What aspiring young football star wouldn’t want to follow in the footsteps of Cam Newton, the Heisman Trophy winning quarterback who led the Carolina Panthers to a Super Bowl and is rapidly becoming the face of the NFL?
James Summers, for one.
Don’t misunderstand. The ECU senior does have aspirations of playing professionally, just like most of his Pirates teammates. It’s just that instead of being the next Cam Newton, he has more the realistic goal of becoming the next Joe Webb.
Joe who, you might ask?
That would be Joe Webb, one of Newton’s backups — a hybrid player whose versatility and willingness to contribute make him much more valuable to the Panthers than the typical third-string clipboard holder. He even serves as the gunner on kick coverage teams.
Summers has the potential to play just as diversified a role for ECU this season, with an even greater impact. If his work thus far in preseason camp is an accurate indication, the position he plays should have as many slashes in it as any of the horror films in the Friday the 13th series.
Depending on the situation, the 6-foot-3, 218-pound Greensboro native is a quarterback/running back/wide receiver/kick returner.
While some players might be unhappy about bouncing around from one position to another without a specific role, especially when one of his positions is the most important on the field, Summers relishes the opportunity to be a jack of all trades.
It’s a chance to to help the Pirates this season and himself in the future, because there’s a market out there for players who can fill multiple roles while taking up only one roster position.
“It’s tough, but I’m definitely cool with it,” Summers said of his positional juggling act. “It gives me a better opportunity for the next level. I love it. Love it.
“It’s just different ways they can get me to touch the ball. It’s really a good thing for me, because I can really excel at a lot of different positions. I didn’t think I could do that. It’s been eye opening.”
Summers came to ECU from Hinds Community College in Mississippi expecting to be a wide receiver, but that plan went out the window the week before last year’s opener when projected starting quarterback Kurt Benkert suffered a season-ending knee injury.
With an unexpected need under center, then-coach Ruffin McNeill moved Summers back to the position he played in high school and at Hinds.
He spent the rest of the season splitting the quarterback duties with the now-departed Blake Kemp, completing 63.8 percent of his passes for 683 yards and five touchdowns. He also ranked second on the team in rushing with 542 yards and eight more scores.
Now that the Pirates’ quarterback situation has been solidified with the emergence of projected starter Philip Nelson, new coach Scottie Montgomery has moved Summers around again in order to better utilize his talents.
But he’s still seeing plenty of practice time at quarterback just in case.
“We used him at back, we used him at quarterback, we mixed him around a little bit,” Montgomery said after last Saturday’s first intrasquad scrimmage. “As we move forward we’ll kind of stretch him out a little bit wider [as a slot receiver]. But he has a good grasp of the offense.
“He’s done a good job. It’s hard to get him on the ground no matter where he is. He’s 225 pounds or so and he’s just a hard tackle by anybody — D-line, linebacker, corners. That was pretty evident in some of the teams I watched last year in game situations. He hasn’t disappointed.”
Playing primarily as a running back, Summers rushed five times for 25 yards in Saturday’s scrimmage. He also threw a pair of passes.
His ability to run the offense gives Montgomery the option to redshirt JUCO transfer Gardner Minshew and freshman Reid Herring if he so chooses. Even if he doesn’t, Summers’ ability as a runner and passer makes him a valuable asset as a change of pace quarterback, in goal line situations and as a difficult-to-defend Wildcat threat.
“We’re going to do some really fun, interesting things with him,” Nelson said. “I’m really excited to see how Coach Mo and (offensive coordinator Tony) Petersen plan to use him.”
Summers said he would even relish the opportunity to contribute on special teams.
“I’d love to run back kicks,” he said. “It really gets me excited and gives me a lot of energy. I’ll do whatever [Montgomery] asks. I have a lot of trust in him because he has a lot of trust in me to go do all those things.”
Just as the Panthers do in Joe Webb.