Summers ready for another showdown with Hokies

Published 10:52 am Thursday, September 22, 2016

GREENVILLE — East Carolina football’s offensive utility man James Summers had a day to remember last year against Virginia Tech. He knows there’s a target on his back heading into this year’s matchup.

The then-junior played his first significant snaps for the Pirates in the 35-28 ECU win at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

He took advantage.

He rushed for 169 yards, just shy of a school record for a quarterback, and slung the ball eight times for five completions and racked up 110 yards through the air. When all was said and done, Summers had three touchdowns on the day and anchored the Pirates’ best win of the season.

Long-time Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster has certainly committed time to scheming around Summers headed into Saturday’s game in Blacksburg, Virginia.

“I’m very excited because I know they’re after me,” Summers said Tuesday after a rainy practice at the Cliff Moore Practice Facility. “But it’s all good. I know I just have to make plays like usual.”

As he said, making plays has been usual for Summers early this season. He is the Pirates’ second leading rusher, behind running back Anthony Scott, with 207 yards (Scott has just two more yards). He is averaging around 8.5 yards per touch, between his 27 rushes, one pass and two receptions.

Summers was working at quarterback last fall when he took off for 279 total yards against the Hokies. It was in an effort to get the playmaker as many touches as possible. Keeping the ball in his hands has been the plan this year as Summers has lined up behind the center, next to starting quarterback Philip Nelson as a running back, on the outside as a receiver and even as a makeshift fullback in a packed three-man backfield.

He said it’s about the team for him, and finding ways to be useful.

“It’s my role, so I just embrace my role,” Summers said. “I would never leave my teammates hanging. I always come to practice ready and with an open mind. As long as I do that, I should be fine.”

ECU offensive coordinator Tony Petersen said it’s that open mindedness that helps him use Summers in so many roles.

“It’s great (to use him in so many roles),” Petersen said. “He’s a smart kid. He spends most of his time in my room with me so he knows what to do at quarterback, what to do at running back, we’ll line him up at wide receiver some, but we have got to find as many ways to play him as possible.”

Petersen knows what happened last year. He was the first to admit that he liked what he saw. However, he isn’t about to commit a game plan to Summers based on last year’s outing. Much of last year’s play calling was done out of necessity as ECU had little passing threat beyond throwing short passes and relying on the skill of its receivers.

This year, Nelson and the offensive line help open things up in terms of play calling.

“It was fun to watch that game last year. I think the rain had a lot to do with that and helped with that,” Petersen said. “But James had a great game that day. We’re going to try to put the ball in James’ hands as much as possible. We’re going to keep finding different ways to play him, get him in there and get his touches and I think he’ll always be tough to tackle.”

New ECU single-game receptions leader Zay Jones said he has worked with Summers on his route running and other small things that come with the receiver position, though he said it’s important not to “over-coach someone who is such a natural athlete.”

Jones is not surprised by Summers’ dynamic play this season and said it was just a matter of time for ECU fans to see how explosive he can be.

“I knew he could do it. It was just proving it to the people who didn’t know he could do it,” Jones said. “It’s great to see him flourish at so many positions, and he honestly deserves it. The way he works and the way he prepares for game day, I’m glad he has the opportunity to showcase his ability.”