Joseph Sweeney grew up around fields that didn’t have goal posts or yard lines. It wasn’t until middle school that he left the rural pastures behind and started chasing receivers instead of cattle.
How Sweeney came to Highland Park High School from Scurry, a community of about 700 residents in southern Kaufman County, is a family matter. But the cornerback knows that among his big-city teammates, the circumstances behind his small-town upbringing are pretty unique.
“You don’t have [agriculture] classes at Highland Park,” Sweeney said. “There are hundreds of kids in the hallway here, and there it’s like 300 people in the whole school. There’s cows on the school campus.”
Indeed, Sweeney is probably one of the few HPHS students to have taken a wood shop class, something he did when he returned to Scurry-Rosser High School during the first semester of his junior year.
He returned to HPHS last spring, and this season has emerged as one of the top defensive players for the Scots. For Sweeney, coming back to HP for his senior year meant reuniting with many of the same guys who shared the field with him from seventh through 10th grade.
Last year, Sweeney was an all-district defensive back at Scurry-Rosser, a Class 3A school that competes alongside Sunnyvale, Commerce, and Caddo Mills. He admits the atmosphere at games there is quite different.
“I loved playing in the country, but it took a little getting used to,” Sweeney said. “Here I get to play with my friends.”
Sweeney also plans to compete during the spring track season as a sprinter and jumper, although he wasn’t always an athlete. Still, the physical labor from his chores while living on the family farm during elementary school likely prepared him well.
“I remember chopping wood and throwing hay bales,” said Sweeney, who also was attacked by stray geese one time while bringing groceries from the car into the house.
HP head coach Randy Allen said Sweeney is typically matched up against the top receiver on opposing teams. He’s also seen some limited action as a receiver and kick returner.
“He’s a good cover guy but he’s also a good tackler,” Allen said. “He’s got great ball skills and hand-eye coordination. We couldn’t be more pleased with his effort and his attitude.”
Sweeney is one of several new starters this season for the HP defense. Yet as the Scots open the Class 6A playoffs on Friday against Irving Nimitz, he’s confident that the unit will continue to improve.
“We’ve proven to each other how good we can be if we put our mind to it,” he said. “Once we hit our full potential, there’s going to be no stopping us.”