March 23, 2008

Summers enjoying sunny spring

Markeith Summers played in 10 games last season and started three.

He didn't catch a single pass and was all but forgotten in the mix of talented wide receivers returning for Ole Miss for the 2008 campaign.

Summers, however, has been anything but the forgotten man so far in spring practice, catching everything in sight and pushing some more proven veterans for their jobs.

"I just came out with a different mentality from last year," Summers said. "I feel this could be my year. There's a new coaching staff and I have to make a good impression, so I'm doing what I've always been doing. That's what I'm doing. There's a real clean slate.

"I have it in my head that I want to be the best and I'm trying to play like that every time."

The 6-foot-2, 197-pound sophomore from Olive Branch was a highly recruited player two years ago, playing wide receiver and defensive back for the Conquistadors. Summers started his college career at defensive back before moving to receiver last spring.

"I never missed a step, I feel," Summers said. "It's always been in me. I missed it. I like getting the ball but then again, I like (defense) too. I played both in high school. I'll play both, but I really love receiver."

The self-confidence is nice, but first-year Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt didn't know much about Summers when he left Arkansas for Oxford late last November. Nutt had seen Ole Miss film, of course, as the Razorbacks had traveled to Vaught-Hemingway for an Oct. 20 game last fall.

Summers caught Nutt's eye immediately. He was one of the stars of the Rebels' winter conditioning workouts and he's transferred that success to the field over the past week, emerging as one of quarterback Jevan Snead's favorite targets.

"We knew Mike Wallace and Dexter (McCluster)," Nutt said. "We knew what they would do. They're proven and they've been very consistent, but what we didn't know was Markeith Summers and Shay Hodge as much. Those guys have really stepped up and made some catches.

"It's very impressive if you've watched us throw and catch. We're not where we want to be. We have to space better, come off the line and all those things but we're throwing and catching and I'm really proud of them."

Some of Summers' catches have been nothing short of phenomenal. He's been a deep threat and he's added a physical presence across the middle on intermediate routes. His height has helped him tremendously, as have his hands and his route-running skills. Summers, however, believes his athleticism might be the most important tool in his skill set.

"I can jump higher than anybody else," Summers said. "That's an advantage."

Summers, along with fellow sophomore Lionel Breaux, have joined Wallace, McCluster, Hodge and Michael Hicks to give the Rebels' passing game a big boost this spring. Junior Marshay Hodge has missed the first week of work with a staph infection, but he figures to be a leading challenger for a starting spot upon his return.

"I just know I'm in the starting rotation right now," Summers said. "I'm trying to work my into the starting lineup but I'll do whatever it takes to help the team. If I have to come off the bench, I'll do it."

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