Four-star football prospect Ryner Swanson has met face-to-face with some of the biggest names in college football the past few months, coaches such as Alabama’s Nick Saban, Texas’ Steve Sarkisian and Oregon’s Dan Lanning.

“I am just a little surfer California boy, and I have the opportunity to play Division I football, I can’t believe it. And BYU is the place. I want to be my happiest, and also play great football. So BYU is definitely the best place for it, and they are also definitely getting better in going to the Big 12.” — new BYU football recruit Ryner Swanson

But none of those coaches of big-time programs made as much of an impact on the 6-foot-4, 240-pound tight end as a relatively quiet, unassuming tight ends coach at BYU named Steve Clark.

“Oh yeah, coach Clark was Day 1, as some guys like to say,” Swanson said. “He was the first one to really reach out, the first guy I developed a great relationship with in recruiting. He is such a funny, genuine guy, just a great man. I love him.”

Speaking from a cruise ship off the coast of Greece, where his family is vacationing, Swanson went in-depth on his recruitment and eventual commitment to BYU to the Deseret News on Wednesday, saying in the end he went with his heart and chose the Cougars over the likes of Texas, Oregon, Utah, Stanford and Florida.

How did Clark, head coach Kalani Sitake, offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick and the rest of the staff land a four-star tight end for the second-straight year, after netting Arizona’s Jackson Bowers last year?

“Basically BYU has always been my dream school, and when they reached out I was just so excited,” Swanson said. “I didn’t expect anything like this to happen. When other schools got into the picture, I had to make a really, really hard decision. They are great schools, in great places. But in the end BYU is where I feel I can be the most happy.”

Two days after making his official campus visit to BYU, Swanson announced with a video on Twitter on June 15 that he is bound for Provo. He will graduate from Laguna Beach High this December and enroll at BYU in January 2024.

He plans to play for the Cougars in 2024, their second season in the Big 12, and then depart on a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in January 2025.

“I think missions are the best thing you could ever do, besides marry your wife,” Swanson said. “I will play a season and then go on a mission. I just turned 17.”

Heading into a big recruiting weekend for BYU, the Cougars have six commitments from members of the 2024 signing class: Swanson, edge rusher Siosefa Brown, defensive lineman Dallin Johnson, linebacker Adney Reid, quarterback Enoch Watson and safety Thomas Prassas.

Chance Harrison, an athlete from Oxnard, California, who committed back in September 2022, has withdrawn his pledge, according to his recruiting timeline on 247sports.com. 

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Swanson is and most likely will remain the gem of the Cougars’ 2024 class, as he is the No. 21 tight end recruit in the nation according to the 247 Sports composite rankings.

Rivals.com and On3.com have him as a four-star recruit.

Last year, Swanson broke onto the recruiting scene in a big way by catching 83 passes for 952 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has 1,538 receiving yards in his prep career, amazing considering he didn’t start playing organized football until his freshman year.

“I am just a little surfer California boy, and I have the opportunity to play Division I football, I can’t believe it,” Swanson said. “And BYU is the place. I want to be my happiest, and also play great football. So BYU is definitely the best place for it, and they are also definitely getting better in going to the Big 12.”

‘One of the best days of my life’

While Swanson would go on to receive more than 25 scholarship offers, he wasn’t immediately on the radar of many Power Five programs, partly due to his relatively late start in football. But BYU coaches, particularly Clark, knew all about the blond man among boys from Laguna Beach.

In March 2022, the Swansons took a trip to BYU. At the end of the visit, Clark called Ryner and his parents — Boad and Cami — into a private office and issued the then-high school sophomore his first scholarship offer.

“I just saw my mom kinda tear up,” Ryner said. “She wasn’t outright crying, but definitely tearing up. And I was in shock. I didn’t know how the process worked. But that was one of the best days of my life, for sure, with my parents there and just seeing BYU for the first time.”

That moment kicked off the Swansons’ great relationship with Clark, and is one Ryner recalled time and again as other schools began recruiting him. Oregon was the second to offer, then Utah.

“I got to go to Alabama and I met Nick Saban, which, by the way, did not go well. That guy is super intimidating. I kinda froze.” — new BYU recruit Ryner Swanson

“It is so humbling that I met all these amazing coaches,” he said. “I am so grateful to them for the opportunity. I got to go to Alabama and I met Nick Saban, which, by the way, did not go well. That guy is super intimidating. I kinda froze.

“But I am a very lucky dude. Very few kids get to do what I am doing,” Swanson continued. “I am really fortunate. The biggest thing is just soaking it all up and having fun and just enjoying it and going with the spirit.”

Swanson said he never made an official visit to Utah, but developed a friendship with Utah tight ends coach Freddie Whittingham, head coach Kyle Whittingham’s brother.

“I love Fred, and Utah is great, but that has never really been on the table for my family,” Swanson said. “For my family, it has always only been BYU.”

A mother’s dream fulfilled

Ryner’s mother, Cami, was a standout water polo player in high school in Southern California, but didn’t play sports at BYU, despite being “6 feet tall and an amazing athlete,” according to her son.

His father, Robert “Boad” Swanson, is from Ohio and played football for Ohio University in Athens. They met in a singles ward in California. It has always been Cami Swanson’s dream that her children attend BYU.

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“Mom started talking about BYU when I was in middle school,” Ryner said. “But it had nothing to do with football. She said you gotta try harder. You gotta get good grades in high school. You gotta get straight A’s so you can get into BYU.”

Now he gets “great grades,” but football will be his ticket to his dream school.

“So football isn’t everything to me,” Ryner said. “For me, it is finding a wife and getting married in the temple. … At BYU, I can grow spiritually. There is a vibe there, a spirit there, that you can’t find at any other (college). That’s the place for me.”

Not just a football star

As his comments suggest, Ryner Swanson is a well-rounded individual whose interests extend well beyond football. He’s also into his religion, surfing, skateboarding, music, academics and more. 

He took piano lessons as a youngster, and recently began playing the guitar and singing after taking an acoustic guitar class in high school and being asked to perform a song as part of the year-end test in the class.

He chose Ed Sheeran’s hit song, “Perfect.”

“I like to think that I sang well,” he said. “People were in shock that this big football kid could play guitar and sing. I thought that was pretty funny. … I am just amazed that Heavenly Father gave me these gifts and hopefully I can use them to go play football and also use them as a missionary opportunity.”