Complimentary quarterbacks a new theme to Pirate offense

Published 3:59 pm Monday, September 28, 2015

DAVID CUCCHIARA | DAILY NEWS A NEW FACE: Quarterback James Summers shakes off a defender and bolts up field for a touchdown during Saturday’s game against Virginia Tech. Summers finished with 169 yards on the ground.

A NEW FACE: Quarterback James Summers shakes off a defender and bolts up field for a touchdown during Saturday’s game against Virginia Tech. Summers finished with 169 yards on the ground.

GREENVILLE — To East Carolina football fans, James Summers was only a tale until this weekend.

Summers’ road to Greenville was a long one, but his first appearance in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium brought light to an otherwise dreary day.

The former North Carolina commit, Hinds Community College standout and Greensboro native dove into Pirate fans’ hearts and the eyes of the American Athletic Conference with a three-touchdown performance in a marquee 35-28 win over Virginia Tech Saturday.

Summers narrowly missed breaking the school quarterback rushing record in his first significant action, as he carried the ball for 169 yards and two touchdowns.

ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill spoke very highly of Summers, who did not know he would have an opportunity to play quarterback for the Pirates until about a month ago. He saw his first action from under center against Florida, where the junior threw four passes and rushed the ball once.

“You have to be patient with everyone, James was thinking receiver for a whole year,” McNeill said after Saturday’s win. “We took our time and groomed him and got him ready in practice. He was told probably the week that Kurt (Benkert) got hurt, so I was proud of the way he’s grasped the offense.”

Blake Kemp started the Virginia Tech game at quarterback and, after two turnovers on his first two series, led back-to-back scoring drives on some of his most effective drives of the season. At the start of the second quarter, the Pirates turned to Summers, who was simply part of the plan, McNeill said.

Summers felt that his ability to adapt to his role at quarterback for ECU came with the help of his teammates.

“My teammates always have my back,” Summers said on Saturday. “The day I came in they’d say, ‘hey, just be patient and you’ll make a lot of big plays for us.’ Tonight that happened.”

It was a culmination of many years’ work for the junior to end up the hero of a Division I game. Out of high school, the highly touted four-start athlete committed to North Carolina in January of 2012, but he never made it onto campus. Summers ended up at Hinds Community College in Mississippi, which has produced such NFL players as Anquan Boldin and Malcolm Butler. There, he excelled as a dual threat quarterback.

At the tail end of his junior college days, ECU and McNeill were still hot on his trail and picked up his commitment, though quarterbacking was not Summers’ priority. He just wanted a chance.

Though there may be a decision to make with who will be taking the majority of snaps at quarterback between Kemp and Summers, there will be no issues with comfortability or animosity in the huddle. The pair of quarterbacks seem to have a genuine friendly-competitive push with each other.

“Me and James have been buddies for a while actually, we lived together in the spring,” said Kemp following the game. “We have different skill sets and whatever it takes to make this team win, that’s what we’re going to use in each game.”

Summers added that he did not see the situation as a quarterback controversy or anything of the sort, but just a chance to show defenses different systems.

“My mentality hasn’t changed, it’s just keep working hard, keep learning more everyday and just working with my teammates,” Summers said. “Blake Kemp is a great guy. I love working with him and I think that room is just going to lighten up even more.”

Junior receiver Isaiah Jones, who reeled in a 26-yard ESPN top-play Saturday from Summers, said that despite the short time he’s had to work with him, he already feels comfortable.

“James is my boy, I hang it with him all the time,” Jones said. “He’s an even better man than he is a player.”

With the implementation of the true dual-threat quarterback into the offense, ECU will continue to develop that dangerous dynamic as the season goes on, according to sophomore receiver Trevon Brown.

“Now, I believe when you have to prepare for a quarterback running that leaves (the receivers) a lot of gaps to get open,” Brown said.

Summers is still listed as the backup to Kemp headed into the Southern Methodist game on Saturday, but the two-quarterback system is expected to be used in the coming weeks.