When Pirates coach Ruffin McNeill met James Summers on the East Carolina campus this winter it was love at first sight.
The feeling must have been mutual, as Summers, a former star dual-threat quarterback at Greensboro Page High School, signed a National Letter of Intent to play wide receiver for the Pirates next season.
“When we brought him out for his visit it was instant. I fell in love with him,” McNeill said during his signing day press conference on Wednesday.
There’s a lot to like about Summers, who stands 6-foot-3, 210 pounds and possesses game-breaking ability. In 2011, Summers led the Page Pirates to a 15-0 record and an N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 4AA state championship, passing for 1,506 yards and 20 touchdowns, while rushing for 1,632 yards and 22 touchdowns.
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Scouts liked his athletic ability, as he earned four-star rankings from both Rivals.com and ESPN. Summers, who originally committed to N.C. State as a junior, decided he wanted to be a Tar Heel by his senior year but could not qualify at North Carolina.
When UNC didn’t work out, Summers spent a year at Hargrave Military Academy before enrolling at Hinds Community College in Mississippi, where he continued to terrorize opposing defenses with both his arm and his feet. In two years at Hinds, Summers passed for 2,874 yards and rushed for 1,687 more, with a total of 46 touchdowns.
McNeill, who originally recruited Summers out of high school, did not miss out the second time around.
“God’s got a plan. He didn’t go, ‘oops, my bad,’ ” McNeill said. “This is where he was supposed to be first, that’s what I told him.”
With the ball in his hands, Summers is electric and should be able to make a smooth transition from QB to wide receiver. Under McNeill, the Pirates have had tremendous success converting signal-callers to pass catchers, with the prime example being Justin Hardy, who went from a high school QB to the NCAA’s all-time leader in receptions.
“We have proof that we’re going to do what’s best,” McNeill said. “Nothing saying that James can’t compete at quarterback either, but he’s also seen quarterbacks that we have that have played everywhere: (Isaiah) Jones, Justin Hardy, Cam Worthy, Lamar Ivey. I could go on and on with those guys.
“… When we contacted James his words were, ‘Coach, I just want to come and win and help the program anyway I (can).’ Bingo. I watch him on film and he’s an impact guy, and he said that and said that honestly. That’s the type of guy I want on my program. … He sees and knows that when we use him we’re going to put him in an opportunity to use his abilities the best we can.”
Pirates sign impact players
With the loss of the record-setting duo of quarterback Shane Carden and Hardy, along with wideout Worthy and linebacker Brandon Williams, McNeill and his staff went on a mission to find new play-makers and feel that the 17 recruits in 2015 can do just that.
“On offense we have a group that can give us the big play, they have long play capability,” McNeill said. “We have five guys in that group in (WR) James Summers, (RB) Derrell Scott, (WR) Deondre Farrier, (RB) Shawn Furlow and (WR) Justin Strozier; those five guys can make big plays and long plays.”
On the other side of the ball, the Pirates sought out rangy players with athletic ability.
“Defensively, length is big with me,” McNeill said. “We got (ILB) Tony Baird, (OLB) C.J. Maybin and (ILB) Darius Wright, a junior college linebacker from Hutchinson (community college), who we knew about from high school. We lost our most valuable defensive player in linebacker Brandon Williams and Darius will come in there and compete.”
Overall, the Pirates signed three wide receivers, three offensive linemen, three linebackers, three defensive backs, two defensive linemen and two running backs and one quarterback in John Jacobs, a 6-2, 220-pound freshman from Shawnee High School in Oklahoma.
According to Rivals.com, the Pirates class of 2015 ranks 111th in the FBS and features five three-star recruits in DT Justin Brown (6-3, 315, Ayden), WR Deondre Farrior (6-0, 184, Orlando, Fla.), RB Shawn Furlow (5-10, 185, Winterville), DB Nhyre Quinerly (5-10, 170, Norfolk, Va.) and OL Justin Sandifer (6-5, 310, Raymond, Miss.), who played for two years with James Summers at Hinds Community College.