The Paul Hornung Award was established in 2010 to honor “the most versatile player in college football.”
As with most major awards, it has become the domain of players from the Power Five conferences, won by athletes whose versatility is usually contained to the traditional running and catching, with a little kick returning thrown in on the side.
That’s a shame, since no one in the country fits the description of “most versatile” better than ECU’s triple-threat Jack Of All Trades James Summers.
Sure, his statistics aren’t the kind that jump off the page and attract the attention of the talking heads handing out helmet stickers on ESPN. His numerical contribution in Saturday’s win against N.C. State consisted of just 46 yards rushing and one catch for 39 yards.
Numbers alone, however, can’t accurately quantify the impact Summers had on the game.
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Lining up at quarterback, running back and for the first time in his career with the Pirates, wide receiver, it seemed as though the senior from Greensboro did something special every time he touched the ball.
Even when the ball wasn’t in his hands, the threat of his doing something special commanded such attention from the entire Wolfpack defense that it opened things up for other playmakers — as it did for Anthony Scott on a critical fourth-and-one play from ECU’s own 39.
Consider that of his six rushing attempts, most of which came on direct snaps from center, Summers accounted for two touchdowns and two fourth down conversions of his own. He’s also caught a pass and completed a pass in the opening two games of the season. And he may still have more tricks up his sleeve as the Pirates move forward into conference play.
“James Summers is about as complete a football player as I’ve ever been around, period,” Pirates coach Scottie Montgomery said. “The position flexibility that he gives us, we don’t take for granted. We know how hard it is to go and prepare. Just imagine if you had five jobs and you only have the same eight hours to do those five jobs. That’s what he does on a weekly basis.”
That Summers has a varied skill set and game-changing talent is hardly a surprise. He showed it on numerous occasions last season.
A junior college quarterback who was recruited by former coach Ruffin McNeill as a wide receiver, Summers burst into the consciousness of Pirates fans when — in a pinch after a season-ending injury to starter Kurt Benkert — he sloshed off the bench and back to his natural position to almost singlehandedly beat Virginia Tech in a monsoon at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
Although Summers rushed for 169 yards and threw for 110 more in that victory against the Hokies, his performance might have been the worst thing that could happen to the 2015 Pirates because of the revolving door it helped create for the rest of the season at the most important position on the field.
It’s not that Summers didn’t play well. He did. It’s just that his skill set was a square peg to the round hole that was the offense that was in place at the time.
He and the Pirates would have been better off if he’d been used in more of a change-of-pace role, a not-so-secret secret weapon more along the lines of the role in which new coach Montgomery has chosen to use him.
“Every week, we try to find more ways to get him the ball,” Montgomery said. “ It’s not tough because he can handle it, he can learn it and he likes being in and out of the game. Some guys can’t go in for four plays and play well and come out for four plays and then go back in.”
Others aren’t even interested in trying to master the skill.
Remember that newly signed minor league baseball player named Tebow? He refused to play in the NFL if he couldn’t be a quarterback, even though there were teams that were interested in him as a tight end or fullback.
Though Summers won’t likely make headlines or win any major awards the way Tebow did when he was a celebrated college football star at Florida, there’s a good chance he’ll have a longer and better professional career than the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner because of his willingness to be versatile.
So what makes him so different?
“I want to win,” Summers said.
So far, so good. The Pirates are 2-0 heading into Saturday’s game at South Carolina and Summers has been a big part of that success.
The question now is what else is he willing to do to help his team go 3-0?
Returning kicks? Covering punts? Maybe playing a little defense?
“We’ll see,” Summers said. “We’ll see when the time comes. Hopefully there is something else I can do because I love helping any way I can, even if it’s blocking.”
You know, the kind of things that most people, especially Hornung Award voters, never take the time to notice.