of the University of Miami (that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson guy has produced a unique path to stardom). In regards to transitioning from one sport to another, this pair of tight ends have definitely caught the attention of the NFL, illustrating why the University of Miami continues to be TEU.