FISHERS — The offseason conversation about Jackson Sweeney switching positions could hardly be considered a conversation.
The Royals needed a running back after former starter Chase Maxey suffered an injury preventing him from further contact sports. Hamilton Southeastern coach Scott May knew Sweeney had what it took.
The 5-10, 160-pound junior was a fast — really fast — strong, “hard-nosed kid” that May could see manning the position for varsity. Sweeney had also played some running back during his freshman year before switching to defensive back as a sophomore.
And so, the switch was made without much discussion and that didn’t bother Sweeney one bit.
“It was basically just, ‘Hey, you’ve got to get ready to play running back,’” May said. “He’s just that type of kid. He wants to play. I don’t think he’d care if I came out tomorrow and told him he’s going back to (defense). He’d be fine with that, too.”
Chances are, though, Sweeney won’t be moving again anytime soon. Three games into the season, Sweeney is averaging 110 yards per game and has developed into one of HSE’s early-season strengths, especially paired with an offensive line packed with returning starters.
His 330 rushing yards are the second most among in the Hoosier Crossroads Conference, just 28 yards shy of Noblesville’s Ryan Barnes. Sweeney didn’t quietly accrue his yardage, either.
On his first night as the varsity starter, Sweeney found a hole late in the fourth quarter and, in a flash, tore upfield for a 65-yard touchdown run that helped clinch HSE’s upset victory over then-N0. 2 Carmel — his second touchdown of the night as he finished his debut with 139 yards on 15 carries.
“I kind of surprised myself,” Sweeney said. “I hadn’t really played running back since eighth grade… but after that (run), I felt more confident in my abilities.”
Sweeney might have been surprised, but Royals running back coach Jeremy Lohman knew enough about his “hard-working” new starter to recognize the potential. Lohman credits much of that to Sweeney’s attention to detail in practice, “getting 2 percent better every day.”
“He doesn’t make the same mistake twice,” Lohman said. “Being coachable is oftentimes not making the same mistake twice when a coach says something. You don’t have to do something three, four times in a row with him. He just gets it and fixes anything you ask him to fix.”
Adding someone like Sweeney to the offense certainly gets the Royals moving, but the important fact — one that Lohman makes sure Sweeney remembers to stay humble — is that he is hardly doing it alone.
The Royals (2-1) aren’t ranked eighth in Class 6A simply because of Sweeney’s legs. Senior quarterback Adam Mullett leads the conference in passing yards (796) and completions (54-for-100), finding five different receivers for six touchdown passes this season.
Defensively, the Royals have six different defensive players with 20 or more tackles this year, including senior defensive back Brock Burns, who has also nabbed a conference-high two interceptions.
And then there are the veteran big men opening up holes for Sweeney in the first place.
“When you get a good run, chances are it isn’t just you making a good play,” Lohman said. “And he tells (his teammates) that: ‘Great work, guys. Good job.’”
May said he anticipates even more production to come naturally for Sweeney the more experience he gets. Much of that calls upon Sweeney’s smarts — he has a 4.0 grade point average — and his instincts to “just find a hole and (not) overanalyze it,” as young running backs tend to do.
But with so many other weapons around him, Sweeney doesn’t feel like he needs to be the guy for HSE every time he takes the field. He knows where he fits right now in the conversation and, for as long as he can, his coaches are glad to have him contributing.
“We don’t feel like we need to ask him to do more than he does,” Lohman said. “He does exactly what we need him to do.”
Follow IndyStar reporter Jordan J. Wilson on Twitter: @Wilsonable07. Email him at email@example.com.