April 14, 2011

Coach: Summers is one of a kind

Greensboro (N.C.) Page coach Kevin Gillespie knew he had a special talent coming into his program after seeing newest NC State commitment James Summers play before he even reached high school.

"I watched him in middle school and I knew he had a chance to be special," he said. "Then, he got here and I had the chance to coach him; I saw he had all the intangibles - leadership, work ethic, competiveness, all of those things. Once you get to working with him, you could see that and you knew he could really be something special."

Gillespie moved Summers up to the varsity squad for playoffs after he completed his lone season on the jayvee team. Although he was a quarterback during his freshman year, he wasn't going to move up and unseat either of the top two signal callers. The coaches still wanted him to practice under center with the varsity team but, in order to get him game experience, Summers played a little wide receiver.

"We knew James probably wasn't going to get in the game as a quarterback," Gillespie admitted. "He practice at wide receiver because he wanted to just do whatever he could do, he didn't care [what position it was]."

The next year, Summers started the varsity campaign splitting time with a senior quarterback under center. When either was not in the game calling the plays, they normally lined up at wide receiver. By the midpoint of the season, Summers had performed well enough that he was anointed the starter and he has not given up the spot since.

Summer's coach has coached several players who have gone on to play in college and a few have advanced all the way to the NFL, most notably New York Giants starting fullback Madison Hedgecock, who helped his team win Super Bowl XLII and was a second-team All-Pro in 2008. However, Summers is a league of his own, according to Gillespie.

"I've had some good players but James is a different kid," he said. "It's hard to compare them, I've had quite a few play in college and a couple made it to the NFL, but I've never had one like him, he's just different. It's hard to explain the differences.

"I'm not going to say he has more or less talent [than any of his previous players], but he's got a drive about him that's different than a lot of kids who have even made it to the college level. He wants to be good and he's competitive."

The 6-2, 200-pound gun slinger has added about 15 pounds since last fall, Gillespie estimates while noting that the quarterback is one of the hardest-working players in the weight room. The coach thinks his star will probably be a little bit bigger by the time he arrives in Raleigh.

"I think he's still growing, I don't think he's done yet," he said. "James has real big hands and big feet. I think he's right around 6-3 now. At one of the last combines he measured 6-2 1/4 but that was bare foot."

Summers is also evolving as a quarterback. Gillespie said the youngster has grown leaps and bounds from the eighth-grader he first laid eyes on, but added that the rising-senior is never satisfied. He expects a lot out of his teammates, but pushes himself even harder.

"He's improved a lot," Gillespie said. "He's always had talent and he's always been athletic, but he has really redefined his [quarterback] skills. His throwing mechanics have gotten better each year; he's got more accurate, he's making better decisions. It's those little things because he works so hard. Because of his work ethic, those things have really gotten better and he's also gotten a lot faster."

One of the main things that has always stood out about Summers is his speed. It was one of the main reasons that he was able to contribute out of position as a wide receiver when he was just starting his prep career. The coach mentioned that he clocked the quarterback in a 40-yard dash at 4.53 seconds and despite being a rookie on the track team, he recently finished a 100-meter dash in 11.0 seconds.

"He is as fast as he needs to be," the coach said. "James is one of those that doesn't lose any speed when he gets on the field, either. As a matter of fact, he's probably faster in games than he is on the track."

Summer picked NC State over offers from North Carolina, Clemson and East Carolina and interest from several other interested parties. Gillespie had no doubt that if he kept his recruitment open, his offer list would have taken off into double-digits and beyond this summer. Like he tells all of his pupils, the coach told Summers that if he was sure, to pull the trigger; otherwise, it would be better to wait until there was no doubt. Summers didn't hesitate and informed the Pack coaches he would be committing on Wednesday afternoon.

"I always tell them to keep all of their options open but, at any point in time, if you know in your heart that this is where you want to be, be open and honest about it," Gillespie said. "Commit and then tell everybody else you're done, this is where you're going. Don't waiver, nobody likes someone that's going to waiver and, nowadays, that's what people do, they commit early then change their mind at signing time. That's not the right thing to do.

"What he told me was that he loved the school when he went, he liked the program and he really feels like he has the best chance to go play there. With him saying that and James kind of growing up as an NC State fan, that sums it up right there."

It remains to be seen what position Tom O'Brien and company plan to start the ultra-athletic Summers at, but Gillespie doesn't see that as a problem. He already knows that Summers will do whatever coaches ask him to do.

"What [the coaches] told me, like most everybody else who recruited James, is that they were recruiting him as an athlete," Gillespie said. "They offered him as an athlete, they're not saying no to quarterback, they're keeping their options open but they like him as an athlete. Whatever they decide to do, I'm sure will work out fine."

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