‘He makes big people look small’: T’Vondre Sweat is a Texas-sized star

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YOU CAN’T MISS T’Vondre Sweat. It’s not just that he’s 6-foot-4 and 362 pounds, although it has something to do with that.

But then you add the chain. It has a dinner-plate sized, diamond-encrusted medallion that says “MAKE ‘EM SWEAT.” He doesn’t know how much it weighs, only that it sometimes hurts his neck.

“He’s about 380 with that big chain on,” said Jay Oliphant, Sweat’s high school basketball coach.

Sweat loves the chain, which is inspired by the giant clocks Public Enemy rapper Flavor Flav wears. It’s big, it’s flashy.

It was also his mom’s idea.

That makes sense because if you talk to anybody who knows Sweat, the first thing they’ll tell you is that he’s a mama’s boy.

“You get out there and make ’em sweat,” Lashunda Ross, his mom, said of the inspiration for the medallion. “They’re nervous when they see you. They always have two people double-teaming you.”

The medallion has a second side, though. One that people rarely see. And that was all Sweat’s work. The back is covered with photos of his mom, his great uncle, his grandmother and great-grandmother.

This is the duality of T’Vondre Sweat, the wrecking ball who is the physical embodiment of Texas’ climb to its first College Football Playoff appearance. The goofy, fun-loving mama’s boy is also the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and weeks ago claimed Texas’ first Outland Trophy, given to the best interior lineman in the country, since 1977.

He’ll play a key role for the Longhorns on Monday when No. 3 Texas faces No. 2 Washington in the College Football Playoff at the Allstate Sugar Bowl (8:45 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN App) with the Longhorns looking to free up defenders to slow down the Huskies’ dangerous passing attack.

“He is hard to move,” Texas defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said Thursday. “He takes up a lot of space. Takes multiple blockers, and so that frees up the linebackers. Gives us a little bit more luxury to play with lighter boxes.”

And Sweat has already served notice to the Huskies that he’s ready.

“Let me see how I can say this … They’re a great group of guys, the O-line,” Sweat said. “I mean, they won awards. They’re just awards to me. You know what I mean? And they’ve got to face guys like us, so we’ll see how it goes down.”

He has made ’em sweat all year, following four years of unheralded dirty work on the D-line, with his highest accolade being named honorable mention All-Big 12 last year. He has managed to break out despite arriving as one of the lowest-ranked recruits on Texas’ roster, a 3-star on a team that has long underachieved with superstar prospects.

He did it by putting on 100 pounds since leaving high school in Huntsville, a town of about 45,000 in East Texas about 70 miles north of Houston. He did it by smothering defenders — Texas allowed just 80.9 rushing yards per game, fourth best nationally — flexing and mean-mugging all over the field.

None of this surprised his coach at Huntsville High, Rodney Southern, who told Sweat when he played for him that he’d eventually be an NFL player. But Southern is surprised at just how giant Sweat has become.

“The last time he came to my office, he walked in the door, stood in the doorway and I mean, he filled up the entire doorway,” he said. “What you see now is just a bigger, happier version of what I had.”


LIKE THE CHAIN, there are also two sides to T’Vondre Sweat.

“He plays like a bully,” Texas nickelback Jahdae Barron said. “A bully, in my eyes, is somebody that wants something and takes things from whoever they want. That’s who Sweat is as a player.”

“Violent,” linebacker Jaylan Ford said. “He makes big people look small. This dude’s a beast. He’s literally making people move out of his way.”

When he’s not on the field?

“Goofy,” Barron said.

“I know everyone on the team,” Ford said. “I’d say [Sweat’s] probably the easiest person to talk to, honestly. He just talks to anybody and everybody. It doesn’t really matter. He’ll probably have a 30-minute conversation with the guy. He’s probably the nicest, softest, down-to-earth guy.”

He didn’t even want to play football to begin with — “I was a coward, I can’t lie,” he said of his early years in the sport — but his mom and his aunt Lisa concocted a plan to help him get excited. Lisa would make cookies, and it was clear to five-year-old T’Vondre that if he scored, he’d get one.

“He’d look over to see if she had the cookies, then he’d take off running and make a touchdown,” Ross said. “He was greedy, and he can eat.” The reward system worked.

“Maybe that’s why I’m so big,” Sweat said.

Now, as a fifth-year senior, he’s the second-biggest player on Texas’ best team since 2009.

Not that he wasn’t big at Huntsville. He was 6-4, 280, so athletic that he played at defensive end, once racking up 4.5 sacks in a game. He also starred on the basketball team, where he was named the district’s defensive player of the year.

Sweat brags about how nice he was on the court, saying he could play any position from point guard to center.

“I’ve had a couple of good bigs at Huntsville, but he’s the only big that I’ve had that could actually go out there at 260-plus pounds and he could guard a point guard, he can handle the ball, he can do a little of it all,” Oliphant said. “He was telling you the truth on that.”

Even while reminiscing and hyperbolizing, Sweat is humble. “I shoulda gone D-III in basketball,” he said.

Basketball spotlighted his athleticism, kept him in shape and showed how light he was on his feet, making him more attractive to Texas, where former defensive line coach Oscar Giles took a shine to Sweat. He started racking up offers, about 17 in all. But Texas made the most serious push to get Sweat to sign.

“We wondered why not many people were on him,” said Bryan Carrington, the cornerbacks coach at Arizona State, who was one of Sweat’s main recruiters at Texas when he was the Longhorns’ director of recruiting. “He got offered by Texas A&M, Alabama, TCU, Missouri. But we didn’t feel like those schools recruited him hard enough.”

Sweat agreed, saying there was only one consistent school in his ear. “I really felt like they didn’t want me,” Sweat said. “Nobody was recruiting me hard but Texas and Coach Giles.”

It might not have mattered anyway. Texas’ location made all the difference for his priorities.

“I’m a mama’s boy,” Sweat said. “I didn’t want to be so far but I didn’t want to be so close.”

And Sweat joked that growing up as a huge fan of Kevin Durant held a little sway, too.

“Honestly, the reason I came to Texas was because I thought I was going to meet KD,” Sweat said.


SWEAT ARRIVED IN Austin and embraced his new home. He says he started connecting with people outside of football, but was getting a chance to get early playing time as well. Then, he went all-in, and fell in love with country music.

“I’d love to be buddies with Luke Combs,” he said, saying “Crazy Beautiful” is his favorite song, adding he also is a huge fan of Morgan Wallen and Brett Young.

“Some of my teammates don’t even like riding in the car with me,” Sweat said. “Ride with me, you leave me alone. You’re gonna listen to this.”

And then he got to work in the weight room — and at the dining table. “When you play at the University of Texas, one thing they do is make sure you eat,” Sweat said. “You don’t have to worry about food.”

By 2021, Sweat packed on those 100 pounds and looked the part, but was uncertain of his future when Tom Herman was fired and Steve Sarkisian replaced him. But Sarkisian hired former Longhorns (and Alabama and NFL) defensive line coach Bo Davis back, and he brought with him a reputation as a molder of NFL talent.

That fall, Texas was blown out at Iowa State, 30-7, and Davis got on the bus after the game and heard laughing. A recording of Davis’ reaction was leaked to social media, and it wasn’t pretty.

“This s— ain’t a game to me,” Davis screamed. “If you think it’s a game, get the f— off this bus. I got my ass kicked and you motherf—ers were laughing.”

It became an inflection point in the Longhorns’ turnaround, something Sarkisian discussed this season after Texas went back to Ames and won, 26-16.

“I think you could feel the passion in Bo’s voice,” Sarkisian said. “Bo made it very clear that we’re here to win championships and we’re here to compete for championships and that’s day in and day out … The fact that people remember that, I think, is a good thing.”

Last month, Sweat was on a podcast and said he was the player laughing, joking that he thought maybe the statute of limitations was up on it.

Davis didn’t say if he knew, but the two have come a long way since that moment. Sweat says that Davis forged a brotherhood among the defensive linemen that has made all of them better, with Sweat and Byron Murphy becoming perhaps the best pair of tackles in the country.

“It’s been fun coaching him because he’s got some humor with him and you enjoy that,” Davis said. “But he is serious about when it’s time to go to work.”

Davis’ handiwork has been evident in Sweat’s breakout season, which came in his fifth year after he decided to bypass the NFL for one last year at Texas.

“He added several zeros to the dollar amount he’s gonna get and maybe a couple of commas,” Southern said. But the NFL will have its own assessment of his size.

“Some will question the value of a 360-pound defensive tackle in the first round, but I just really like the player and think he could help an NFL defense in any situation,” Mel Kiper Jr. wrote in his most recent Big Board, where he has Sweat ranked as his No. 21 overall prospect.

In 2015, Alabama coach Nick Saban told ESPN that behemoth tackles like 6-5, 349-pound Terrence Cody, a two-time consensus All-American, were going out of style.

“Cody couldn’t play for us now,” Saban said. “It would be hard to put him in the game, the way it is now, and he was a great player for us. Five or six years ago, nobody could block the guy.”

Davis was also Cody’s D-line coach. But he said that doesn’t hold true for Sweat.

With Sweat in the game, Texas gets pressure on opposing quarterbacks 38% of the time, compared to 31% when he’s not, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Opposing quarterbacks complete 58% of their passes to 62% when he’s out, and are off-target on passes 16% of the time compared to 7% when he’s not on the field.

“A lot of guys are big, but they don’t have any hip flexibility,” Davis said. “[Sweat] can move like a 290-pound guy. He can turn and get skinny. That’s the amazing part you see when you watch him and see the things he does.”

Sweat said he’s aware of the discussions, saying Davis let him know how to end them.

“If you don’t want the weight to be an issue, go be a dawg,” Davis told him. “Don’t come to me, try to come out two or three plays. Go be you.”

Sweat has been himself all year. And he and the Longhorns have reaped the rewards.

“His level of maturity and growth as a teammate has been awesome to watch,” Kwiatkowski said. “He’s a very influential guy in that locker room.”

Sweat has piled up awards, helped lead Texas to the CFP and even got to catch a touchdown pass and strike a premeditated Heisman pose in the Big 12 championship game against Oklahoma State. “Scoring a touchdown in my first Big 12 championship game, and winning it was just amazing,” he said. “I mean, it can’t be a better feeling than that.”

The big man has made ’em sweat all year.



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