Put yourself in Patrick Swearinger's shoes. Thomas Stone's most versatile and explosive player began the season as the Cougars' starting quarterback. The former tailback had become a status symbol at his new position: Big Man on Campus, even though the senior had never played the position. The thinking of Cougars Coach Steve Lindsay was to put the ball in the hands of his best player as often as possible.

But the Cougars started 1-1, and before they lost their next game, Lindsay had some tough news for Swearinger: He would no longer be their quarterback.

"At first, I thought I wasn't good enough," said Swearinger, who returned to tailback. "I was kind of upset with myself. If you're at quarterback, everyone else is depending on you. So if you lose, it's the quarterback's fault."

Now, look at who is calling the signals: Swearinger's best friend -- senior David Brunson. Never mind that Brunson began practice in August "at the bottom of the depth chart," Lindsay said. Gone was the triple-option offense because Brunson would lead a traditional I-formation backfield.

This might have seemed like the harshest of demotions.

"That was what it looked like at first," said Lindsay, who praised the way Swearinger handled the change. "But it was nothing negative at Patrick. He did everything we asked, but we struggled. We weren't going to make him into a passer, and it wasn't going to work running the option with Patrick.

"I think we've found the right chemistry now."

It's hard to argue with the results. With Brunson under center, and Swearinger taking handoffs and catching passes out of the backfield, Thomas Stone (4-2) has won three straight and is in the playoff picture in the Maryland 4A East Region.

Those playoff hopes will get a serious test tomorrow night, when the Cougars host Lackey (4-2), which needs a victory to stay in the hunt for a 3A South Region spot.

After totaling just 32 points in their first three games, the Cougars have scored 91 with Brunson, who also plays outside linebacker, getting the snaps. In last weekend's 21-14 victory over Calvert, Brunson completed 6 of 10 passes for 131 yards -- by far his best line of the season.

Meantime, Swearinger now has more chances to play in the open field, where he is most dangerous. Look no further than his career-high 215 rushing yards Oct. 10 in a 16-13 victory over Chopticon, the Braves' first defeat.

"We needed a real passer if we wanted to get to the playoffs, and I'm not a real passer," Swearinger said. "I'm proud of him. He's made a lot of progress, and he's stepped up big."

Said Brunson: "I took it as an opportunity to show everyone that I could get the job done. [Swearinger and I] have been playing together since [youth leagues], so it wasn't a problem at all. He's more a natural runner, so it was a perfect fit for everyone to make that change."

Thomas Stone tailback Patrick Swearinger, shown running for the Cougars, who have three straight after Swearinger shifted from quarterback.